MANILA, Philippines - Even the justices of the Sandiganbayan are getting upset with repeated postponements in the plunder trial of former senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. in connection with the multibillion-peso pork barrel fund scam.
Yesterday, during what was supposed to be the first day of the trial proper, prosecution and defense lawyers told the court that they were not yet done marking and comparing their documentary exhibits.
“I hope we can proceed with the trial already,” division chairman Associate Justice Efren de la Cruz said, sounding exasperated.
But lead state prosecutor Joefferson Toribio said there are still several unmarked documentary exhibits such as Special Allotment Release Orders (SAROs) that have yet to be delivered to Manila from Region 13.
Associate Justice Geraldine Faith Econg, however, said the court will no longer accept such excuses in the next hearing and dared Toribio to swear that the marking of exhibits will be finished “once and for all.”
Yesterday marked the fifth time that the start of the trial was deferred due to the unfinished marking of exhibits and several other excuses by both camps.
The trial was supposed to start on Jan. 12 but was repeatedly reset to Feb. 9, Feb. 23, March 30 and April 20.
The delays made Econg worried that the court might be accused of violating the law on speedy trials, Republic Act 8493, which mandates that a trial must start within 180 days from the date of arraignment.
The case has been under “more than a year of pre-trial,” she said.
Meanwhile, De la Cruz denied in open court Revilla’s motion seeking to exclude the prosecution’s witnesses and documentary exhibits pertaining to the supposed ghost projects funded by the former senator’s Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel.
“That is the prerogative of the prosecution,” he said.
To give the prosecution and the defense ample time to finish the marking and comparison of exhibits, the court set additional dates of preliminary conferences on April 21, 27, 28, May 8 and May 12.
The trial proper was reset to June 1.
Revilla, detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center at Camp Crame since June 2014, is accused of receiving P224.512-million worth of kickbacks from the alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles in exchange for endorsing the latter’s supposed bogus non-government organizations as the beneficiaries of his PDAF.