MANILA (Mabuhay) – President Benigno Aquino III cannot be forced to testify in the trial of Senator Ramon Revilla Jr. for plunder and multiple counts of graft in connection with the pork barrel scam, according to lawyer Antonio La Viña, dean of the Ateneo School of Government.
La Viña said the President may opt to decline if summoned to the witness stand.
“Hindi siya pwedeng pilitin. Ang ibig sabihin, kung gusto niya, pwede siyang pumunta, pero hindi siya pwedeng i-subpoena. Or kung i-subpoena nga siya, pwede siyang magsabi na hindi siya pwede,” he said.
“Extension iyan ng criminal immunity – alam mo naman you cannot file a criminal suit against the President. You cannot also force the President to testify sa isang trial hearing,” La Viña explained.
In a 43-page pre-trial brief that he filed Wednesday, Revilla listed Aquino III as one of the witnesses he wanted to testify in his trial.
Revilla also listed other prominent government officials both past and present such as Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, Commission on Audit chair Grace Pulido Tan and even former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
A pre-trial brief lists the documentary evidence and the witnesses to be presented by a party during trial. It also enumerates the issues to be resolved in the case.
However, La Viña noted that Revilla would still need to justify his request to summon the President to the witness stand.
“Ang susunod na hakbang diyan, sasabihin mo kung bakit mo pinatatawag ang witness, kasi hindi naman basta-basta magi-isyu ng subpoena,” he said.
“Ang mangyayari, uupo sila sa isang pre-trial at pag-uusapan kung sino bang mga witnesses na dapat. So, kailangang ipaliwanag ng kampo ni Revilla kung bakit itong mga taong ito ay pinatatawag,” he added.
He also stressed that even if the camp of Revilla makes a strong justification, the President may still opt to not heed the call to testify.
Meanwhile, when asked if there have been other presidents who have agreed to testify in court, La Viña cited Aquino’s mother, the late President Corazon Aquino.
“Si President Cory sa kanyang libel case laban kay Louie Beltran. Parang humarap siya, pero siya ang complainant. Pero libel case iyon. Well, testigo siya,” he said.
He noted that Aquino’s mother was criticized then “dahil kung hindi siya pwede i-sue, hindi rin dapat siya magsu-sue. Parang hindi naman fair na mag-sue siya at mag-witness siya para sa kaso niya, pero hindi sa kaso ng iba laban sa kanya.”
A suit was filed against columnist Beltran after he wrote a column for the Philippine Star that Mrs. Aquino hid under her bed during the 1987 coup attempt, according to an article by Luis V. Teodoro for the Center For Media Freedom and Responsibility.
Following a conviction in early the 1990s, Beltran was later acquitted by the Court of Appeals, according to the profile of the late Senator Renato Cayetano, who served as Beltran’s lawyer then. Beltran died in 1994.
Revilla is facing one count of plunder and 16 counts of graft for the P10-B pork barrel scam.
He and his co-accused allegedly received P224.5 million in kickbacks from 2006 to 2010 for funding the ghost projects of nongovernment organizations put up by trader Janet Lim-Napoles.
On Wednesday, the pretrial conference for Revilla’s plunder and graft cases was canceled after his lawyers contested the fact that the public prosecutor failed to finish marking the documentary evidence against him.
“Pina-postpone namin ‘yung pretrial para magkaroon ng time para mag-continue ng marking ng exhibits ‘yung both parties. Kaya na reset ‘yung pretrial to August 27,” Atty. Joel Bodegon, Revilla’s lawyer, told reporters after the hearing. (MNS)