MANILA, Philippines – "Next time, we do not start Monday morning with bickering," is how Associate Justice Maria Theresa Mendoza-Arcega ended what was supposed to be the first day of former senator Jinggoy Estrada's plunder trial on Monday, July 17.
The trial was again postponed due to a pending motion filed by the defense. It was a trial one month in the making since the first schedule on June 19 was canceled due to lack of quorum at the bench.
On Monday, Estrada's lead counsel Paul Arias aggressively hit the prosecution for supposedly trying to include documents which they have not agreed on. As of Monday, even though the trial hearing has been set, the pre-trial order was not yet signed.
A pre-trial order is the document required to proceed to trial.
"The pre-trial order (PTO) would show that these were not presented, that's why there's no stipulation," Arias said. He added they were only given a list of the documents, but not copies of the actual documents. He got the backing of Dennis Buenaventura, lawyer for Estrada's co-accused Janet Lim Napoles.
Prosecutor Maria Christina Marallag-Batacan denied this saying, "How can he say that? It's protocol that we give them copies." Marallag-Batacan, who appeared to have lost her patience, criticized Arias' "attitude" to the justices.
Arias, during the hearing, would raise his voice and go over to the prosecution table to challenge documents and statements.
At one point, Fifth Division Chair Associate Justice Rafael Lagos told Arias: "Don't be so hot headed."
Marallag-Batacan and Arias even quarreled on who, between the two of them, had attended more pre-trial conferences than the other. (READ: Ball starts rolling at last for PDAF scam plunder trials)
But to Justice Lagos, it looked like a delaying tactic from the defense team.
"It looks like you're just trying not to have the trial start, you should have brought this up maybe two weeks ago. How do you think the court will look at it?" Justice Lagos said.
When Arias apologized, Lagos told him: "Hindi ba kayo naaawa kay Attorney Liezel? (Do you not commiserate with Attorney Liezel?)" referring to Fifth Division Clerk of Court Liezel De Leon who Lagos said has been working hard to prepare the PTO that neither of the camps have signed.
"As far as we are concerned, we are not delaying the hearing, because I am in detention for already more than 3 years, kung ako ang masusunod gusto ko nang mag start 'yung hearing para that will give me a chance to prove that I am innocent of all charges leveled against me," Estrada told reporters after the hearing.
(If it were up to me, I want to start the trial now to give me a chance to prove that I am innocent of all charges leveled against me.)
Estrada also has a pending omnibus motion before the Sandiganbayan that requests bail, among others. The former senator denies he has elevated his bail petition to the Supreme Court (SC). (READ: Napoles moves for bail again, this time via Supreme Court)
Aside from plunder, he is also facing 11 counts of graft for allegedly receiving P183.793 million in kickbacks from his pork barrel, some of which were supposedly personally delivered to his San Juan City home by state witness Ruby Tuason.
The court allowed to postpone the trial in order to resolve Estrada's motion first. The motion was received by the Sandiganbayan docket on Friday, July 14 at 3:56 pm. It was stamped by the Fifth Division only on Monday.
Asked why they only filed the motion now, Estrada deferred to his lawyers. Arias refused to comment when asked by reporters.
"I really do not know, trabaho ng mga abugado ko yan eh (that's my lawyers' job), I havent asked them yet," he said.
The motion is heavy on technicality, with the Estrada camp saying prosecution insists that their proposals of stipulations be included in the PTO's enumeration.
"The individual descriptions of the Prosecution's exhibits are misleading to say the least and the statements therein that Senator Estrada stipulates that a number of the exhibits are supposedly faithful reproductions of the originals also do not accurately reflect the actions taken during the comparison," the motion reads. (READ: PDAF cases, Duterte-time: Napoles confident of freedom 'in less than 2 years')
"Prosecution has been submitting documents that are not originals, panay Xerox [photocopies], how can my lawyers allow that to happen? Talagang wala kaming kasalanan dun, kasalanan lahat ng prosecution. Baka wala silang makitang ebidensya laban sa akin. Lahat ata ng witnesses laban sa akin, wala silang direct knowledge regarding sa mga kasong isinampa laban sa akin," Estrada said.
(They're all photocopies, how can my lawyers allow that to happen? We are not at fault here, everything is the prosecution's dault. Maybe they really can't see any evidence against me. I think all their witnesses against me have no direct knowledge to the case they filed against me.)
Prosecution was supposed to present two witnesses from the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) on Monday. The next schedule for the trial was still undecided on Monday as the court needs to resolve the motion first.
Estrada also filed a motion for a two-day medical furlough "as soon as possible." This is upon the doctors' advice that the former senator undergoes colonoscopy after a blood test showed "elevated levels of carcinoembryonic antigen."
He was granted medical furlough on May 18 to have his right shoulder checked at his go-to hospital, the Cardinal Santos Medical Center in San Juan City.