Court denies bid to remove testimony in bizman forfeiture case

By Benjamin Pulta

August 26, 2022, 3:39 pm

MANILA – The Sandiganbayan has “noted” with no further action a motion on the forfeiture case against businessman Ernest Escaler and former Justice secretary Hernando Perez.

In a resolution dated August 22, the anti-graft court said it has "noted for being moot and academic” a motion filed by the lawyers of Escaler seeking to expunge the testimony of a prosecution witness for technical lapses.

Escaler sought to do away with the judicial affidavit of lawyer RJ Andrade Bernal, claiming it was filed after the 15-day period granted by the court had expired on June 9 and the court had yet to act on the motion of prosecutors for more time.

The Sandiganbayan said “undoubtedly, the judicial affidavit of Atty. RJ Andre Bernal was submitted within the additional period granted by the court” when the court allowed government prosecutors to file the sworn testimonies of their witnesses.

In its resolution dated July 28, the anti-graft court ordered the government to submit the judicial affidavits of all its witnesses within a non-extendible period of 15 days and said all other judicial affidavits submitted beyond this period shall not be admitted.

Escaler and other respondents objected and moved to expunge from the records the sworn statements of witnesses Liezel de Leon, Hendeliza Quiambao Encabo, Bernard Corrales, Mary Susan Guillermo, and James Viernes, citing failure to comply with court rules.

The case for forfeiture of unlawfully acquired property under Republic Act 1379 stemmed from Perez’s alleged demand for USD2 million from former Manila lawmaker Mario Crespo (a.k.a. Mark Jimenez) in 2001.

The law declares forfeiture in favor of the state any property found to have been unlawfully acquired by any public officer or employee.

The money would allegedly exclude Jimenez from the plunder investigation against former president Joseph Estrada in connection with the multi-billion-peso Caliraya-Botocan-Kalayaan power plant project.

Former Bulacan representative Wilfrido Villarama, in a congressional speech in 2002, alleged that Jimenez coursed the money for Perez through Escaler’s offshore bank account.

Aside from Perez, other respondents are Perez’s wife, Rosario, and his brother-in-law, Ramon Antonio Arceo Jr.

“Under ordinary circumstances, this Court will deny the admission of these judicial affidavits for being non-compliant with its order. However, considering that the trial proper has not yet begun, this Court admits them in the higher interest of substantial justice to give the parties the opportunity to fully present their case,” the tribunal added. (PNA)