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Sandiganbayan denies Gigi Reyes' bid for waiver of appearance in plunder trial

The Sandiganbayan on Thursday refused to grant  the appeal of Jessica “Gigi” Reyes’ for a waiver of appearance in her plunder and graft trial.

The cases stemmed from alleged unlawful disbursement of P172 million discretionary fund of her former boss and now Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Juan Ponce Enrile.

Sandiganbayan Third Division Associate Justice Bernelito Fernandez said the anti-graft court has to comply with the Supreme Court decision granting Reyes’ petition for habeas corpus and effectively, her temporary release from detention, which provides that Reyes should be physically present during trial days of her pending plunder and graft raps.  

“We will still maintain that we have to comply with this condition. It is very clear and categorical that she should appear personally in trial for her criminal cases,” Fernandez said.

“We note the waiver of appearance, but we have to comply with the directives of the Supreme Court,” Fernandez added.

Reyes’ counsel, Christian Diaz, argued that his client’s presence is not a must during the trial dates which have been set by the Third Division every Tuesday and Thursday of the month starting next month.

“She could be excused, your Honor. Her attendance is not indispensable,” Diaz said.

The justice, however, was firm.

“After discussion and deliberations with other members of this Division, the court will maintain compliance to the Resolution of the Supreme Court dated January 17, 2023 directing accused Reyes to be personally present during the hearing of criminal cases filed against her before the Sandiganbayan as one of the conditions for her release in her petition for habeas corpus,” Fernandez said.

“If you want to seek another legal remedy, you may do so,” he added.

Reyes, a former chief-of-staff when Enrile was Senate President, was released by the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology last January 19 after being detained for nine years.

The Supreme Court Resolution granting her release stated that her time spent in detention has become a vexatious restraint, given that the trial for the cases only started last March 3, 2022.

Also on Thursday, the government presented five farmers from San Miguel, Bulacan as witnesses in both the plunder and graft charges against Reyes, Enrile, detained businesswoman Janet Napoles and her children Jo Christine and John, among others.

The farmers, adopting their judicial affidavit as direct testimony, testified that they did not receive the agricultural products being pertained to in the plunder and graft case.

The farmers also testified that their signatures on a document supposedly proving they received the agricultural products due them were forged.

The five who testified included Dante Liongson, Renato Malonzo, Nestor Baltazar, Generoso San Gabriel and Gina Diaz.

The legal counsels of Enrile and Reyes did not conduct cross examination on the said witnesses but maintained that they do not affirm or concede that the witnesses' testimonies are true.—LDF, GMA Integrated News