ERAP TRIAL: PROSECUTION "HIDING" EVIDENCE

Quezon City, Jan. 23, 2003 - Prosecutors in the plunder case against detained President Joseph Estrada have been found suppressing evidence and obstructing the course of justice.

Defense lawyers questioned the manner by which the prosecution presented its evidence pertaining to the controversial Jose Velarde account, which the government lawyers claim belongs to the ousted leader.

Prospero Crescini, court-appointed counsel for the deposed president, said the prosecution was clearly suppressing the evidence related to the Velarde account.

This developed when the prosecution presented its 65th witness, assistant vice president of branches administration and network division of Equitable PCI Bank Juan Luna, Binondo branch, Lamberto Bajacan del Fonso Jr.

The prosecution presented Del Fonso, as the Velarde account had been opened and maintained in the bank's Juan Luna branch.

But Del Fonso and the prosecution chose not to present the other pertinent documents of the Velarde account, which, according to Crescini, would confirm the real identity of the owner of Velarde's Savings Account 0160-62501-5 and Current Account No. 0110-25495.

The prosecution instead presented in detail the transactions made both in the Savings and Current Accounts of Velarde.

"The prosecution is suppressing the fact that it was Mr. Dichaves who opened the account. Isn't it surprising that they (the prosecutors) subpoenaed only the statements of account? They did not come up with the records on who opened the account, or (show) specimen signatures, which will show whether the signatures belong to President Estrada or Jaime Dichaves.

Del Fonso admitted to the court he chose not to bring the other documents related to the Velarde account since the prosecution's subpoena for the documents was only limited to the statements of accounts from the Velarde account.

"So, you can see suppression of evidence. And evidence willfully supressed is presumed to be adverse to the party suppressing the same," the court-appointed lawyer told reporters in an interview.

Government prosecutor Alex Padilla explained the prosecution decided not to have the other documents subpoenaed as the prosecution believes these documents may already have been altered.

"We have a suspicion that some of the bank documents were altered and some were ante-dated to cover up the fact that Mr. Estrada is the same Jose Velarde," Padilla said.

Padilla said the panel reached this conclusion after EPCIB officials who testified in court told them that "they are things they can't explain about the Jose Velarde account."

"There were some documents that could have been altered," he said, adding there are several people in the Equitable PCI Bank who "are covering it up, and we sure they are part of the conspiracy."

Lawyers following the plunder trial at the Sandiganbayan were aghast at the explanation given by Padilla, saying that if the prosecution believes the bank records were altered or forged, then it would be to the prosecution's advantage to show this and prove it, to establish a "cover-up." They said bank records cannot be altered and if these are official records of the bank, they are deemed to be authentic.

They called Padilla's moves a "cheap trick" which the court should not countenance. They pointed out that the fact that Padilla has been accusing defense witnesses to destroy their credibility this early only means that they fear that the documents and the defense witness' testimonies will cause the prosecution's case to collapse, as the prosecution cannot prove its case.

Prosecutor Padilla claimed the prosecution has documents to prove that forgeries were done. "In fact, we have some documents that are clearly forgeries, that's why we did not present these documents."

The state prosecutor went to the extent of naming a few bank officials who he said may have connived in altering bank documents such as Beatrice Bagsit and Romualdo Dy Tang.

Bagsit, who used to be an EPCIB Makati Division head, might soon be charged with a criminal case, according to Padilla, as he claimed the prosecution has strong evidence against her.

Dy Tang, former Executive Vice President of the EPCIB, was also responsible in some cover up, Padilla charged.

"With Dy Tang, the problem is...the letter of Dichaves, coursed through him, was unusual because as you are merely opening an account, you don't deal with the Executive Vice President for that." he said, adding that these documents were 'manufactured' during the impeachment trial.

The defense presented last year a letter of Dichaves to Dy Tang, requesting that an account under the name of Jose Velarde be opened in his behalf.

At yesterday's trial, del Fonso, while being examined by Padilla, claimed that in 15 months, the Velarde savings account reached a total of P3,219,791,659.09.

At the same time, he said the account was subsequently closed, and all deposits were withdrawn by Nov. 13, 2000.

The prosecution expressed belief that the account was deliberately closed as impeachment moves against the former leader were on their way at that time.

It was also on Nov. 13, 2000 when the House of Representatives sent an impeachment complaint against Estrada to the Senate, for trial.

Upon Crescini's cross-examination, Fonso admitted the signature cards of the savings and current accounts were not included in the list of documents the prosecution told him to bring to court.

Crescini said the signature cards would have proven it was businessman Jaime Dichaves who owned and controlled the Jose Velarde account and not Mr. Estrada.

In rebuttal, Padilla said the testimony of former EPCIB senior vice president and trust officer Clarissa Ocampo that she was one-foot away from Mr. Estrada when he signed as "Jose Velarde" in Malacaņang was already a strong evidence against the deposed chief executive.


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