By Czarina Nicole Ong
The prosecution hit a snag in the criminal case against former Metro Rail Transit (MRT) Line 3 General Manager Al Sanchez Vitangcol III after the Sandiganbayan Sixth Division denied the prosecutors’ motion to have two witnesses testify via real-time video conferencing.
Vitangcol was earlier slapped with two counts for violation of Section 3(b) of R.A. 3019, also known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
From July 9 to 10, 2012, Vitangcol and his middleman, Wilson Tigno De Vera, reportedly requested from the Czech company, Inekon Group, the amount of $30 million “in exchange for the selection of Inekon as the supplier” of the Light Rail Vehicles (LRVs) under Lot 1 of the MRT3 Capacity Expansion Project.
Vitangcol coursed the demand through De Vera on the eve of July 9, 2012 at the residence of Czech Ambassador to the Philippines Josef Rychtar in Forbes Park, Makati City.
De Vera was talking to Vitangcol over the phone as the latter met with Inekon representatives. Because Inekon officials refused Vitangcol’s offer, the extortion amount was reduced to $2.5 million. However, Inekon did not give in.
Back in January, the court agreed to let Rychtar and Husek appear before the court and testify against Vitangcol.
In response, the prosecution filed a motion to authorize the presentation of testimonial evidence by electronic means. The prosecution explained that it has requested the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to coordinate with its counterpart in the Czech Republic regarding subpoenas issued to the witnesses.
But despite exhausting all reasonable efforts to compel the attendance of Husek and Rychtar, the Czech Republic responded that it cannot accommodate the DFA’s request due to the absence of any mutual legal assistance treaty or reciprocity agreement on criminal matters between the Republic of the Philippines and the Czech Republic.
Personally, Husek cannot attend the hearings due to his health condition and business responsibilities. On the other hand, Rychtar cannot attend because of his responsibilities as Ambassador to Chile.
However, both of them agreed to the presentation of evidence via electronic means. They plan to be duly sworn by the consul and duly authorized representative of the Philippines with the power to administer oaths.
Vitangcol filed an opposition, arguing that the prosecution should have prepared their testimonies as early as a year ago if it were indeed vital in the case. At the same time, Vitangcol said the prosecution failed to offer proof that both men are really incapable of making a trip to the Philippines in order to testify in the case.
He added that having the witnesses give their testimonies will prejudice him since neither the Court nor the accused will have a chance to observe the actual atmosphere in the venue, and they have no way of making sure the witnesses are not being coached by other people in the venue.
Given the gravity of the case, dealing with the amount of $30 million and a 60 and 40 percent sharing agreement, the court ruled that the prosecution’s motion be denied. The court stressed that the testimonies of Husek and Rychtar are truly essential in the case, so the prosecution should have been better equipped in securing it.
“It appears that the prosecution was able to communicate with Mr. Husek and Amb. Rychtar by email, but it did not present their correspondence showing that it attempted, but ultimately failed to make arrangements with them for travelling to the Philippines for the purpose of attending the hearing in the present cases,” the eight-page resolution read.
“Neither did the prosecution show how the aforementioned reasons render Mr. Husek and Amb. Rychtar absolutely incapable of coming to the Philippines to give their respective testimonies,” it added.
The resolution was penned by Associate Justice Sarah Jane Fernandez and concurred by Associate Justices Karl Miranda and Zaldy Trespeses.