‘No surprise witness’ says Sandiganbayan in mayor’s graft case

Published March 10, 2021, 2:58 PM

by Czarina Nicole Ong Ki

The Sandiganbayan did not allow a municipal mayor to present a “surprise witness” in the trial of her graft case involving the cutting of 245 coconut trees in 2014 for a housing project.

Sandiganbayan (MANILA BULLETIN)
Sandiganbayan (MANILA BULLETIN)

Denied was the plea of Mayor Genevieve Gumban Lim Reyes of Caluya, Antique to present Pauline Rose L. Geroche, the municipal administrator, as her last witness in lieu of three other witnesses, including herself.

Reyes told the court that Geroche was personally involved in the implementation of the relocation site in Sitio Poocan since the acquisition of the land until the awarding of the housing units to the beneficiaries, and she was the one who took photographs of the area.

But she admitted that Geroche was not among the witnesses listed in her pre-trial brief.

The prosecution opposed Reyes’ plea. It pointed out that Geroche should have been included in Reyes’ pre-trial brief and pre-trial order.

Siding with the prosecution, the Sandiganbayan said: “It is quite difficult to understand why Ms. Geroche, who alleged was personally involved in the implementation of the relocation, would not be among the 13 witnesses listed for the defense…, and the accused failed to offer a satisfactory explanation.”

The court said it could not relax the rules on pre-trial in favor of Reyes as it denied her motion “for failure to show good cause.”

The resolution was written by Associate Justice Maryann E. Corpus Mañalac and concurred in by Associate Justices Rafael R. Lagos and Maria Theresa V. Mendoza-Arcega.

Reyes allegedly caused undue injury to Juliet Ramos, the landowner, by ordering the clearing operations or the cutting of 245 coconut trees that were planted and cultivated on a five-hectare land in Barangay Tinogboc, Caluya.

The prosecution alleged that Reyes ordered the clearing operations “without compliance with the legal processes of a prior public consultation and judicial recovery of possession, absent a permit to cut the said coconut trees from the Philippine Coconut Authority.”