Arraignment of Ex-PCGG chief Sabio deferred after he loses lawyer

By Elizabeth Marcelo

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Former Presidential Commission on Good Government chairman Camilo Sabio is facing three counts of malversation of public funds and one count of failure to render accounts before the Fifth Division in connection with his alleged failure to liquidate litigation-related cash advances in 2008 and 2009 amounting P632,428. Philstar.com/Efigenio Toledo IV, File photo

MANILA, Philippines — Former Presidential Commission on Good Government chairman Camilo Sabio have yet to enter his plea for his latest batch of criminal cases after his lawyer suddenly withdrew from representing him.

Sabio's scheduled arraignment before the Fifth and Fourth divisions of Sandiganbayan was deferred Friday as the divisions acknowledged his “right to be represented by a counsel of his own choice”.

Sabio is facing three counts of malversation of public funds and one count of failure to render accounts before the Fifth Division in connection with his alleged failure to liquidate litigation-related cash advances in 2008 and 2009 amounting P632,428.

The Fifth Division reset his arraignment for the cases to November 17.

Meanwhile the Fourth Division, in which Sabio is facing two counts of graft, only gave the former PCGG chief week to find a new lawyer.

Fourth Division chairman Associate Justice Alex Quiroz said that while the court recognizes Sabio's right to be represented by his lawyer of choice, it must also comply with the Supreme Court's recent directive to hold continuous trial.

“We will defer today's arraignment but next week, with or without a counsel of your own choice, the arraignment will proceed,” Quiroz said.

The Fourth Division reset Sabio's arraignment to October 27.

His graft cases before the Fourth Division stemmed from the supposed anomaly in the 2008 ownership row case between the Government Service Insurance System and the Manila Electric Company.

The Office of the Ombudsman, which filed the cases in December last year, said Sabio influenced his late younger brother, then Court of Appeals Associate Justice Jose Sabio Jr. to rule in favor of the GSIS in a case filed by the Lopez-owned Meralco.

During his scheduled arraignment Friday, Sabio said he intends to get a new lawyer after his counsel Ro Megan Lea Abiog withdrew from the cases.

In her “motion to withdraw as counsel” filed just a day before Sabio's arraignment before the two court divisions, Abiog said she had “already terminated her attorney-client relationship with the Accused”.

Abiog explained that her engagement with Sabio was for “the sole purpose of representing the accused regarding his motion to reduce his bail bond”.

"In view of the foregoing reason, the undersigned counsel could no longer adequately fulfill her obligations as legal counsel for the Accused," Abiog's motion read.

It can be recalled that the 82-year-old Sabio was arrested by the National Bureau of Investigation last month after the Fourth and Fifth Divisions issued their respective arrest warrants for his cases.

Sabio was detained at the NBI detention facility in Manila for several days until the court divisions granted his request to reduce his bail bonds.

Sabio had previously represented himself in his graft cases before the Sandiganbayan First Division over alleged anomalous car lease deals entered with the United Coconut Planters Bank in 2007 and 2009.

He was convicted by the First Division in June of this year, while the cases against the three other respondents were dismissed. Unlike Sabio, his co-accused former PCGG commissioners Tereso Javier, Narciso Nario and Nicasio Conti sought the cases' dismissal on the ground of the “inordinate delay” in the ombudsman's investigation.

Sabio was sentenced to imprisonment of 12 to 20 years. He, however, is still under provisional liberty as his motion for reconsideration on the First Division's decision remains pending.

On the other hand, the Sandiganbayan Special Fourth Division, in April last year, acquitted Sabio of graft and malversation of public funds cases, which stemmed from his alleged misuse of P12 million worth of PCGG's recovered ill-gotten wealth of the Marcos family.

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