• EX-COA CHIEF PLEADS NOT GUILTY TO PLUNDER

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    Less than a week after his arrest, former Commission on Audit (COA) Chief Reynaldo Villar entered a not-guilty plea before the Sandiganbayan while the prosecution failed to present a witness on Wednesday in the P366-million state charity fund plunder case.

    This developed during the graft court’s hearing on Villar’s urgent omnibus motion on conduct of arraignment, his continued detention in the Camp Crame Criminal Investigation and Detention Group and his petition for bail after arraignment.

    Villar, who as COA chairman ordered the probe into the lawmakers’ use of their discretionary priority development assistance fund (PDAF) in 2007, personally pleaded not guilty to the plunder case against him before the Sandiganbayan’s 1st Division headed by Associate Justice Efren dela Cruz.

    Villar’s lawyer Ernesto Altamira 3rd argued that his client had no physical participation in the alleged unlawful release of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office intelligence fund.

    “He [Villar] has no participation in any of these transactions. He is not guilty [of the charges]and each day that he spends in jail is already excessive,” Altamira told the court.

    Villar’s co-accused in the PCSO plunder case include former President Gloria Arroyo and other former PCSO officials Manuel Morato, Raymundo Roquero, Jose Taruc, Rosario Uriarte, Nilda Plaras, Benigno Aguas, Sergio Valencia and Fatima Valdes.

    The prosecution panel then made a motion asking the anti-graft court to suspend the hearing on Villar’s omnibus motion until Wednesday next week—a move that did not sit well with dela Cruz.

    “What baffles the court is that you were told that you have to prepare your witness, in case the scheduled witness is not available,” dela Cruz pointed out.

    The anti-graft court granted the prosecution’s motion but issued a stern warning that the former’s failure to present witnesses next week would incline the court to grant the petition for bail of all the accused in the case who are in detention—including Arroyo.

    “If you [prosecution]will continue to delay the proceedings, then the court would treat that as a ground to grant the petition for bail of those who are detained,” dela Cruz stressed.

    The prosecution replied that they did not expect Villar’s arrest last week and so they have not prepared to present at least two witnesses against him on Wednesday morning.

    The prosecution added that the witnesses they will present next week, which include PCSO board member Aleta Tolentino and the COA’s Intelligence and Confidential Funds Audit Office chief Flerida Africa Jimenez, will support their argument that Villar was part of the conspiracy to misuse the PCSO intelligence fund.

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