The Sandiganbayan’s Third Division has decided that it will not suspend proceedings in the P172-million plunder case against Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile’s co-accused Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes and Janet Lim-Napoles.
The court, however, canceled the trial dates next week and will start trying the case on January 20 instead of January 13 as was earlier scheduled.
“If somebody complains that we suspended proceedings in this case without a TRO [temporary restraining order]… what will the Supreme Court do? We will appear as if we are ignorant of the law, we abused our discretion,” Third Division Associate Justice Samuel Martires said on Thursday during the hearing of Reyes’ motion to suspend the proceedings until after the Supreme Court (SC) resolves her petitions.
Under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court, a petition shall not interrupt the course of the principal case unless a TRO or a writ of preliminary injunction has been issued barring further proceedings in the case.
“The public respondent shall proceed with the principal case within ten  days from the filing of a petition for certiorari with a higher court or tribunal, absent a temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction, or upon its expiration. Failure of the public respondent to proceed with the principal case may be a ground for an administrative charge,” it states.
According to the urgent motion earlier filed by the defense, Reyes’ petition, which has been pending with the SC since January 6, 2015, was based on the ground that she was allegedly deprived of due process when the Office of the Ombudsman “failed” to provide her copies of Ruby Tuason’s sworn statements despite repeated requests.
Tuason was supposed to be the first witness whom the prosecution will present to testify in the trial.
“We are ready to present Tuason,” Deputy Special Prosecutor Cornelio Somido told the court during the hearing as he argued that the court should proceed with the trial next week because the SC has not issued a TRO.
Somido, however, said they were not yet ready to present a witness other than Tuason next week, thus prompting the court to cancel the trial on January 13, 14 and 15 and proceed instead on January 20.
The prosecution committed to present Napoles’ former employees-turned-witnesses Marina Sula, Mary Arlene Baltazar or Benhur Luy on January 20.
It also committed to notify Reyes’ camp on or before January 13 regarding who among the three witnesses they will present on January 20.
Meanwhile, the court deferred ruling on Reyes’ plea to try the case only once a week instead of thrice a week.
Enrile was one of three senators whom the Ombudsman charged before the Sandiganbayan in June 2014 in connection with the pork barrel scam, the other two being Senators Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. and Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada.
The court scheduled trial dates with respect to his co-accused Reyes and Napoles after pre-trial of the charges against them proceeded last October.
Last September, the Sandiganbayan deferred the pre-trial with respect to Enrile,whose camp is awaiting the SC’s ruling on the Ombudsman’s motion for reconsideration on the tribunal’s granting of his plea for a bill of particulars.
The defense has said a bill of particulars will help Enrile prepare for his defense by requiring the prosecution to disclose detailed information on the plunder charge.
According to his lawyer Joseph Sagandoy Jr., they “cannot proceed to trial without those details.”
The 91-year-old senator is out on bail after the SC granted his bail petition on
humanitarian grounds, while Reyes is detained at a Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) facility in Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City (Metro Manila).
Napoles is serving life sentence at the Correctional Institute for Women in Mandaluyong City (also in Metro Manila) after a Makati City court found her guilty in a serious illegal detention case filed by Benhur Luy, who is among the key pork barrel scam witnesses.
Two other respondents in the plunder case filed against Enrile—Napoles’ employee John Raymund de Asis and nephew Ronald John Lim—remain at large.