Gwen Garcia pleads not guilty in graft case-A A +A
Friday, March 22, 2013
MANILA (2nd Update) -- Suspended Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia entered a not guilty plea before the Sandiganbayan Friday to charges of graft and malversation of public funds over the purchase of the Balili property in 2008.
Garcia appeared at the hearing, a day after Associate Justice Teresita Diaz-Baldos of the court's Second Division issued an arrest warrant and confiscated her P90,000-bail for skipping the original schedule of the arraignment on Thursday.
Baldos eventually lifted the arrest order and restored her bail on Garcia's appeal, where the governor said she had no intention of "disrespecting the court" when she opted to attend a speaking engagement at a graduation ceremony and blessing of a congressional headquarters in Argao, Cebu.
"I got the notice that the motion for reconsideration (to defer arraignment) was denied on Wednesday pero nagkataon na naka-schedule yung maraming commitment that I have to attend, most especially a graduation of high school students at a far off mountain barangay (Hinatilan) in the town of Balamban...wala pang governor na nakapunta roon," Garcia told reporters.
After the 30-minute hearing, the Court set the preliminary conference on May 29-30 while pre-trial is scheduled on June 17-18 also at the Sandiganbayan.
Both parties were also required to submit pre-trial briefs (list of witnesses and documentary evidence) until April 22.
The prosecution, meanwhile, told Baldos that the Court should have given them the chance to reply to Garcia's appeal on the arrest order but the justice said she does not want to delay the arraignment.
"I'm thankful to the court, it's a feeling of relief, of course," Garcia said, adding that she has fully submitted herself to the process.
Her lawyer, Tranquil Salvador III, had said they asked for a deferment of arraignment but the denial of the request came too late on March 19, leaving the governor with no choice but to snub the hearing due to prior commitments.
Salvador even tried to convince Baldos to reconsider the junking of the request but the justice denied it in open court Thursday. The governor has a pending petition before the Supreme Court to stop the trial as she accused the Office of the Ombudsman of grave abuse of discretion when it came up with resolutions indicting her to the crimes.
Asked how the case affected her and her family, the governor said she has "prepared for struggles that lie ahead."
"It's part of the hazards of the job. I'm taking it as calmly and stoically as I can," she said.
Garcia, who was accompanied by her daughter Christina Frasco, had denied liability in the purchase of the 24.9-hectare beachfront property owned by co-accused Amparo and Romeo Balili.
She said she was not informed by the Provincial Appraisal Committee that most of the lot is under water, which makes it not viable for human settlement and construction of an international seaport.
Located at Tinaan, Naga City, the P98.9-million coastal property is now a coal ash disposal facility run by Korean Electric Power Corp. - Salcon Power Corp. (Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)