Elizabeth Marcelo,  April 15, 2016

Former Metro Rail Transit (MRT) general manager Al Vitangcol III has asked the anti-graft court to issue a gag order against presidential candidate and former interior and transportation secretary Manuel Roxas II to prevent the latter from publicly airing accusations against him in connection with the MRT Line 3 maintenance deal.

In a four-page “very urgent motion” filed with the Sandiganbayan Third Division on Wednesday, Vitangcol, through his counsel, has asked the court to immediately issue a gag order against Roxas to stop him from using the issue in the upcoming third and final presidential debate sponsored by the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

“The third and final presidential debate will be on April 24, 2016. It is feared that Mar Roxas II will again accuse Vitangcol of wrongdoing. Besides, this case is sub judice in nature,” Vitangcol’s motion read.

Vitangcol lamented that during the debate held March 20 in Cebu City, Roxas made statements, which supposedly touched on the merits of his pending graft cases before the Sandiganbayan.

It can be remembered that during the second presidential debate, Vice President Jejomar Binay scored Roxas for being allegedly involved in the anomaly in the MRT 3 maintenance deal. “Mr. Roxas, tinuturo ka ni Mr. Vitangcol. Nagnakaw ka doon sa MRT, ano ba?” Binay was quoted as saying during the debate. To which, Roxas replied: “Wala pong kinalaman si Mar Roxas sa kahit anong katiwalian na naganap dyan sa MRT na yan. Ang importante ay malaman natin ang katotohanan ay si Mr. Vitangcol ay natanggal sa pwesto dahil tiyo niya ang kabahagi ng mga nag-bid dyan sa mga kontrata habang siya ay nanungkulan sa MRT.”

Vitangcol said Roxas reiterated the same allegation in an interview with the Philippine Star published on April 2.

In the Star article, Roxas was quoted as saying: “What’s evident here is that it’s Al Vitangcol who’s being charged over a contract with a company where his family has a financial interest.” Vitangcol said Roxas' statements violated the sub judice rule which prohibits public discussion on the merits and information of a pending case before the court.

“The above statements of presidential candidate Manuel “Mar” Roxas II are not only false, but tend to prejudice the right to accused’s fair trial. These also violate the rule on comments on a case sub judice,” Vitangcol’s motion read. Vitangcol and five incorporators of PH Trams are facing cases of violation of Sections 3 (e) and 3 (h) of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and Section 65 of Republic Act 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act in connection with the alleged maintenance contract anomaly.

Under the contract, the MRT was set to pay PH Trams-CB&T $1.15 million monthly for its maintenance.

Based on the information of the case, Vitangcol “unlawfully” used his position to recommend the awarding of the contract to PH Trams-CB&T “despite having a direct or indirect financial or pecuniary interest in PH Trams” as one of its incorporators, Arturo Soriano, is the uncle of his wife.

Vitangcol, however, maintained that he had no hand in the awarding of the contact to PH Trams-CB&T pointing out that it was the DOTC officials led by its Secretary Josep Emilio Abaya who approved and signed the contract.

Soriano had earlier stated that he had already divested all his shares and interests in PH Trams-CB&T long before the contract was awarded to the company.

Vitangcol said that if Roxas is allowed to continue making accusations against him in public, it may ignite “public outcry for a conviction” especially if “fanned by massive publicity in the news media”.

“Doubtless, trial by publicity would prejudice the right of the accused to a fair and impartial hearing,” the motion read.

Vitangcol said stream of negative media reports about his alleged involvement in the MRT 3 anomaly may even prompt the judges “to take action calculated to railroad the accused to a conviction”.

“It is difficult to remain oblivious to the pressure that the news media can bring to bear on them (judges) both directly and through the shaping of public opinion,” Vitangcol’s motion read.

“Even if in reality the judge has not been influenced by excessive publicity, the appearance of prejudice may bring the judicial process into dispute,” it added. — APG, GMA News