Anti-graft court rejects ex-DBM exec lawyers’ motion to withdraw

MANILA The Sandiganbayan has denied the request of the lawyers of former Department of Budget and Management Undersecretary Mario Relampagos to withdraw as legal counsel in his various criminal cases before the anti-graft court.

Relampagos is facing numerous charges before the Sandiganbayan including criminal raps over the alleged Priority Development Assistance Fund or the pork barrel scam and the PHP900-million Malampaya fund scam.

Lawyers Godofredo de Guzman, Arnold Caga and Christopher John Lao filed the motion before the anti-graft court's Second Division to be relieved as legal counsels. They have been representing Relampagos in his case as co-accused of Muntinlupa City Rep. Rozzano Ruffy Biazon and former Oriental Mindoro Rep. Rodolfo Valencia in the Malampaya fund scam.

In their motion, the three lawyers said they asked the court to allow them to withdraw their appearance to represent Relampagos, arguing that they "can no longer carry out their responsibilities effectively for reasons beyond their control" after their client fled the Philippines.

They added that another reason to withdraw from handling the case is Relampagos' failure to heed their advice to return to the country and face the charges against him.

In a minute resolution released on Thursday, the Second Division of the anti-graft court, headed by Justice Aurelio dela Cruz, however, maintained that the arguments of Relampagos' lawyers are insufficient to justify their withdrawal as counsel.

The Sandiganbayan added that the three lawyers have not secured consent from their client to withdraw from the case.

"When the withdrawal is made without the consent of the client, the counsel must provide valid reasons to justify the withdrawal and, in his case, the court does not find the reason proffered by said counsel... as sufficient to justify its withdrawal as counsel for accused Relampagos," the anti-graft court said in its resolution.

It added that De Guzman, Caga and Lao even "actively championed" Relampagos' motion to travel abroad, claiming their client will merely attend the meeting of the International Consortium on Governmental Financial Management and visit his daughter and three grandchildren.

The Sandiganbayan said that it believes the lawyers "are still in the best position to defend accused Relampagos even in a limited capacity" since hiring a new legal counsel for him would only delay the case.

"As far as the court is concerned, their commitment is a continuing one which would be rendered inutile if they are allowed to withdraw their appearance," it said.

Meanwhile, the anti-graft court's Fifth Division, headed by Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang, granted the three lawyers' motion after the prosecution panel made no objections on their withdrawal to defend Relampagos in the graft cases.

Source: Philippine News Agency