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MANILA, Philippines – The Taguig Regional Trial Court has entered a ‘not guilty’ plea for businessman Cedric Lee and Simeon “Zimmer” Raz on Wednesday for the case of serious illegal detention filed by actor Ferdinand “Vhong” Navarro.
Judge Paz Esperanza Cortes of the Taguig City Regional Trial Court Branch 271 entered the plea for the accused.
Lee, Raz and their lawyer Howard Calleja declined to talk to reporters after the arraignment. Lee and Raz were escorted by agents of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) back to the NBI detention facility in Manila immediately after their arraignment.
Earlier, Cortes suspended her order to transfer Lee and Raz to the Taguig City Jail from the NBI detention facility pending the hearing on May 6 of the two motions filed by Calleja.
Calleja had earlier asked the court to allow Lee and Raz to post bail and to be allowed to be detained at the NBI detention facility instead of the Taguig City Jail inside Camp Bagong Diwa.
“There was a motion filed for that purpose but the court eventually made its ruling and the arraignment pushed through. They (Lee and Raz) decided to be arraigned. Nag-pa arraign sila,” said Navarro’s lawyer, Alma Mallonga.
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Mallonga added that her client was also directed by Judge Cortes to appear in court for the May 6 hearing of the motions filed by Calleja. Serious illegal detention is a non-bailable offense. The court however may allow the posting of bail in cases where the evidence of guilt is not strong.
Mallonga told reporters that Calleja had asked the court to defer the arraignment pending the resolution of his pending motions. Mallonga said Calleja then decided to withdraw his motion and allowed his clients to be arraigned.
“The proceedings are now at a sensitive stage. Wala muna tayong comments about anything else. But simply to say that the arraignment pushed through. And that there was a motion for the application of bail. Everything now is up to the court,” said Mallonga.
“Natuloy ang arraignment. A plea of not guilty was entered for the accused. Vhong will appear on May 6 as part of the pre-trial,” she added.
Mallonga said that although the court did not issue a gag order, the lawyers for both parties have agreed to be careful in making statements to media.
“We are at a stage where we are going to be very careful in what we say because there might be a misinterpretation that this will spill over to the merits of the case. Our advise will be strictly on what happened, no commentary, no hopes and expectations. All I can say is that the process is being followed carefully and we are abiding by the rulings and issuances of the court. There is no gag order,” she said.
The media has been barred by the court from covering the hearings. Security guards at the Taguig Hall of Justice were also given an order by the court to ban reporters inside the building itself during the hearings of the cases filed by Navarro.
Mallonga on Wednesday morning also filed Navarro’s supplemental affidavit for the rape complaint filed against him by model Deniece Cornejo.
Mallonga said Navarro’s supplemental affidavit will further explain the actor’s denial which was stated in his earlier counter-affidavit.
“Basically it explains further, it clarifies the denial, it became clearer, it wasn’t clear on the first time, “ she said.
Cornejo is claiming that Navarro had raped her last January 17 and again on January 22.
“If in fact, that rape on January 17 happened, the January 22 incident could not have possibly happened. Because as you know, there is an admission on the part of Deniece that she invited Vhong on January 22, but if she had already been raped on January 17, paanong nagyari yon? It’s really ridiculous. We just want to take everything seriously,” she said. – With Kim Nunez and Angelyn Mesa
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