Drilon: Sandigan can order suspension of 3 senators in ‘pork’ mess

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

THE warrant of arrest by the Sandiganbayan if issued will definitely change everything even if one is an elected senator of the country.

Senate President Franklin Drilon said this on Wednesday as he stressed that plunder is a non-bailable offense and that the anti-graft court can order the Senate leadership to suspend the accused senators.

On Tuesday, the Office of the Ombudsman has recommended the filing of plunder and graft charges against Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr. in connection with the multibillion-peso Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam.

The Senate leader said the Ombudsman's recommendation is part of the constitutional and legal process to which "we are all bound and which we must all accept and respect."

"I welcome the fact that the Ombudsman has performed her sworn duty as fast as humanly possible. I am certain that her decision is purely based on an honest and objective appreciation and appraisal of the facts and evidence. And that the finding of probable cause against the respondents was determined after a careful and thorough evaluation of the case," he said.

Drilon said that since the senators who are implicated can still file their motions for reconsideration as per procedure, there is still that chance for the Ombudsman to dismiss the case in favor of the accused if the Ombudsman finds merit in the motion for reconsideration. The three senators were given five days to file the motion for review.

Once the cases are already filed with the anti-graft court, the Senate chief said the defense would be given its day in court.

"We must give the court every opportunity to determine the whole truth and nothing but the truth – and to render judgment accordingly," he said.

"With due respect, I call on the Sandiganbayan to set the case for speedy trial so that the innocent would be cleared of the charges and set free, and the guilty punished and jailed," he added.

Drilon dismissed the allegations of Estrada that since day one, the Blue Ribbon committee chaired by Senator Teofisto Guingona III has been biased in handling the pork scam investigation.

"Isang daan at anim na pung (160) pahina ang desisyon ng Ombudsman at ni hindi naman na i-cite ang findings ng Blue Ribbon committee sa kanilang findings and rulings, kung hindi yung kanilang sariling ebidensiya na nalikom ng office of the Ombudsman," the Senate leader said.

According to Drilon, the Ombudsman will not base their action and decision on the documents and mere recommendation of the Senate because the documents coming from the chamber will be treated as mere recommendations only.

Senator Francis Escudero supported Drilon's view as he expressed his belief that Guingona committed no violation in issuing the draft to reporters.

In a phone interview, Escudero said Guingona's move is just normal as he maintained that there is nothing irregular in giving his committee report draft to reporters even without the signatures of his members.

The 122-page report, which is now being routed for signature among senators, also recommended the filing of appropriate charges against Enrile, Revilla, and Estrada.

The report also claimed that pork scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles conspired with the lawmakers and some officials from the government agencies causing undue injury to the government. The report said Enrile took kickbacks of P345 million, P517 million for Revilla and P278 million for Estrada.

Aside from the Senators, the panel also recommended the filing of similar charges against Enrile's former chief of staff Jessica "Gigi" Reyes, Estrada's staff Pauleen Labayen, and Revilla's staff Richard Cambe.

The panel also recommended the filing of appropriate charges against Allan Javellana of National Agribusiness Corp. (Nabcor), and Antonio Ortiz, former director general of the Technology Resource Center (TRC).

Escudero meanwhile clarified that the draft is not yet final and is expected to have some revisions depending on the recommendations from the Blue Ribbon members and the senators.

Escudero, who initiated the Senate investigation on the alleged pork barrel scam, said the issue on whether or not to take a leave would be a "voluntary act" on the part of the three senators.

At the same time Escudero said the Senate could not pass a resolution forcing their colleagues to take a leave from the chamber.

"They are free to decide on that. It's not for me to dictate unless the committee on ethics will be formed once and for all, and comes up with a finding either to suspend them, force them to take a leave, or remove them," he said.

Estrada, for his part, admitted that only the Sandiganbayan can order their suspension if a warrant of arrest will be served.

Just the same, Estrada said he will not be distracted and will continue to do his work as elected senator of the Philippines, saying his duty is to serve the people and not to submit himself to political crucifixion of his detractors. (Camille P. Balagtas/Sunnex)

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