Sandigan orders suspension of Estrada

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Friday, July 18, 2014

MANILA (Updated) -- The anti-graft court issued a 90-day preventive suspension for detained Senator Jinggoy Estrada in connection with his plunder and graft charges over the alleged misuse of his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

In the resolution signed by Sandiganbayan fifth division chairperson Associate Justice Roland Jurado and Justices Alexander Germundo and Theresa Dolores Gomez-Estoesta, the court granted the prosecutions motion to suspend accused pendiente lite against Estrada.

"Accused Jose 'Jinggoy' P. Ejercito Estrada is hereby suspended from his position as Senator of the Republic of the Philippines and from any other public office which he may now or hereafter be holding for a period of ninety (90) days from the receipt of this resolution, unless a motion for recommendation is seasonably filed," the resolution stated.

The prosecution underscored the need for Sandiganbayan to suspend Estrada because his stay in office "may frustrate the prosecution of the crime, if not prejudice the case filed against him."

"To prevent the accused from committing further acts of malfeasance, tamper with documentary evidence and intimidate or influence witnesses in the case, it is necessary that the accused be suspended from office while thy case is pending in court," the motion read.

Section 5 of the Plunder Law states that "any public officer against whom any criminal prosecution under a valid information under this Act in whatever stage of execution, is pending in court, shall be suspended."

The fifth division also junked the argument of the senator that his suspension might jeopardize the interest of the people who voted him.

"Lastly, the fear of the accused that his constituents will be paralyzed for ninety days when he is preventively suspended, is remote. There will still remain 21 other Senators of the Republic of the Philippines who can meet as such," the resolution said.

Estrada faces plunder and 11 counts of violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for allegedly amassing 183-million in commissions and kickbacks after channeling his PDAF allocation to the bogus non-government organizations (NGO) owned by businesswoman Janet Lim Napole, the suspected mastermind in the pork barrel scam.

The resolution also stated that it is up to Senate President Franklin Drilon how to deal with the vacancy left by Estrada.

"The Senate President will surely know how to deal with the problem of filling up the temporary vacancies in accordance with the provisions of the Rules of Senate," the resolution added.

In a statement, Senate President Drilon said the Senate will "fully implement" the suspension order against Estrada.

"The Senate will respect every step in the investigation of this case. We will fully abide by the preventive suspension order issued by the Sandiganbayan and we will implement the order," he said.

A senator, who is preventively suspended, is barred from attending sessions, filing bills, holding committee hearings and signing committee reports.

Estrada is the chairman of the labor committee, which will be handled for the meantime by his vice chair.

"We will continue to function despite the suspension order. The Senate is not about the senators and it is not about the pork barrel scam controversy. We have a mandate to fulfill and with our performance during the First Regular Session, we have proven that the Senate could not be hampered by any controversy," Drilon said.

Estrada's lawyer, Alexis Abastillas said they will appeal the suspension as she explained that this will not immediately take effect yet.

"We just received the order and it says that it is granting the motion for suspension of Senator Jinggoy, but it says there it is not immediately effective because they are saying 'unless a motion for reconsideration is filed by the accused'," Abastillas said in an interview.

She noted that Estrada still has two pending petitions for certiorari with the Supreme Court.

However, the anti-graft court, in its order, said the granting of the motion will not constitute res judicata, which bars re-litigation of a case that has already been resolved with finality, with respect to pending petitions before the Supreme Court.

Abastillas said in the interview that she has not yet told Estrada, who is detained at the Philippine National Police custodial center in Camp Crame, Quezon City, about the suspension.

Aside from Estrada, Senators Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr. and Juan Ponce Enrile are also facing plunder and graft filed before the Sandiganbayan but the first and third division has yet to issue a similar suspension order.

On Thursday, the anti-graft court has junked Enrile's bail petition due to lack of merit and for being premature. It, however, allowed the 90-year-old lawmaker was allowed to stay temporarily at the Philippine National Police (PNP) General Hospital while waiting for his medical assessment. (With Camille P. Balagtas/Sunnex)

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