MANILA - More than two weeks after filing of charges at the Sandiganbayan, the Office of the Ombudsman amended the information or charges against Senators Jinggoy Estrada, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., and Juan Ponce Enrile.
The move, however, has raised eyebrows since it could be a sign of poor preparation by the Ombudsman.
San Beda College Graduate School of Law Dean Fr. Ranhilio Callangan Aquino told ABS-CBNnews.com that this move from the prosecutors could be a double-edged sword for the government.
As a rule, amendments to the information can be done before the arraignment of the accused.
Prosecutors may also ask to amend the information after the accused enters a plea provided that the judge or justice allows it or if “none of the rights of the accused is impaired,” Aquino said.
On one hand, an amendment may be a negative move for the prosecution since “it may signal that the prosecution did not draft the Information with accuracy and therefore finds need to amend it. If this should be the case, then the accused can always hit hard at deficiencies in a defectively drafted Information, or in one that was hastily prepared.”
On the other hand, the amendment may be a positive move especially if the changes mean there is more information or evidence “that allows them to specify how the offense was committed, or that alleges some aggravating circumstance that was not averred in the original Information.”
COLLECTING DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY
In today’s hearing, the Office of the Special Prosecutor asked the court to include the phrase "collecting directly or indirectly (from businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles)” kickbacks, in the charges against the senators.
Originally, it was worded in such a way that the three senators only “received” kickbacks from Napoles.
Defense lawyers said this only emphasizes the alleged crime of Napoles, not the senators'. They said that if Napoles were the only one who profited from the pork barrel transactions, there would be no plunder by the senators.
The prosecution also moved to add the phrase, "by exerting undue pressure on the implementing agencies to favorably act on his endorsement of the NGOs of Napoles to ensure that his [Priority Development Assistance Fund] be in the possession and control of Napoles and her cohorts which undue pressure and endorsement, were in exchange of kickbacks percentage or commissions, thereby unjustly enriching himself,” to the charges against the senators.
Based on these wordings, Aquino said the prosecution may have already admitted that the information filed “was not clear enough with respect to the culpability of the senators which is why they seek to include the words ‘collecting directly or indirectly.’”
As the trial prospers, this may become a problem for the prosecutors, he said.
“The problem with this is that the Prosecutors have made their job tougher because they will have to prove that the senators collected [kickbacks],” he said.
In adding the phrase that alleges the senators exerted undue pressure, the prosecution may have realized the relevance of the senators' statements to media.
Several times, the three senators blamed the implementing agencies for not exercising due diligence in assessing the legality of the NGOs. In short, they are blaming government personnel.
“It means that the Prosecution fears that the defense's position -- many times enunciated by Senators Estrada and Revilla -- that it is the implementing agency that should be held to answer for the conversion of funds -- is something the Prosecution takes very seriously,” Aquino said.
He said the prosecution wants to address this issue early on, instead of having it thrown at them during the trial proper.
“But this move is a double-edged sword, because now, the prosecutors will have to present evidence of undue influence on implementing agencies, and short of letters to such agencies, or recorded phone calls, 'undue influence' is very difficult to prove,” Aquino said.