De Lima backs special courts for plunder cases

By Edu Punay, The Philippine Star

Posted at Feb 27 2014 02:39 AM | Updated as of Feb 27 2014 10:39 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Justice Secretary Leila de Lima is supporting a proposal for the creation of special courts to handle possible plunder and other cases related to the pork barrel scam.

“That’s a very laudable proposal,” she said, referring to the call of Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano on the Supreme Court to designate special criminal courts to conduct daily trials on the pork barrel cases.

In a statement, Cayetano said there is a need to expedite possible trial of public officials and private individuals implicated in the scam and have it completed before the term of President Aquino ends in 2016.

He believes the respondents in the case might find a way to “maneuver” away from justice.

Cayetano said Vice President Jejomar Binay’s statements “belittling” the government’s pork barrel scam charges “are raising fears from the ranks of the pork scam whistle-blowers and state witnesses that the case might be abandoned once he wins as president.”

Two of Binay’s political allies – Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile and Sen. Jinggoy Estrada – are currently facing plunder raps before the Office of the Ombudsman for allegedly pocketing millions of pesos in pork barrel funds.

Cayetano said that a swift trial would make the people feel that the justice system works in the country and public officials involved in wrongdoing are made to account for what they did.

“Our people are starting to feel that all we have are hearings and media reports while the big fish remain uncaught. We all know that the more powerful you are the greater your influence. So you have the advantage when the case goes to trial,” Cayetano said.

He said that trials usually last for five to seven years due to limited hearing days caused by postponements initiated by trial lawyers.

Cayetano warned the people that delays in the resolution of cases could bring about various circumstances that would favor the powerful accused of crimes.

“When trials are prolonged, witnesses disappear and documents go missing. If we want to fix our justice system, it is important to have speedy trials,” Cayetano said.

Cayetano said that the Supreme Court should designate special courts to handle the trial of the persons charged in the pork barrel scam so that daily trials could be held.

He said that the holding of daily trials has been done before, citing as example what was done during the Ramos administration.

Ideally, Cayetano said that the trial should be over before President Aquino steps down from office in 2016.

He aired his concern that the politically influential officials could walk away unpunished if the trial goes on until the next administration. – With Marvin Sy, Michael Punongbayan