MANILA – Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, and Ramon Revilla Jr. face arrest and detention if the Ombudsman rejects their appeal and if the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan rules they should be held without bail for plunder in connection with the pork barrel scam.
Their legal option now is a motion for reconsideration, according to lawyer Jose B. Flaminiano, then-legal counsel of former President and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada who was found guilty of plunder by the Sandiganbayan in 2007.
They have 5 days upon receipt of the Ombudsman's decision to file a motion for reconsideration.
Senate President Franklin M. Drilon, in an interview with ANC on Tuesday, echoed Flaminiano's statement.
He said the senators and their co-accused will be given the opportunity to ask the Ombudsman to reconsider its decision indicting them.
Lawyer Rene Saguisag, another former defense lawyer of then President Estrada, expects the 3 senators "to put up a vigorous defense, which will take a long time to resolve."
Drilon said the Ombudsman's decision will only become final after it acts on the senators' motion.
"The case can then be filed at the Sandiganbayan, or it can be dismissed if the Ombudsman finds merit in the motion for reconsideration," Drilon said.
Saguisag told ABS-CBNNews.com that Enrile, Estrada, and Revilla will likely be detained if the Sandiganbayan decides there is enough evidence against them.
"Plunder, if that is what will be invoked, and charged in court, is a very serious offense," he said.
The senators face life imprisonment and forfeiture of any assets they may have illegally acquired if found guilty by the Sandiganbayan.
They also face perpetual absolute disqualification from holding any public office.
Atty. Joel Bodegon, Revilla's lawyer, told ANC that their fight is not yet over.
"There are scheduled oral arguments at the Supreme Court to determine whether the Ombudsman should continue its preliminary investigation," he said.
"We will file a motion for reconsideration on the Ombudsman's decision," he added.
Bodegon said they have not received a copy of the decision as of Tuesday night.
Warrant of arrest, jail
Drilon, meanwhile, said a warrant of arrest will only be issued against the senators after the case reaches the Sandiganbayan.
"Kung ito ay makarating sa Sandiganbayan, mag-iiba po ang ihip ng hangin dahil ito po ay magkakaroon ng warrant of arrest," he said.
Plunder is non-bailable if the evidence is strong.
"They will be under detention by the Sandiganbayan, and they will be ordered suspended from the Senate by the Sandiganbayan," he said.
Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago earlier said lawmakers will be suspended and jailed once a plunder case is filed against them.
Santiago said that under the anti-plunder act, lawmakers involved in the pork barrel scam will be automatically suspended from Congress once prosecutors file a case in court.
She said if the plunder case reaches the Sandiganbayan, then the judge will hold a bail hearing to determine whether evidence of guilt is strong. If so, bail will be denied to the accused and the they will have to stay in jail during the course of the trial.
Asked if the 3 senators should go on leave, Drilon said: “Well, that is a matter addressed to their conscience, for their own judgment. We must remember that the decision of the Sandiganbayan is still subject for a motion for reconsideration as per procedure at the office of the Ombudsman.”
He said said there is no word from the senators when they are coming back from overseas.
"The travel authority for Senator Revilla was issued by Senator Recto as OIC [Officer in Charge] since I was abroad. I am not aware of the circumstances if there were such a traveling authority in the case of Senator Jinggoy Estrada, so I am not really aware of when they are coming back," he said.
Drilon said there was no reason for Revilla and Estrada to ask permission from the Senate President to leave the country during the time they did, because "there was no legal impediment for them to travel. Wala namang hold departure order na inilabas."
"In other words, they could have traveled even without the permission of the Senate President because they were using private passports," he said.
Hundreds of millions in kickbacks
Enrile, Revilla, and Estrada were found to have amassed P172 million, P242 million, and P183 million, respectively, from illegal kickbacks, according to the Ombudsman.
"The three senators took undue advantage of their official position to illegally divert their congressional allocations in exchange for kickbacks, with the projects turning out to be ghost projects," the Ombudsman said in a statement.
Seven others will also be charged, including businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles, who is at the center of the corruption scandal involving "pork barrel" funds channeled to fictitious non-government bodies (NGOs).
The country loses about P200 billion a year to corruption, or about 1.8 percent of economic output. It has drained government coffers and entrenched poverty in the Philippines, a country of 97 million people.
But under the Aquino administration, it has improved its image, moving up 11 places in last year's Transparency International index. It now ranks 94th of 177 countries.
In 2012, the Philippines was ranked 105th, up from 129th in 2011.
After six months of investigation, a panel of anti-graft prosecutors found probable cause to indict the three men for misuse of their congressional funds.
The cases against them stemmed from the expose of three whistleblowers about "pork barrel" involving the use of huge sums from the country's Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or by alleged dummy NGOs for purported "ghost" projects.
Napoles has been detained in a police camp south of Manila. All three whistleblowers are former employees of Napoles.
The charges are merely an exercise in persecution, Revilla's lawyer said in a statement.
"A thorough and just examination and appreciation of all existing pieces of evidence will lead to only one conclusion, and that is the vindication of Senator Revilla," Bodegon added.
Estrada, for his part, said he would not run away but face the charges in court, hoping to clear his name. Enrile could not immediately be reached for comment. - with a report from Reuters