MANILA, Philippines - Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr. face automatic suspension from their posts once a plunder case is filed against them before the Sandiganbayan in connection with the pork barrel fund scam.
Senate President Franklin Drilon raised this scenario when asked if the 24-member Senate would still be complete when session resumes on May 5 after the Lenten break.
“I am sure the Sandiganbayan will act or will have to act on it. That’s their job. So we will just wait for the action of the ombudsman on the motion for reconsideration filed in the first week of April,” Drilon said over radio dwIZ.
“That will be up to the Sandiganbayan, which has the power to issue the warrant of arrest,” he added.
Drilon, a former justice secretary, noted that plunder is a non-bailable offense, which would warrant the detention of defendants even before the Sandiganbayan starts trial.
He said the issue would be out of the hands of the Senate leadership since it will be the Sandiganbayan that will issue the suspension orders.
Drilon cited the case of former Zambales governor Amor Deloso, where the Supreme Court ruled that public officials should be automatically suspended upon the filing of case before the Sandiganbayan.
Meanwhile, Drilon welcomed the decision of lawyer Gigi Reyes, Enrile’s former chief of staff, to return to the country to defend herself over accusations of pork barrel fund misuse.
“It’s a logical move. It is very difficult to hide overseas. You cannot hide all your life… It is good that she returned and decided to face the charges being leveled against her,” he said.
He said Reyes has to pass the requisites of the law if she wants to become a state witness.
“Under the Rules of Court and the Witness Protection Program, being a state witness has pre-requisites. First, she should be least guilty and second, her testimony can be used to convict the mastermind,” he said.
“Who is the principal mastermind? Are there enough conditions so that (the mastermind) is convicted even without her?” he said, adding that it is up to the ombudsman to determine whether Reyes can be accepted as state witness.
Sen. Sergio Osmeña III, vice-chairman of the Blue Ribbon committee, said committee chairman Sen. Teofisto Guingona III tried but failed to talk to Reyes on whether she would attend the Senate hearing on the pork barrel scam.
“Under our democracy, the accused also have rights and they cannot be forced to speak before the Blue Ribbon committee,” he said.
He said Reyes could be summoned to the Senate “only if additional information will be given to the committee.”
He said Reyes could qualify as a state witness, but the matter is up to the Department of Justice to decide.
On reports that Reyes was pinning the blame on her deputy chief of staff Jose Evangelista, Osmeña said every person is entitled to put up a defense.
In a related development, Senator Aquilino Pimentel III questioned the wisdom of considering alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles as a state witness.
“How could the person who put up the infrastructure for PDAF graft be qualified as state witness? Isn’t the architect of the whole scheme the most guilty hence disqualified from being state witness?” he said. “Pwede ring ginugulo na nya ang (Maybe she’s muddling the) picture out of desperation.”
Sen. Grace Poe said it would be a significant development in the country’s quest to get to the bottom of the pork barrel scam if Napoles would tell all.
However, Poe said it is best to let the ombudsman determine Napoles’ competence to become a state witness. – With Marvin Sy