MANILA, Philippines - Most Sandiganbayan justices are not in favor of creating special divisions to handle plunder and graft cases in connection with the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel fund scam.
Sources told The STAR that Sandiganbayan justices held a meeting on Thursday to discuss, among other things, the creation of special courts, which the Supreme Court had asked them to comment on.
Sandiganbayan justices prefer to handle PDAF cases in the same manner as other cases, sources said.
The cases against Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon Revilla Jr. and Jinggoy Estrada and their co-accused will be raffled today.
The 11 a.m. raffle will determine which of four Sandiganbayan divisions will handle the cases, after the Fourth Division chaired by Associate Justice Gregory Ong inhibited.
Revilla and Estrada have filed motions for judicial determination of probable cause and other pleadings.
One division is enough
Former President and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada also believes there is no need to create special divisions at the Sandiganbayan to try and hear the plunder case filed against Revilla, Enrile and his son, saying a regular division would be enough to try the cases.
“Is that necessary? I think one division is enough,” he said in an interview on the sidelines of the Independence Day celebration in Rizal Park.
Estrada claimed the special division created to hear the plunder case filed against him in 2001 was designed to convict him.
He maintained that he did not steal a single centavo from government coffers and the apology made by the late former President Corazon Aquino only proved that he is innocent of the charges.
He said he is also confident that his son could defend himself in court.
House arrest for Enrile
House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora supports the proposal of Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. for the Sandiganbayan to put Enrile under house arrest if it orders the detention of those charged with plunder in the pork barrel scam.
“I favor the proposal of the Speaker. I think that if you’re 90, 80 or 70 years old, you deserve some consideration from the courts. But then again, that is really for the courts to decide,” he told a news conference on Wednesday.
“I don’t think a 90-year-old individual like Senator Enrile should go through the kind of rigorous detention that we prescribe in our jails, which are not the best in the world. It’s too late in the day, and I’m not sure that you are making a real lesson to be learned,” he said.
“That is my personal view. I think if you live until 90, perhaps you should be given a little consideration – just for that,” he added.
Some colleagues of Zamora in the minority did not agree with him.
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said as a matter of principle, the law should be applied to all.
“It should be applied to Senator Enrile, Senator Estrada, Senator Revilla, and others charged with plunder in connection with the pork barrel scam. There should be no special treatment for anyone,” he said.
Enrile has said he was ready to go to jail if the anti-graft court orders their arrest. The right to bail is not available in plunder cases.
Former President and Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who is facing a plunder charge, is detained at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City. The Sandiganbayan has rejected her bail petition.
Earlier, Rep. Rodolfo Albano III also expressed support for Belmonte’s proposal for house arrest for Enrile.
“Senator Enrile is 90 years old. His detention in an ordinary cell with other detainees would certainly be an ordeal that he could not withstand at his advanced age. It will definitely affect his health,” Albano said.
“Let us keep Senator Enrile healthy in mind, body and spirit, and allow the full course of the law to run unimpeded. Let us give Senator Enrile a chance to defend himself before the court and the Filipino people without compromising or jeopardizing his health,” he said.
He pointed out that if alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles is being held at a comfortable bungalow inside a police camp in Sta. Rosa, Laguna, there is more reason to allow Enrile to be placed under house arrest.
“If they are talking of special treatment, that is what Napoles is getting,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Senate Blue Ribbon committee has not set any schedule for the resumption of its investigation into the pork barrel scam and the Malampaya Fund misuse.
Sen. Teofisto Guingona III said he is still studying the 31,742-page files – approximately four gigabytes – taken from the hard drive of pork fund whistle-blower Benhur Luy.
“We are still collating... (the evidence). We should study. We should do our homework before we make any hearings,” he said.
He said the committee is also looking into the DVD provided by the National Bureau Investigation on the deleted files from Luy’s hard drive.
He said he needs more time to read the materials before setting the next public hearing.
Some senators are urging the Blue Ribbon to resume hearings to get the testimony of Napoles again. Some senators also want to grill Luy.
Senator Francis Escudero has repeatedly urged the committee to look into the rest of the 82 NGOs involved in pork barrel fund misuse. – With Jose Rodel Clapano, Jess Diaz, Christina Mendez