MANILA, Philippines - Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile asked the Sandiganbayan yesterday to dismiss the plunder and graft charges against him for lack of probable cause, but he also asked to be granted bail.
He criticized the Office of the Ombudsman for filing the criminal cases based on questionable evidence from a supposed whistle-blower.
His former chief of staff Jessica “Gigi” Reyes asked the Sandiganbayan to suspend proceedings pending the resolution of a petition for a temporary restraining order (TRO) and/or a writ of preliminary injunction before the Supreme Court.
Enrile said whistle-blower Benhur Luy’s business ledger, the only evidence against him, does not match with information contained in a Commission on Audit (COA) report and Office of the Ombudsman field investigation office report.
“At any rate, there is nothing on Luy’s business ledger to show that Enrile participated in the alleged scheme,” read his motion. “Enrile’s name never appeared as actual recipient of the supposed commissions and kickbacks.”
Enrile said: “No showing that Enrile authorized these individuals to receive any sum for or on his behalf,” in answer to allegations that other individuals like Ruby Tuason collected pork barrel fund commissions and kickbacks for him.
There is also no proof that he was aware of, or consented to, the receiving of such kickbacks, and no showing at all that the supposed kickbacks ultimately ended up with him, he added.
Enrile said Luy’s business ledger is “hearsay information, if not completely made up,” and is “inadmissible and without any probative value.”
In his petition for bail, Enrile said: “Should the Sandiganbayan direct the prosecution to later establish that the evidence against Enrile is strong, Enrile is confident that any such additional evidence cannot, by any measure, be regarded as strong.”
Enrile used the same Supreme Court (SC) ruling that former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo used in asking the Sandiganbayan for bail in relation to her plunder case on the alleged misuse of Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) funds.
“The sole purpose of confining accused in jail before conviction is to assure his presence at trial,” he said.
Enrile said the SC allowed then Senator Justiniano Montano to enjoy temporary liberty because the possibility of escape, bearing in mind the defendant’s official and social standing and other personal circumstances, seemed remote if not nil.
“Analogously, Enrile is not a flight risk,” he said.
“Enrile is already 90 years old, with poor and frail physical condition requiring constant medical attention.”
Senators Ramon Revilla Jr. and Jinggoy Estrada have also filed motions for judicial determination of probable cause.
Hearings on the motions will start next week.
In a manifestation filed yesterday, Revilla asked that his motion for judicial determination of probable cause be heard on Thursday, June 19.
Estrada and Revilla have expressed hope that they would get a fair trial before the Sandiganbayan.
Speaking to reporters, Estrada said he does not really mind which of the justices handles his case as long as he is given fair treatment.
“Whether or not there is a debt of gratitude to P-Noy, I think they should exercise fair play,” he said.
“I don’t know anyone there apart from Justice (Gregory) Ong who was appointed by my father who has already inhibited himself.
“They should be fair because in a fair play, I think I will be acquitted of all the charges.”
He is more concerned with the call of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales to have a special division handle the pork barrel scam cases, he added.
Estrada said a special division of the Sandiganbayan handled the plunder case against his father, former President Joseph Estrada, and he was eventually convicted.
“With a special division, the justices would be handpicked,” he said.
“If you look at history, all of the special divisions ended up convicting the accused. I don’t know why this is the case.”
He would take his chances with the Sandiganbayan, which he believes would give him fairer treatment than the Department of Justice and the Office of the Ombudsman, Estrada said.
Speaking through his lawyer Joel Bodegon, Revilla said the justices of the Sandiganbayan are expected to rise above partisan considerations regardless of who appointed them.
In a telephone interview with reporters, Bodegon said the legal team of Revilla would be going into the trial expecting fairness from the court, and that he sees no reason to doubt this would be the case.
“We lawyers rely on the strength of our own case, the evidence that we have, and the strength of our faith in the judicial system,” he said.
“Besides, in the course of a trial, if we find something irregular or improper, we have remedies available.
“If we sense in the course of the trial that a judge or justice has turned biased, we have other legal remedies available.”
Estrada and Revilla reiterated that they would face all the charges against them, and that they have no intention to leave the country.
“I am not leaving,” Estrada said.
“Revilla has said several times from the beginning that he will face this, and the last time, you just have to refer to his privilege speech, he will not evade arrest,” Bodegon said. – Michael Punongbayan, Marvin Sy