MANILA, Philippines - There will be no need for the police to arrest the three senators charged with plunder in connection with the pork barrel scam – when warrants for their arrest are issued – as they are prepared to surrender based on a "gentleman's agreement" with authorities.
Director Benjamin Magalong, chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), said Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr. had committed to turn themselves in once the Sandiganbayan issues warrants for their arrest for plunder, a non-bailable offense.
“We are banking on that. That is a gentleman’s agreement,” Magalong said.
Estrada reportedly relayed his intention to surrender to Magalong while Enrile and Revilla voiced theirs to PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima.
Magalong did not reveal details on how the PNP and the senators were able to reach an agreement on the surrender.
While the CIDG, being the investigating and operating arm of the PNP, is expected to take the lead in the enforcement of any arrest order, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) as a separate law enforcement agency is also likely to play a role in carrying out any Sandiganbayan order.
“We are prepared and we will follow the regular process,” Chief Superintendent Reuben Theodore Sindac, PNP-Public Information Office director, said.
He said the PNP would coordinate with the NBI in serving arrest warrants on the accused. “I’m sure that there would be no conflict or overlapping of functions,” he said.
Sindac said there would be no need for arresting officers to handcuff the three senators if they voluntarily turn themselves in. He said handcuffs are used to restrain individuals, although it’s usually the arresting officers’ judgment call if there is need for such.
“If there is no need for immediate restraint, there will be no need for handcuffs,” he said.
After their surrender, Sindac said the accused would likely be booked at the PNP Multi-Purpose Center, which is big enough to accommodate the possible surge of kibitzers and supporters of the senators.
The booking procedures include taking of fingerprints and mug shots as well as medical examination.
While the procedures would be closed to the media, the PNP would provide official documentation and recording for the sake of transparency.
Special divisions, yes
Meanwhile, one of the accused in the plunder charges is in favor of having special divisions in the Sandiganbayan exclusively handle the cases.
Richard Cambe, a former aide of Revilla, said the Supreme Court should allow the creation of three special divisions in the anti-graft court to hear the cases filed by the Office of the Ombudsman against him and several others and have them resolved “within six months from start of trial.”
Cambe said the special divisions should conduct marathon or daily hearings even beyond office hours. He also said the special courts should limit the number of witnesses to be presented and disallow postponement of hearings.
Cambe voiced his position in compliance with a Supreme Court directive that all parties concerned in the issue comment on the proposed creation of special divisions made by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales.
Morales said the special divisions should “consolidate and hear all cases of a specific group of alleged conspirators.” In making the proposal, Morales cited the “national magnitude of these cases, the complexities of the issues involved, the number of accused and the far-reaching consequences of these cases.”
The SC was supposed to decide on the ombudsman’s proposal last Tuesday but opted to defer action until the submission of comments by all concerned parties. So far only the Sandiganbayan and Cambe have submitted comments to the SC.
The Sandiganbayan earlier said “there is no compelling reason and/or imperative need to create a special division or divisions.”
All magistrates of the anti-graft court led by Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang said creating special divisions might deprive other pending cases of proper attention. They also said creating special divisions to exclusively handle pork barrel scam cases would stir suspicion that the court is biased against the accused, who include prominent opposition personalities.
Revilla, Enrile and Estrada have been accused of receiving kickbacks for spurious projects bankrolled using their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) in connivance with alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles. PDAF, the official term then for congressional pork barrel, had been declared unconstitutional by the high tribunal.
Revilla, meanwhile, said he has started coordinating with the CIDG for his surrender if and when the warrant for his arrest is issued.
“As I have said, they don’t need to look for me because I will surrender once the warrant of arrest is issued against me. I will voluntarily place myself under custody,” Revilla said in Filipino.
Revilla said Magalong had assured him over the phone that his arrest would be done in a cordial and peaceful manner.
“We have nothing to fear now. I have talked to this person (Magalong) and let him know that they don’t have to humiliate me. Things might get out of hand if they subject men to humiliation. I told them it would be best if I get picked up properly,” he said.
He said his arrest is imminent because the court had already issued a hold departure order against him and the others.
Revilla said he had already briefed his wife and his children as well as his father on what to expect.
He said he had to reassure his worried father, a retired actor, that he would be okay even behind bars.
“I have started to prepare him for any eventuality – for the worst-case scenario… I might want to also see him before I get jailed,” Revilla said.
His touching base with supporters in Metro Manila and Cavite in preparation for his arrest, meanwhile, has drawn rebuke from a prelate.
“It’s a desperate move because he knows what his ace is, and that is his popularity. He knows he has mass appeal, that’s why he is using it to defend himself – you take advantage of your popularity to save your face,” said Fr. Edu Gariguez, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines-National Secretariat for Social Action Justice and Peace.
“If he is really guilty and he still has the guts to go around… what a shame,” he added.
He said those named in the scam should visit the provinces to personally apologize for their actions and not to win sympathy.
“They should seek forgiveness from the people and return the money that they stole,” Gariguez said.
He lamented that politicians involved in the pork barrel fund scam seemed unaffected by their shameful actions.
“How come there is no element of shame even if the evidence against them is glaring? It’s not only the sense of shame but they seem to also lack conscience,” he said.
“We came to a point that our politicians are not bothered anymore by conscience, and their only goal is not to be caught by using anything at their disposal,” the CBCP official added.
In his visits to some communities in Metro Manila and Cavite, Revilla thanked his supporters and denied his involvement in the PDAF anomaly. – With Edu Punay, Christina Mendez, Evelyn Macairan