MANILA, Philippines - Citing the constitutional right that an accused is deemed innocent until proven guilty, Senators Vicente Sotto III and Gregorio Honasan have filed a resolution that would express the Senate's consent to allow three senators indicted for plunder charges to be detained at the Philippine National Police (PNP) detention facilities in Camp Crame, Quezon City.
Senate Resolution 798 cited the need for Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr. to remain at Camp Crame for the remainder of the trial at the Sandiganbayan of the plunder and graft charges filed against them in connection with the pork barrel scam.
The reportedly ailing Enrile is temporarily detained at the PNP General Hospital in Camp Crame, while Estrada and Revilla are locked up at the PNP Custodial Center also at the same police camp.
Sotto and Honasan filed on Monday the resolution, calling for their three colleagues’ continuous detention at Camp Crame “so that they may have access to facilities and the space to continue to function as duly elected representatives of the people on the constitutional principle that the accused are presumed innocent until final conviction by the proper court.”
The two senators are expected to seek at least two-thirds support of their colleagues in order for the resolution to take effect.
In the resolution, the two senators cited Section 14, Article III, Bill of Rights of the 1987 Constitution which provides that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall be presumed innocent until the contrary is proved, and shall enjoy the right to be heard by himself and counsel.”
The rights of Enrile, Estrada and Revilla to a speedy, impartial and public trial were also invoked in the resolution, which has yet to be circulated among the rest of the senators.
The resolution also cited Section 16, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution, where the Senate alone may decide on how its members may be disciplined, suspended or expelled.
“Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior and with the concurrence of two-thirds of all its Members, suspend or expel a Member. A penalty of suspension, when imposed, shall not exceed 60 days,” read the resolution, quoting the provision of the Freedom Constitution.
When the second regular session of the 16th Congress opened last Monday, Sotto questioned how the absences of Enrile, Estrada and Revilla would be reflected. It was at this point that Senate President Franklin Drilon and Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano recognized that the three senators are not yet suspended despite petitions before the Sandiganbayan.
As such, Enrile, Estrada and Revilla were marked “absent” since they are detained.
Drilon and Cayetano said the issue was similar to the situation of Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV when he was still detained and facing mutiny charges against the previous Arroyo administration.
Drilon, however, has recognized the power of the ombudsman to recommend the 90-day suspension and the Sandiganbayan’s authority to approve it with respect to the his three colleagues’ case.
He said earlier that the Supreme Court has made a distinction between the power of the Senate to discipline its members, and the Sandiganbayan’s authority as provided under the Anti-Graft Law.
The constitutional provision is a punitive measure that is imposed upon determination by the Senate or the House of Representatives, as the case may be, upon an erring member; while Section 13 of RA 3019 is not a penalty but a preliminary, preventive measure, Drilon said.
“The Supreme Court explicitly stated that Republic Act No. 3019, and its provision on preventive suspension, does not exclude from its coverage the members of Congress,” he added.