(UPDATED) At least 56 lawmakers, including House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Majority Leader Rodolfo Farinas, have authored a bill that could save congressmen from preventive suspensions while facing trial for offenses under Republic Act 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
The proposal seeks to amend Section 13 of RA 3019 by "providing an exception to the imposition of preventive suspension against public officers."
The exception "shall be applicable to public officers who are no longer connected with the office wherein the offense charged was committed."
"As preventive suspension is imposed to prevent an accused from influencing potential witnesses or tampering with records, the change in circumstances of the public officers effectively removes this threat, making the provision in line with the spirit and intent of the law," the proposal added.
The filing of the bill comes while the House has yet to deal with the preventive suspensions issued by the Sandiganbayan against Congressmen Amado Espino and Luis Raymund Villafuerte. Their suspensions were referred to the Committee on Rules.
The House had previously maintained that only the plenary can suspend its own members.
One of the authors, Kabayan Party List Rep. Harry Roque, said the bill was filed to "counter suspended congressmen’s arguments that there is no basis to put them on preventive suspension, since they’re not in a position to tamper with evidence given that many of them are facing charges for acts committed in different offices, such as when they were governors before becoming congressmen."
"My position is you cannot invoke that argument precisely because Congress, in the Sandiganbayan Law, did not distinguish whether or not a public official who would be automatically suspended will be suspended for acts done in a previous post or in his current post. Since the law did not distinguish, no one should," Roque said.
He added that it should not be considered a self-serving measure for the members of the House.
"Ang sabi ko, ang sagot diyan ay 'di sa pagtutol sa preventive suspension kundi amyendahan ang batas kasi automatic suspension, Kongreso nagbigay niyan dahil sa pamamagitan ng Sandiganbayan Law. Ngayon, dahil ang sinasabi nila eh nawawala 'yung rationale para isuspinde ang kongresman, kung ang kaniyang kaso ay dahil sa governor dati nilinaw ko ngayon sa isang amendatory law na kung ang posisyon mo eh wala nang kinalaman sa posisyon kung saan ka nakasuhan at hindi mo na pwede pakialaman ang ebidensiya dahil wala ka na doon, 'yun eh wala nang dahilan para ikaw ma-preventive suspension," Roque said.
(The bill will not go against preventive suspension but it will amend the law. The Congress mandated the automatic suspension through the Sandiganbayan Law. If he was charged because of what he did when he was a governor, I clarified in this amendatory law that if your current position has nothing to do with your previous position, and if you are in no position to tamper with the evidence then there is no need for a preventive suspension.)
Roque admitted that the current cases filed against congressmen were factors in the crafting of the bill. He, however, clarified that even if this becomes a law, congressmen could still be suspended by court so long as it is for a case stemming from his work as a congressman.