AMONG the achievements of his administration President Benigno Aquino 3rd is likely to flaunt in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) today is the hastily assembled tax evasion cases filed against former chief justice Renato Corona and the questionable dismissal of chief special prosecutor Wendell Barreras-Sulit.
Sulit, the lead trial lawyer in the Office of the Ombudsman, was administratively charged in connection with the plea-bargaining agreement of former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) comptroller Carlos Garcia with the Sandiganbayan Second Division. Sulit was relieved on Friday.
The Supreme Court stopped the implementation of the deal early this month. Under the agreement reached in 2010 with then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, Garcia pleaded to lesser offenses instead of plunder and was allowed bail.
A well-placed source of The Manila Times said Sulit’s case was railroaded so that it can be included in President Aquino’s accomplishment reports which he will announce to the nation today.
The Special Prosecutor questioned the disciplinary authority of the Palace over the deputies of the Office of the Ombudsman, saying the case is pending before the court. Deputy Ombudsman Emilio Gonzalez described Malacañang’s move as subjudice.
“The case of Sulit was clearly railroaded. How can Malacañang dismiss her from service when her plea-bargaining case has not yet reached its final ruling?” Gonzales said.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has allegedly ordered the release of the resolution indicting the former Chief Justice for tax evasion.
The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) accused Corona of not paying P120.5 million in taxes. The former chief justice says the charges are meant to persecute him and his family.
Malacañang has urged Filipinos to take time out today to listen to the President’s SONA.
Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda said that Aquino’s speech will be broadcast live over state-run PTV-4, Radyo ng Bayan, and over the Internet via live stream at www.gov.ph.
“I’ll ask the CBCP [to]listen to the SONA. Don’t have any prejudgments. Don’t have any analyst tell you ‘this is what the President is going to say, this is what the President is not going to say,’” Lacierda said.
Aquino will address the joint session of Congress Monday afternoon.
Some legislators on Sunday said that they would like to hear the President lay down a clear-cut agenda on inclusive growth and transparency in government.
Aquino’s SONA last year took all of one hour and 27 minutes and is considered to be the longest post-martial law SONA. But he never mentioned the freedom of information (FOI) bill, despite the fact that it was one of his campaign promises.
Two senators insisted that President Aquino should make a stand on the FOI bill in his SONA today.
Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito Estrada said Aquino should include the bill in his priority list of legislation.
“The right to information is our protection against government abuses as it is also our power to make government accountable,” he said.
Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano also considers FOI as one of the three measures that must be signed into law in order to make the campaign against corruption more effective.
He said that ensuring the right of the people to access transactions made by the government is important.
At the House of Representatives, Ifugao Rep. Teddy Brawner Baguilat also hopes the President will mention the FOI bill in his SONA.
Baguilat, who is considered as the main advocate of FOI bill in the House, has started asking his colleagues, including new members, to support the bill and include it in their priorities.
The Senate has passed its own version of the FOI measure.
Sen. Loren Legarda she said she would like to listen to the President discuss inclusive growth.
“I look forward to hearing how the 7.8 percent economic growth will translate to better support for the working middle class, more opportunities for the marginalized sectors, and better services for the poor,” she said.
WITH REPORT FROM JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA