The Sandiganbayan’s Fifth Division will continue hearing the plunder and graft charges against Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada in connection with the pork barrel scam.
On Wednesday, the three justices making up the division heeded the collective advice of the entire court for them to stay on the case.
In a special en banc session, the court turned down the “personal reasons” of Associate Justices Roland Jurado, Alexander Gesmundo and Ma. Theresa Dolores Gomez-Estoesta to stop handling Estrada’s case.
“We felt that the reasons were not compelling enough that is why we advised them not to pursue their request anymore,” Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang said.
The three magistrates agreed to follow the advice of their colleagues.
In a news conference after the en banc, Cabotaje-Tang said the three justices did not actually ask to inhibit but requested recusal.
“There is a difference between the two because in case they voluntarily inhibited, neither the court en banc nor the presiding justice has the power to deny. But since their letter merely requests recusal, we treated it as a request for advice from the en banc whether they should inhibit or not,” she added.
“And the unanimous consensus of the 11 members of the court [was]for the three justices not to pursue the request for inhibition and to continue handling the case,” Cabotaje-Tang said.
Estrada and his co-accused, businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, have pending bail
petitions before the Fifth Division.
The division can also proceed to deliberate on Estrada’s motion for a furlough so he could spend Christmas at the place of his father (Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada) and New Year’s at his residence.
The senator filed the motion one day before the three justices requested recusal.
The Sandiganbayan is made up of 15 justices, sitting in five divisions of three justices each.
A vacancy developed in the Fourth Division after the dismissal of former Associate Justice Gregory Ong.
Two other divisions, the First and the Third, handle the cases against Senators Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. and Juan Ponce Enrile.
Gesmundo, Gomez-Estoesta and Jurado asked their colleagues not to disclose their reasons in public.
Cabotaje-Tang said the request for recusal has nothing to do with the recently granted access of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) to the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) of the Sandiganbayan justices, or with the supposed inquiry by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) into their bank accounts.
“That is not true. That is not the reason or the reported Malacañang pressure on the justices, again, that is not true,” she said.
When asked if the personal reasons given by the three justices were the same, Cabotaje-Tang replied, “Their chairperson has I think a more serious concern.”
She described the reasons as “almost the same kind” but “in varying degrees.”
It was the first time in the court’s 40-year history that an entire division asked to be recused from a case.
The court was previously expected to resolve the matter in January when it holds its next en banc session, but the presiding justice wanted “a definitive action” so that by the time the hearings resume, there is a division already designated to handle the case.
“Personally I don’t think there is any adverse impact or significant impact of that [on the case]. I believe in the three members of this division and I believe that they can do their job well,” Cabotaje-Tang said.