JUSTICE Secretary Leila de Lima on Saturday said senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon “Bong” Revilla and Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada may be arrested in two weeks time. The three senators, their former chiefs of staff and several others were charged with plunder at the Sandiganbayan on Friday.
De Lima said the executive branch was awaiting word from the anti-graft court on when to arrest the three.
She denied there were political overtones in the case, saying the evidence simply pointed to the trio.
The three lawmakers, who include a son of former president Joseph Estrada and a 90-year political survivor who enforced martial law under dictator Ferdinand Marcos, are accused of channeling billions of pesos into bogus organizations in return for huge kickbacks.
De Lima, whose investigators prepared the case against the opposition senators, said they had enough evidence to pin down the accused.
“We are confident that there is enough evidence to support conviction and we continue to strengthen the evidence,” she told Agence France-Presse.
The evidence included testimony from whistleblowers involved in the alleged corruption and documents from government agencies showing that funds were syphoned off, she added.
If convicted, the three senators could face life in prison.
Enrile, 90, has outlasted four previous presidents and was chief enforcer of martial law under Marcos in the 1970s.
Estrada, 51, is the son of former president and movie star Joseph Estrada while Revilla, 47, is a showbiz star as well as the son of another movie star-turned-senator.
Janet Lim-Napoles, who allegedly masterminded the scam, was among those indicted.
Aquino’s deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte said the indictments were just the start and that more people would eventually be named in the massive corruption scandal that has riveted the nation for months.
The accusations, which surfaced last year, triggered a firestorm of outrage over the “pork barrel” system whereby legislators get huge amounts of money which they can use on pet projects.
Thousands marched in protest against the practice, which the Supreme Court outlawed in November.
Other officials have also been named as involved in the scandal including allies of Aquino.
Spokesmen for the three senators could not be contacted for comment but Estrada and Revilla were quoted by radio station DZMM as saying the charges were unfair.
“They want [Aquino] to be able to say that he jailed three senators as part of his anti-corruption drive,” Estrada said.
Respect the Senate
However, Malacañang agrees with Senate President Franklin Drilon that the three senators should not be arrested at the Senate.
Valte said no arrests should be made in the Senate premises.
“The appeal of Senate President Drilon is according respect to the Senate as an institution.
The Palace shares that appeal in respect to the institution,” Valte said in a radio inerview.
The plunder charges are yet to be raffled by the Sandiganbayan, but Revilla has already filed a motion to suspend the proceedings and a motion for judicial determination of probable cause.
Valte said the executive is ready to assist in the serving of the warrants of arrest once the anti-graft court determined that there is probable cause to pursue the cases against the accused.
“We are ready to carry our task and implement the court’s decision,” the Palace official noted.
Revilla and Estrada claimed that the Ombudsman railroaded the filing of charges against them.
Valte dismissed such claims.
“The Ombudsman had given them enough time and reviewed their motions for
reconsideration and gathered all pieces of evidence. The Ombudsman’s resolution underwent rigorous process. Besides, the Office of the Ombudsman is an independent constitutional commission apart from the Executive,” she pointed out.
The Palace also backed the proposal of the Ombudsman that the Supreme Court create two special divisions at the Sandiganbayan that will exclusively try the plunder and other pork-related cases.
Valte said Malacanang sees nothing wrong with the proposal if it will lead to the faster resolution of the cases.
“Hopefully, whatever their [Supreme Court’s]decision may be, it will help in making sure the proceedings are conducted in a timely manner without much delay,” Valte said.
Meanwhile, sources in the national police headquarters said that space was being cleared at a special “custodial center” for high-profile inmates to make way for several big-name arrivals.
The center currently hosts 72 inmates including top communist insurgents, suspected drug traffickers and police officials linked to graft and major human rights abuses.
However it should ideally hold only 60 inmates, the sources said.