Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada is asking the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan to disqualify Justice Undersecretary Jose Justiniano from the panel of government lawyers handling the plunder case against him.
Estrada is accused of amassing P183 million in kickbacks by pouring his pork barrel funds into bogus projects and is detained at the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center in Camp Crame in Quezon City.
In a ten-page motion to disqualify, signed by lead defense counsel Jose Flaminiano and received by the court’s Fifth Division on Tuesday, Estrada’s lawyers said the Ombudsman’s designation of the Department of Justice (DOJ) official as acting prosecutor “encroaches on the President’s control over the executive department.”
“The deputization of [Justiniano] violates the constitutional prohibition against Cabinet members and their undersecretaries from holding any other office or employment during their tenure,” they said.
It also violates the Civil Service Law, which prohibits the appointment of a person in the non-career service from performing duties properly belonging to the career service, the defense argued.
The Sandiganbayan’s Fifth Division is hearing Estrada’s petition for bail.
At the hearing, the defense panel blocked Justiniano from conducting direct examination of witness Director Carmencita Delantar of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).
Objecting just as he was about to present Delantar, the panel cited its pending motion to disqualify him.
Subsequently, Justiniano told the justices, “So as not to prolong the proceedings, I will let [another prosecutor] take over.”
Delantar identified ten Special Allocation Release Orders (SAROs) pertaining to Estrada’s pork barrel fund.
“I just accommodated [the defense panel]. I could have insisted in presenting the witness but I’m mindful of the fact that Senator Estrada is under detention. It is not to his interest if we delay the presentation of evidence,” Justiniano said after the hearing.
Justiniano, who served as a private prosecutor in the impeachment trial of then-Chief Justice Renato Corona, told reporters that it is within the bounds of his designation to present witnesses in the plunder case.
“If you will read my designation, I was deputized to work under [the Ombudsman’s]direction and supervision. My role is merely secondary. As long as I work under the direction and control of the office of the special prosecutor, I can present witnesses, I can raise objections,” he said.
“[We have] the same interest, the same objective. To prosecute. There is no conflict of interest there,” Justniano added.
He also dismissed the defense’s claim that he is holding multiple positions, saying it has no basis because he gets salary from one source only—the DOJ.
“[The violation on] multiple position refers to a government official occupying multiple position and getting multiple compensation. But in my case, I only get my salary from the DOJ, I’m not getting paid by the Ombudsman,” Justiniano explained.
When asked if he thought Estrada’s camp feels threatened by his involvement as a prosecutor in the case, he told media to just “make your own conclusions.”
Meanwhile, Estrada, told reporters during a break that they are not threatened nor afraid of Justiniano in any way. “No. Not at all,” he said.
“There has already been a precedent before that those deputized by the Ombudsman coming from the DOJ are prohibited from appearing [in court],” Estrada added.
But Justiniano said he would continue to appear with the prosecution because the court is yet to rule on Estrada’s pleading to have him disqualified.