MalacaÑang on Tuesday said it did not pressure the three Sandiganbayan justices who wanted to recuse themselves from the plunder and graft cases involving Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada Jr.
Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr.
categorically denied a report attributing the magistrates’ decision to “pressure” from “higher authorities” in the executive branch.
“Walang batayan at walang katotohanan ang paratang na ‘yan [There is no basis and truth to such accusations],” Coloma told reporters.
In Congress, House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales 2nd (Mandaluyong City, Metro Manila) said the inhibition is disadvantageous to Estrada as it may mean longer jail time.
Estrada was charged with plunder and graft for the alleged channeling of P183 million in Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to bogus non-government organizations owned by Janet Lim-Napoles. He is accused of receiving huge commissions from Napoles, a businesswoman, from projects funded by his PDAF or pork barrel.
Justices Roland Jurado, Alexander Gesmundo and Ma. Theresa Dolores Estoesta asked Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje Tang on Monday to allow them to inhibit themselves from the Estrada case, citing “personal reasons.” Their request will be acted upon by the Sandiganbayan en banc.
A report said the justices quit Estrada’s trial because of public pressure and the threat of the Bureau of Internal Revenue to look into their wealth should they hand down rulings unfavorable to the administration.
Estrada on Tuesday expressed concern on “political maneuverings from outside forces” which, he said, will affect the trial of his case.
Coloma said the justices’ decision to quit Estrada’s case will not delay the hearing of the case.
“Ang interes ng mga mamamayan ay ang hindi pagkaantala ng paglilitis at ang pag-iral ng katarungan [The public’s interest is not to delay the trial and the pursuit of justice],” he said.
Gonzales, a lawyer, however, said a judge’s inhibition will always delay the hearing of a case.
Normal court procedures would dictate a higher body like the Sandiganbayan en banc to sit and decide whether to grant the plea for inhibition. If granted, the case will have to be raffled off to another court branch where a presiding officer can request for time to study the pieces of evidence presented in the case.
“When one judge inhibits from a case, there will already be delays. If there were three, that would be longer,” Gonzales said.
Coloma said the Palace will continue to respect the decision of the court, and will instead wait for whatever the anti-graft court decides.