• Pangasinan lawmaker suspended for 90 days

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    The Sandiganbayan’s Sixth Division has ordered the 90-day preventive suspension of Pangasinan Rep. Amado Espino Jr., pending litigation of graft cases filed against him and several others for allegedly authorizing two supposedly unqualified firms to extract black sand in the Lingayen Gulf area in 2011.

    In a five-page resolution promulgated on September 7 and made public on Thursday, the court granted a motion filed by the prosecution last month that sought Espino’s preventive suspension.

    “Wherefore, the prosecution’s Motion to Suspend the Accused Pendente Lite is hereby granted, and accused Amado Espino Jr. is hereby directed to cease and desist from further performing and/or exercising the functions, duties and privileges of his position as Congressman of the Fifth District of Pangasinan, or any other position he may now or hereafter be holding effective immediately upon receipt hereof and continuing for a period of 90 days,” it ruled.

    The ruling also directed the House Speaker or his authorized representative to inform the court in writing of the action taken regarding the suspension within five days from receipt of the resolution.

    The prosecution earlier asked the court to suspend Espino invoking Section 13 of Republic Act (RA) 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, which mandates the preventive suspension of incumbent public officers facing a valid graft charge.

    Espino, however, opposed the prosecution’s move and argued that Section 13 of the anti-graft law “is an unconstitutional and archaic provision,” because Article VI, Section 16 of the 1987 Constitution vested Congress with disciplinary powers over its members.

    The anti-graft law mandates suspension to prevent defendants from intimidating or influencing witnesses or tampering with documentary evidence considering their powerful position.

    It also quoted a Supreme Court ruling that the suspension under the anti-graft law “is not a penalty but a preliminary, preventive measure, prescinding from the fact that the latter is not being imposed on petitioner for misbehavior as a Member of the House of Representatives.”

    Last March, the Office of the Ombudsman charged Espino and several others for allegedly authorizing Xypher Builders Inc. and Alexandra Mining and Oil Ventures Inc. to extract black sand in the Lingayen Gulf area when he was provincial governor even when the two firms were “not lawfully entitled to conduct mining activities within said protected area.”

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