Three of the Sandiganbayan’s five divisions will handle the 45 cases related to the pork barrel scam that implicates three senators.
The cases were raffled off on Friday. Not included in the raffle was the Fourth Division because its chairman, Associate Justice Gregory Ong, has inhibited himself from the cases.
The cases where Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile is a respondent went to the Third Division. The cases involving Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada went to the Fifth and those involving Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. went to the First.
No cases were raffled off to the Second Division.
Aside from one count of plunder each, Enrile faces 15 counts of graft; Estrada, 11, and Revilla, 16.
Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang heads the Third Division with Associate Justices Samuel Martires and Oscar Herrera Jr. as members.
The First Division is headed by Associate Justice Efren dela Cruz, with Associate Justices Rafael Lagos and Napoleon Inoturan as members.
The Fifth Division of Associate Justice Roland Jurado has only Alexander Gesmundo as a member. Tang may have to assign a justice from another division to fill the slot.
The 42 graft charges were consolidated with the plunder charges and grouped by senator because they have common witnesses, evidence and accused.
Alleged pork barrel mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles is a respondent in all the graft charges.
Executive Clerk of Court IV Renato Bocar told reporters that after the raffle, the records (charge sheets and supporting documents) will be turned over to the divisions where the cases will be assigned.
Each division has 10 days to review the documents. If it finds probable cause to pursue the case, it will next issue arrest warrants.
Resolutions on submitted motions will include the order for the issuance of a warrant of arrest, Bocar said.
Given the sheer number of documents and evidence in the pork cases, the court may have to extend the 10-day review period.
“It depends on the justices if they need more time to study the voluminous documents included in the information,” Bocar said.
“..[A]nd it does not mean that within ten days, arrest warrants are automatically issued,” he added.
Bocar also made it clear that once the warrants are issued, the Sandiganbayan sheriff will bring them to the Philippine National Police (PNP) or the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), which will be the one to serve the warrants.
He said the court itself has no authority to make an arrest.
On Friday, the camp of Senator Revilla expressed confidence that the Sandiganbayan would be fair in handling his case, even if one of the magistrates of the First Division is an appointee of President Benigno Aquino 3rd.
Joel Bodegon, Revilla’s lawyer, said in an interview they expect all Sandiganbanyan justices to rise above partisan considerations.
Justice Lagos was appointed by President Aquino on December 9, 2010.|
“If I can’t expect a fair trial in the courts, we might just as well give up practice of law,” Bodegon said.
Revilla’s camp has two pending motions at the Sandiganbayan, one for the judicial determination of probable cause and the other for the suspension of proceedings.
Estrada is not bothered by the supposed closeness of other Sandiganbayan justices to the President.
“Whether he is an appointee of the PNoy [President Aquino] or not, I hope and pray that the Sandiganbayan will dispose fair justice,” he said.
Justice Tang herself is an Aquino appointee.
Malacañang deputy spokesman Abigail Valte said raffling off the pork barrel cases is the “next logical step” toward attaining justice for the misuse of public funds.
Valte added that unless Enrile, Estrada and Revilla could secure legal remedies, they were almost certain to be arrested soon.
But a well-placed source in the Sandiganbayan told The Manila Times that the magistrates are debating whether to immediately serve the warrants on the three senators.
The source said the justices in an en banc session discussed whether to issue the warrants without first hearing the motion for judicial determination of probable cause against the senators.
Some justices believe each Sandiganbayan division must be consistent in its stand on the issuance of the warrants.
One magistrate pointed out that a warrant can be issued while the motion for Adetermination of probable cause is still pending, the source said.
There were justices who opposed the move, preferring to resolve first the plea for determination for probable cause.
The Sandiganbayan has rejected the plea of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales with the Supreme Court to create a special division to exclusively try the pork barrel scam cases.
With Joel M. Sy Egco and Jomar Canlas