Opposition lawmakers have faulted the Aquino administration for the temporary reprieve granted by the Sandiganbayan to Aquino allies over charges of malversation of public funds.
Rep. Emerenciana de Jesus of Gabriela and Ferdinand Martin Romualdez were referring to the move of the Sandi-ganbayan which suspended the arrest warrant for former Rep. Clavel Asas-Martinez of Cebu, former Mayor Celestino Martinez 3rd of Bogo, Ma. Cielo Martinez and four others who are facing malversation and graft charges for the misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund during Martinez’s tenure as a House member.
Martinez was one of the 11 House prosecutors that helped in the impeachment trial of President Joseph Estrada and a known ally of the President.
“When it comes to pork barrel, if you are from the opposition, you can be jailed, filed charges upon or be a victim of cyberbullying. But if you are a party mate, shooting buddy or a relative, close with those from the ruling party, you will be protected from the investigation,” de Jesus pointed out.
All of the 15 Sandiganbayan justices are appointed by the President from a shortlist from the Judicial and Bar Council. Of the 14 Sandiganbayan justices (since one seat is vacant), three were appointed under the Aquino administration namely: Associate Justices Rafael Lagos, Oscar Herrera Jr. and Amparo Cabotaje-Tang.
Sandiganbayan’s action, de Jesus argued, is a stark contrast to the prompt issuance of a warrant of arrest to non-ally and Rep. Abdullah Dimaporo of Lanao del Norte for malversation of public funds. Dimaporo is allied with the group of Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, which is the third bloc in the House of Representatives.
The anti-graft court granted the request of Martinez to defer the implementation of the arrest warrants while waiting for a resolution of a motion for dismissal of charges that alleges that she took P11.5 million from Priority Development Assistance Fund and deposited it into her personal account 10 years ago.
The money was returned but the Ombudsman said her decision to give back the fund did not discount the act of embezzlement.
“Aquino’s partiality and limp response to the pork issue smear, if not undercuts, his straight path mantra. This is why we in the Makabayan bloc has a strong advocacy to scrap the pork barrel in all government agencies and put this to social services, so these scandals won’t happen again,” de Jesus added.
Romualdez, for his part, noted that politics was obviously in play in deferring the arrest warrant for Martinez and company.
“I am a lawyer by profession and we all know that justice should be blind. The accountabilities and liabilities should be enforced regardless of the political color,” Romualdez said in a separate interview.
“What happened doesn’t certainly look good for the administration,” Romualdez added.