THE plunder complaint against Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. and Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada and businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles will be raffled off to a regular division of the Sandiganbayan today, since the anti-graft court is against the creation of special divisions that will exclusively handle cases related to the pork barrel scam.
According to an unimpeachable source, justices of the anti-graft court led by Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang held a special en banc session on Wednesday to discuss the request of the Office of the Ombudsman to the Supreme Court (SC) for the creation of special courts.
The source told The Manila Times that majority of the magistrates were opposed to the Ombudsman’s proposal, convinced that there is no need for special divisions.
The justices agreed that Tang, through a letter, will inform the High Court of their position that there is no need for special divisions that will hear the plunder case against the three senators and their co-accused.
A week ago, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales petitioned the High Tribunal to consider creating at least two divisions to exclusively try pork barrel cases.
Only a few justices supported Morales’ move. One magistrate said that if ever a special court is created, it should be the Sandiganbayan justices, not the Supreme Court, who must pick among themselves the members of the panel.
The last time the Court ordered the creation of a special division in the Sandiganbayan was in 2002, when former President Joseph Estrada was on trial also for plunder.
Estrada himself had said there is no need for a special court to try his son Jinggoy, Enrile and Revilla.
The source told The Times that many Sandiganbayan justices believe it would be better if a regular division of the court handled the plunder case in order to be fair to the persons involved as well as those accused in other cases pending at the anti-graft court.
Besides, they also believe that a special court could lead to “conflict” with other cases because the court would give priority and allot more time to the pork barrel cases to the detriment of the other cases pending before the five divisions of the Sandiganbayan.
The SC on Wednesday gave the green light to raffle off the plunder case even if it has yet to decide on the request of the Ombudsman.
The Sandiganbayan’s Fourth Division will be exempted from the raffle because Justice Gregory Ong has recused himself from all pork barrel cases.
Whistleblower Benhur Luy had claimed that Ong was a contact of Napoles in the judiciary.
Renato Bocar, the Sandiganbayan’s executive clerk of court, said the plunder case will be transferred to the special court should the SC orders forming one.
The plunder and graft cases tied to the alleged misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund or pork barrel of lawmakers will be raffled off this morning.
Sen. Estrada on Thursday said he sensed something sinister behind the Ombudsman’s move to seek the creation of two special divisions for pork-related cases.
He said he is not convinced by Morales’ justification that the creation of special divisions will ensure the speedy trial of the cases.
“[This is] a very, very lame excuse for such an obvious attempt to handpick the men and women who will convict us,” he said in his privileged speech on Wednesday.
Estrada expressed belief that the Ombudsman wants to make sure those who will sit in the special court are inclined to find him and his co-accused guilty.
“I am very sure that what the Ombudsman really wants is not speedy trial but a speedy convicting court,” Estrada stressed.
With Jefferson Antiporda and Reina Tolentino