• Sandigan upholds Espino’s suspension

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

    In a four-page resolution promulgated on November 29 and made public on Monday, the court rejected Espino’s motion for reconsideration.

    “With this denial of accused-movant’s motion for reconsideration, his suspension pendente lite is ordered immediately executory unless otherwise ordered by the Supreme Court,” the Sandiganbayan’s Sixth Division said in part in its ruling.

    The ruling directed the House Speaker or his authorized representative to inform the anti-graft court of the date of the suspension’s implementation and the expiry of the 90-day period, “so that it shall be deemed automatically lifted at the end of its term.”

    In September, the court granted the prosecution’s plea for Espino’s preventive suspension under Section 13 of Republic Act (RA) 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, which mandates preventive suspension of incumbent public officers facing a valid graft charge.

    The Office of the Ombudsman charged Espino and several others in March 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.”

    Espino, who is out on bail, immediately filed a motion for reconsideration maintaining that Section 13 of anti-graft law is an “unconstitutional” and “archaic” provision.

    Espino’s camp also argued, among others, that only Congress can order his suspension, saying the “current position of the accused ensures inexistence of the dangers RA 3019 seeks to address.”

    But the court found the motion devoid of merit, pointing out that under Section 13 of the anti-graft law, “it is clear that as long as the criminal prosecution of any incumbent public officer under a valid information for violation of said law… is pending in court, it is the duty of the court to place the accused under preventive suspension.”

    It said its power to suspend a lawmaker pending litigation is well-settled, citing the 1995 Supreme Court (SC) case Ceferino Paredes Jr. vs. Sandiganbayan, et al.

    Also, it cited the precedent case Santiago v. Sandiganbayan wherein the SC said RA 3019 covers members of Congress.

    As to his argument that a suspension will unfairly deprive his constituents of representation in Congress, the court said in part, “Suffice it to state that such temporary deprivation of representation is but the inevitable result of his suspension pendente lite as a consequence of the court’s bounden duty to implement the provisions of RA 3019, as amended, pursuant to the jurisprudence set by the Supreme Court.”

    Associate Justice Rodolfo Ponferrada, who leads the Sandiganbayan’s Sixth Division, penned the ruling, which was concurred in by Associate Justices Oscar Herrera Jr. and Karl Miranda.

    Also named respondents in one graft case with Espino were former Provincial Administrator Rafael Baraan, then-Provincial Housing and Homesite Regulation Officer Alvin Bigay and then-members of the Board of Directors of Xypher Builders Inc.– Michael Ramirez, Gina Alcazar, Avery Pujol, Cynthia Camara and Lolita Bolayog.

    In the other graft charge, Espino and Baraan were named respondents along with then-members of the Board of Directors of Alexandra Mining and Oil Ventures Inc.–Cesar Detera, Edwin Alcazar, Bolayog, Denise Sia Kho Po, Annlyn Detera, Camara, Glenn Subia and Emiliano Buenavista.

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