The Sandiganbayan’s Third Division is taking its time in determining whether there is probable cause to issue arrest warrants in connection with the plunder and graft cases against Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile and his co-accused.
Under its guidelines, the court has 10 days to determine probable cause upon the filing of charges. If it rules out probable cause, it can either dismiss the case or order a reinvestigation. If it finds probable cause, arrest warrants will be immediately issued.
Given the sheer number of documents and pieces of evidence in the pork barrel scam cases, however, the Sandiganbayan may exceed the ten-day period, which is not a mandatory rule but a guideline.
“It depends on the justices if they need more time to study the voluminous documents included in the information,” Executive Clerk of Court Renato Bocar said on the day the cases were raffled off.
Last June 20, when the court’s Third Division heard pleadings mostly on the issue
of probable cause, the justices assured that they would be fair and will weigh everything presented to them.
“The case of Enrile is no different from other cases being heard. I will not yield to public opinion, because I do not hear opinions that are baseless,” Associate Justice Samuel Martires said. The defense had complained in their oral arguments about the publicity to which the case and their clients are subjected.
Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang, who heads the Third Division, earlier said the court will not be swayed by public opinion.
Enrile is seeking the dismissal of his cases for lack of evidence while his former chief of staff, Gigi Reyes, wants to suspend proceedings because of her pending petition at the Supreme Court that asks for a temporary restraining order (TRO) or preliminary injunction.
The 90-year old senator, who is also seeking bail, is accused of plundering kickbacks worth P172 million in taxpayers’ money by diverting his pork barrel funds to bogus projects under fake non-government organizations allegedly owned or controlled by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.
He is one of three senators charged with plunder last June 9. The cases were raffled off last June 13.
Ten days after the complaints were filed, the court’s First Division issued a warrant for the arrest of Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr.
The Fifth Division found probable cause against Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada and his co-accused last June 23.