Government lawyers want the Sandiganbayan to suspend Senators Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. and Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada pending litigation of the plunder and graft cases filed against the two lawmakers in connection with the pork barrel scam.
On Monday, prosecutors filed two separate motions to suspend Revilla and Estrada pendente lite [during litigation]. They also sought the suspension of Richard Cambe, who they said is Director III at Revilla’s office.
Despite his detention, Estrada’s continued stay in office, in particular, “may frustrate the prosecution of the crime, if not prejudice the case filed against him,” the government lawyers said.
“To prevent the accused from committing further acts of malfeasance, tamper with documentary evidence and intimidate or influence witnesses in the case, it is necessary that the accused be suspended from office while the case is pending in court,” the prosecutors noted.
Revilla and Estrada are detained at Camp Crame, headquarters of the Philippine National Police in Quezon City. They were accused of getting huge kickbacks by diverting their pork barrel or Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to bogus projects under sham non-government organizations allegedly owned by co-accused Janet Lim-Napoles.
Revilla and Cambe were arraigned at the Sandiganbayan’s First Division on Thursday while Estrada was arraigned at the Fifth Division on Monday. He refused to enter a plea.
“With the arraignment of the accused, the validity of the information is no longer in question,” the prosecutors said.
In seeking the suspension of Estrada, they cited Section 5 of Republic Act 7080, the law defining and punishing plunder, which states that any public officer, against whom any criminal prosecution under a valid information for plunder in whatever stage of execution and mode of participation is pending in court, shall be suspended from office.
They also cited a precedent case, Socrates vs. Sandiganbayan, in saying that upon determination of the validity of the information, it becomes mandatory for the court to immediately issue the suspension order.
Meanwhile, the prosecution team in Revilla’s case also argued that it is now mandatory for the court to suspend Revilla and Cambe.
They cited the case of Defensor-Santiago vs. Sandiganbayan et al. where the Supreme Court ruled that once the information is found to be sufficient in form and substance, the court is bound to issue an order of suspension as a matter of course, and there seems to be “no ifs and buts about it.”
The plunder law states that if the accused shall be convicted by final judgment, he shall lose all retirement or gratuity benefits under any law.
If acquitted, he is entitled to reinstatement to public office and to the salaries and benefits he failed to receive during suspension, unless administrative proceedings have been lodged against him.
Estrada’s family—wife Precy, former President Joseph Estrada, former senator Luisa Ejercito and siblings Jackie Lopez and Jude—were present when he was arraigned on Monday.
“Upon the advice of my counsel, I will not enter a plea because of my pending petitions before the Supreme Court involving my right to due process and grave abuse of discretion by the Ombudsman. So with all due respect to this court, I refuse to enter a plea,” the senator told the Sandiganbayan’s Fifth Division.
Napoles entered a not-guilty plea. She came in wearing a dark blue hoodie, shades, slim fit denim pants and sneakers. But unlike Estrada’s case, not a single member of Napoles’ family was in attendance.
After his arraignment, Estrada hurled tirades at the government because of the prosecution’s aborted bid to amend the plunder charge against him.
“This is already indicative that the cases filed against me are railroaded and my right to due process was violated, especially during the preliminary investigation done by the Ombudsman [Conchita Carpio-Morales]. They want to be glorified as heroes by putting three senators behind bars with haphazard filing of cases,” he said.
“They want to be famous for jailing three senators even if there is not enough evidence against us. If they have truckloads of evidence and the case is airtight as they initially said, why is there such a need to amend the information? Kung talagang malakas ang kaso, kaya nilang gumawa ng kaso na walang pagkakamali kahit nakapikit ang kanilang dalawang mata [If that is really the case, they should have been able to draft a flawless complaint even with their eyes closed],” the senator added.
“I see the granting of bail is not far behind. I hope to be acquitted again,” Estrada said.
Associate Justices Roland Jurado, Alexander Gesmundo and Ma. Theresa Estoesta scheduled the preliminary conference of the plunder and graft charges against Estrada and his co-accused on July 14 to 16.
The pre-trial will follow on August 4 at 2 p.m.