SUSPENDING Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada and his co-accused lawmakers in the pork barrel case could further weaken the opposition in the Senate, according to a respected political analyst.
The Sandiganbayan’s Fifth Division on Friday suspended Estrada for 90 days, citing the plunder charge he faces.
Ramon Casiple told The Manila Times that if the court also suspends Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Ramon Revilla Jr., it would tighten the grip of the administration’s allies on the chamber.
“It will lessen opposition, may cause lack of quorum and add more workload to the remaining senators,” Casiple said in a text message.
There are nine opposition members in the chamber. If all three will be suspended, only six shall remain, effectively dwindling the number of members of the minority.
A weakened opposition could mean that even if President Benigno Aquino 3rd is impeached by the House of Representatives, it is less likely that the Senate impeachment court would render a guilty verdict.
Casiple further explained that while the suspension of the senators that began with Estrada is only part of the legal process, it will “impact the Senate more than the case itself.”
But Senate President Franklin Drilon assured that Estrada’s suspension will not affect the performance of the Senate.
Drilon said the committee on labor, which Estrada heads, will be taken over by its vice chairman, Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara.
“We will continue to function despite the suspension order. The Senate is not about the senators and it is not about the pork barrel scam controversy,” Drilon said.
“With our performance during the First Regular Session, we have proven that the Senate could not be hampered by any controversy,” he added.
Drilon said the Senate will comply with the Sandiganbayan decision to suspend Estrada.
Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said it was still too early to predict the impact of Estrada’s suspension.
“Court proceedings are still in the earliest phase,” Coloma told The Times.
In its resolution, the court on Friday noted that under the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and the plunder law, an incumbent public officer like Estrada facing criminal prosecution for fraud will be suspended from office.
Estrada is already detained at the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center in Camp Crame in Quezon City.
“Considering that the information had been found to be sufficient in form and substance, and considering that the charge herein squarely falls within the ambit of the invoked provision of plunder law on suspension, and considering further the mandatory tenor of the said act, the court must issue the order of suspension as a matter of course,” the anti-graft court said.
The three senators are under detention for alleged misuse of their Priority Development Assistance Fund. They are charged along with businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles and the lawmakers’ former aides, including Enrile’s former chief of staff,, Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes.
On Friday, the Sandiganbayan’s Third Division entered a not-guilty plea for Reyes after she refused to enter a plea at her arraignment.
“With the advice of my counsel, your honors, I’m not entering a plea,” she replied when Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang asked her how she pleads.
After her arraignment, Reyes, who complained of dizziness, was allowed to take a seat in the section for the defense.Last June 30, the same division entered a not-guilty plea for Estrada. Besides plunder, he also faces 11 counts of graft for allegedly receiving P183 million in pork kickbacks from 2004 to 2012.
With Reina Tolentino