Santiago: Plunder cases should not exceed 5 years-A A +A
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
PLUNDER cases against former and current lawmakers who allegedly pocketed pork barrel funds can be resolved within five years if the courts will not allow delaying tactics to prosper, Senator Miriam Santiago said Wednesday.
Santiago allayed fears that the cases will take five or more years to be finally decided by the Sandiganbayan, and, in cases of appeal, before the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.
"If our judges are lackadaisical and allow such a gross delay, the public, in line with the temper of the times, will definitely howl in protest and possibly seek extra-legal remedies, meaning remedies outside the legal system. I don't know if our judicial system is ready to take that risk," said Santiago.
Given the high public interest in the cases, Santiago said the Office of the Ombudsman should also bar the following delaying tactics: motion to dismiss, motion for bill of particulars, or motion for more definite statement of crimes.
The preliminary investigation into the first batch of plunder cases may take a year to finish, according to Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales when she defended her agency's proposed budget for 2014 in the Senate on Tuesday.
Morales said her prosecutors will have to carefully evaluate the truckload of documentary evidence forwarded by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on Monday before running after legislators who used fake non-government organizations (NGOs) of Janet Napoles as recipients of pork barrel.
Listed in the first batch of complaints were 38 individuals including Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr. The three were accused of amassing more than half a billion pesos in taxpayers’ money.
For the National Union of People's Lawyers (NUPL), the length of trial is "unquantifiable" considering the complexity of the case, the voluminous documents, the number of parties and witnesses, the availment of various tedious remedies at every stage and level, the number and quality of lawyers and the schedules, among others.
"What is decisive is that public interest and vigilance must not wane, political will must be strong, the process and those who will sit in judgment must be fair and fearless, and that no political accommodation or rehabilitation would occur," NUPL said in a statement.
Earlier, Santiago and Senator Franklin Drilon disagreed on the issue whether legislators or any public official implicated in the scam will be suspended once the cases reach the Sandiganbayan.
Although Drilon knew that suspension is mandatory under the Anti-Plunder Act, he said a constitutional provision allows Congress to discipline its members. Santiago didn't buy this, saying the provision is only found in Senate Rules.
"Under the Anti-Plunder Act, suspension is mandatory as indicated by the words 'shall.' In the Senate Rules suspension is merely permissive, as indicated by the use of the word 'may'," said Santiago.
In the end, Drilon said the Senate will be a "passive player" in the process.
"We will respect the decision of the court. If there is an order suspending them, we will respect the decision of the court. It is up to the respondents to take the appropriate remedy," he said. (Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)