Drilon: Arrest warrant will suspend lawmakers in 'pork' scam
MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Franklin Drilon said a warrant of arrest will effectively suspend lawmakers charged in the pork barrel scam.
In past media briefings, Drilon said legislators cannot be suspended until they are convicted because the Constitution gives Congress the power to discipline its members.
Yet the Senate President changed his tune in an interview on ANC’s Headstart on Monday, September 16, hours before the Department of Justice (DOJ) is set to file the first set of cases before the Ombudsman over the multi-billion peso scam.
“In effect, there is a suspension [when a warrant is issued] because if it’s a non-bailable offense, the lawmaker is prevented from reporting for work. The classic example is [former President] Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who has been charged with a non-bailable offense: electoral sabotage. For all practical purposes, she is suspended because she is under physical detention.”
“That is the effect of a warrant of arrest in a non-bailable offense,” said Drilon.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has said that among the cases to be filed against the lawmakers is plunder. A non-bailable offense, plunder carries a penalty of life imprisonment and perpetual disqualification from public office.
Asked why he previously said only Congress can suspend lawmakers, Drilon said there are two schools of thought.
“Under the Constitution, it provides that Congress can discipline its members. The law also says that the Sandiganbayan can suspend any public official. This hasn’t happened yet in the Senate so we have to study that.”
Drilon said that once arrest warrants are issued, the lawmakers will be under the jurisdiction of the court and the Senate will not request to have custody over them. “We will leave it with the court.”
Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago has said that the lawmakers will be automatically suspended once the plunder case is filed in court.
Drilon again explained the following process for the filing of the case:
1. Once the case is filed before the Ombudsman, the Ombudsman will evaluate if the evidence is strong enough to require the respondent to respond. If it is not, the Ombudsman will order further investigation or fact-finding.
2. If the evidence is strong enough, the Ombudsman will order the respondents to file a counter-affidavit within 10 days.
3. After the submission of the counter-affidavit, the Ombudsman will evaluate if there is probable cause to charge the respondents before the Sandiganbayan and what evidence to use.
4. If there is probable cause, the Ombudsman will file the case and the Sandiganbayan will issue an arrest warrant upon its own evaluation of probable cause.
The DOJ will file the case against lawmakers who allegedly endorsed their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel to fake non-governmental organizations in exchange for hefty kickbacks.
A 2007-2009 special audit report of the Commission on Audit showed that allocations under the names of Senators Bong Revilla, Juan Ponce Enrile, and Jinggoy Estrada repeatedly went to bogus NGOs of Janet Napoles, the alleged brains of the scam.
Rappler reported that administration lawmakers were also linked to the scam.
‘Napoles did not contribute to LP’
In interviews last week, Estrada said he was alarmed that the COA audit of his pork barrel and the PDAF of Revilla and Enrile was nearly finished while that of lawmakers allied with the administration was incomplete.
A staunch administration ally, Drilon denied that the 3 opposition lawmakers were singled out, saying it was former COA Chairperson Reynaldo Villar appointed by former President Arroyo who ordered the special audit back in 2010.
“That is not handpicked because it was the order of former COA Chairman Villar in May 2010 that is why the coverage will be up to 2009 because that is when all the receipts were submitted. Rey Villar could not have ordered to audit it up to 2011 and 2012 because it was [then] 2010,” said Drilon.
President Benigno Aquino III took office in 2010.
While Drilon said in past interviews that he does not know whether or not Napoles contributed to the campaign of the ruling Liberal Party (LP) in past elections, this time he was categorical. Drilon was the campaign manager of the LP in the May midterm polls.
“Last election, I was a spender, not a solicitor. That is not true. The LP submitted the list of donors. Wala doon (Her name is not there),” he said.
Drilon was first asked about the issue after photos of him and Napoles surfaced. He said he and his wife were merely invited to her party, and he met her in less than 10 social gatherings.
Anchor Karen Davila asked the Senate chief whether or not he was the senator whom Napoles reportedly gave an expensive Montblanc pen to. The pen supposedly cost P65,000.
“I have not seen that Montblanc Pen. I haven’t seen it,” Drilon said.
‘No liability as ex-finance chair’
Drilon also responded to questions about his liability as former chairman of the Senate finance committee, which screens senators’ pork barrel requests.
“We do not approve, whether it’s the Senate President or the chairman of the finance committee, [the request]. What we do is when the senator submits his releases under the PDAF, our staff will review whether or not this is in accordance with the menu. If it is consistent with the menu then we submit it to the DBM. We have no authority to disapprove.”
The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) provides a so-called "menu" or list of agencies and projects for the release of the PDAF. This sets limitations on the use of the pork barrel.
He added, “It is only whether or not it is consistent with the menu found in the budget. We are not the supervising authority over senators. We are all equal.”
Drilon reiterated that while the controversy tainted the image of the Senate, the institution is undergoing a “cleansing process.”
“We are confident we can exert every effort to restore the trust of the people in this institution. It is a difficult process but it is our obligation to strengthen this institution of democracy …. Let me emphasize if we see this thing happening today, it is because of president’s platform of transparency and accountability.” – Rappler.com