MANILA, Philippines – Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano called for a daily trial of the pork barrel scam as he expressed concern that a Binay presidency might “abandon” the case.
Cayetano called on the Supreme Court to designate special criminal courts that will hold a continuous trial of the case after lawyers estimated that the trial will last 10 to 15 years, extending beyond the Aquino administration.
Reported to be eyeing higher office in 2016, Cayetano insisted that Vice President Jejomar Binay’s statements “belittling” the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) efforts raised fears that “the case might be abandoned once he wins as president.”
Binay is the only politician to declare his presidential bid, and is considered the leading contender for 2016. His allies in the opposition, Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile and Senator Jinggoy Estrada, are respondents in the plunder complaint over the multi-billion peso scam.
“Ang iba, inaasahan nila na magkaroon ng change of administration in 2016. Tapos ang nakaupo doon ay maglalagay ng DOJ at ng NBI officials na hindi sing-init ngayon. Huwag mong sasabihin na itong mga akusado ay walang pera at walang political clout,” Cayetano said in a statement on Wednesday, February 26.
(Some people expect a change of administration in 2016. And then the president will appoint DOJ and NBI officials that are not as hot as those in office now. Don’t tell me these accused do not have money and political clout.)
The Nacionalista Party (NP) secretary-general added, “Ang akusado, lalo kung malaki ang pera, malaki ang impluwensya. Nasasakripisyo ang hustisya sa politika.”
(The accused, especially if they have lots of money, have huge influence. Justice is sacrificed for the sake of politics.)
This is not the first time Cayetano questioned Binay’s pronouncements on the pork barrel scam. The Vice President was initially quoted as saying that the testimony of self-confessed bagman Ruby Tuason was a “dud” but later clarified that what he said was the prosecution’s case was weak.
In interviews and a Senate hearing, Cayetano questioned whether or not Binay’s statements indicated he will go soft on the case if he wins as president.
Cayetano said he has yet to decide about his political plans, and will likely make up his mind by 2015. He said there is a “big chance” his party will again team up with the ruling Liberal Party of President Benigno Aquino III in 2016.
The worst corruption scandal in recent history, the pork barrel scam involves an alleged conspiracy between lawmakers and scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles to funnel discretionary funds to bogus non-governmental organizations in exchange for kickbacks.
The Ombudsman is still conducting preliminary investigation.
PDAF case to be like Ampatuan?
Cayetano said the longer the case takes, the more the government gives “the powerful the chance to maneuver.”
“Justice in our country is so slow, like the Ampatuan massacre. After 4 years, nothing happened. The PDAF scam was revealed almost one year ago but there is no formal case in court yet,” Cayetano said.
Senator Francis Escudero rejected Cayetano’s suggestion for a continuous trial.
“It’s the decision of the Supreme Court but it’s better not to do that because it would show that this is a special case. I would rather create a perception that whoever steals funds from the government will be held accountable and we need not create special courts. That is the job of ordinary courts to punish whoever steals from the nation,” he told reporters in Filipino.
For Senate President Franklin Drilon, the solution to the slow pace of justice is the passage of bills amending the charter of the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan.
Drilon and other Aquino allies in the Senate filed bills to reform the Sandiganbayan, including a measure allowing individual justices to hear and receive evidence on behalf of a division.
Another Drilon bill proposes transferring the jurisdiction of minor cases from the anti-graft court to regional trial courts to unclog its dockets.
Drilon and justice committee chairman Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III sponsored the consolidated version of the bill on Wednesday.
A former justice secretary, Drilon said it takes an average of 7 years to try cases in the Sandiganbayan. He said there are 3,000 cases pending before the court, which has only 15 justices.
“There is really no deterrent to committing crime because our justice system is so slow.”
Former Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo has said it could take up to a decade for the perpetrators of the pork barrel scam to be convicted, if the current average length of time the Sandiganbayan finishes cases is taken into account.
The plunder trial of former President Joseph Estrada took 6 years, starting in 2001 and ending in 2007. – Rappler.com