Sandiganbayan assigns plunder, graft cases
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan on Friday, June 13, raffled the plunder and graft cases involving Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jose "Jinggoy" Estrada, and Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr.
Revilla's cases were assigned to the 1st division, Enrile's to the 3rd division, and Estrada and the rest to the 5th division.
The 1st division is chaired by Justice Efren N. dela Cruz with members Rodolfo A. Ponferrada and Rafael R. Lagos. The 3rd division is chaired by Sandigan Presiding Justice Amparo M. Cabotaje-Tang with members Samuel R. Martires and Alex L. Quiroz. The 5th division is headed by Justice Roland B. Jurado with Alexander G. Gesmundo. This division has a vacant seat.
Cabotaje-Tang drew the No. 3 ball, which sent the lowest numbered plunder case of Enrile and his co-accused to her division. By tradition, the next numbered case, Estrada et al, went to the 5th division.
This was after Justice Gregory Ong of the 4th division inhibited himself from hearing the plunder and graft cases. (READ: Anti-graft court justice in pork scam files) Ong is under investigation over allegations he visited Napoles' office during the time she was reportedly handing out bribes to public officials. (READ: SC probes justice linked to Napoles)
The highest numbered case, that of Revilla et al, went to the 1st division.
The 3 senators, along with Janet Lim-Napoles, were indicted for plunder and violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act before the Sandiganbayan on Friday, June 6. (READ: 3 PH senators charged with plunder over PDAF scam) Plunder is a non-bailable offense.
According to the findings of the Ombudsman's probe, Revilla got the biggest amount of kickbacks from the scam amounting to P242 million, followed by Estrada with P183 million, and Enrile with P172 million.
After the raffle, copies of the complaints should be distributed to 3 Sandiganbayan divisions for review. The justices will then conduct a judicial determination of probable cause to proceed with the case.
Once they are convinced there is probable cause, they can issue the arrest warrants, tasking the Sandiganbayan’s sheriff office to implement their order. Arraignment can be set since the Court has now acquired jurisdiction over the accused.
But the arrest warrants may not come immediately, considering the legal remedies that the accused invoke. (READ: Arrest of 3 senators may take a while)
According to a special audit of the Commission on Audit covering the years 2007-2009, the 3 opposition senators repeatedly approved fund releases to fake non-governmental organizations (NGOs) linked to Napoles. They also allegedly got millions of pesos in commissions in exchange for allowing misuse of their Priority Development Assistance Fund. (READ: Bong, JPE, Jinggoy 'suki' to Napoles NGOs)
Napoles herself was charged before the Sandiganbayan also on Friday, June 6. She has been named co-defendant in the cases against the 3 senators.
Besides the 3 senators and Napoles, the others similarly charged included Estrada's appointments staff Pauline Therese Mary Labayen, Enrile's former chief of staff Jessica Lucila "Gigi" Reyes, and Revilla's chief political staff Richard Cambe.
Napoles' driver-bodyguard John Raymond de Asis is a co-defendant in all 3 cases of the senators. Her nephew John Ronald Lim is a co-defendant in Enrile's and Revilla's cases.
In its criminal information filed with the Sandiganbayan, the Ombudsman said the defendants took "undue advantage, on several occasions, of their official positions, authority, relationships, connections, and influence to unjustly enrich themselves at the expense and to the damage and prejudice, of the Filipino people and the Republic of the Philippines."
The filing of charges by the Ombudsman came almost a year after news on the corruption scandal first broke in July 2013.
On Wednesday, June 11, the Sandiganbayan justices met and agreed there was no need to create special divisions to exclusively hear the cases. – Rappler.com