Accused differ on special divisions for PDAF scam
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) – After anti-graft court justices decided against special divisions to exclusively try the pork barrel scam cases, the accused senators took different positions.
This was after the Supreme Court (SC) said on Tuesday, June 10, it wanted to hear comments of both the Sandiganbayan and the accused in the scam. At least 54 were charged in relation to the scam that involved the siphoning of lawmakers' Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF) to fake non-governmental organizations.
In an interview over DZBB Friday afternoon, June 13, Senator Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr said he was fine with the creation of the special divisions that would hear and decide on the cases.
"Para sa akin, mas gusto ko mas mabilis. Mas maganda para lumabas mas mabilis kung ano ang katotohanan. Iyon ang hangad ng bawa't isa: magkaroon ng kalutasan ang problemang ito. Kailangang sugpuin ang problema sa corruption," Revilla said in the radio interview.
(For me, I prefer a faster trial. That's better so that the truth can surface much faster. That is the desire of each of us: to have a solution to this problem. We need to fight the problem of corruption.)
Revilla's lawyer Joel Bodegon said, however, that the special courts are "unnecessary and incongruent with the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution" as "it amounts to discriminating against pending cases that are similarly urgent, similarly involve complex issues and of similarly far-reaching consequences as the so-called PDAF cases."
In a text message to Rappler, Bodegon explained that "the Sandiganbayan can very well hear and try those PDAF cases without constituting special divisions as it has not asked for any special division."
He was alluding to Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales' letter addressed to Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, which cited the "far-reaching consequences" and "national magnitude" of the PDAF scam in requesting for the special courts.
Estrada, for his part, had qualms about the Ombudsman's request.
Estrada questioned the composition of the special divisions – if the SC decides to create them. The judges in these special divisions will most likely be assigned by the SC, he said.
Still, Estrada clarified that he believes in the independence of the SC justices.
Together with 90-year-old Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, Revilla and Estrada are accused of pocketing millions of pesos in kickbacks for allowing their PDAF to be misused.
Enrile refused to speak with the media about his stand on the issue, but his lawyer Enrique dela Cruz told Rappler they will be filing a comment before the SC.
The SC gave both the Sandiganbayan and the accused in the country's biggest corruption scandal in recent years 3 days from notice to file their respective comments to Ombudsman Morales' request.
Gigi Reyes' manifestation
In a 4-page manifestation filed before the Sandiganbayan also on Friday, Enrile's former chief of staff Jessica Lucila "Gigi" Reyes said there is no "compelling reason" for the creation of special divisions.
"[It is] repugnant to create special divisions that create the impression that the regular divisions of this Honorable Court will not accomplish the desired objective of the Ombudsman in securing a speedy disposition of cases that involve complex issued of far-reaching consequences," her manifestation read.
Reyes added she is confident she will be acquitted regardless of which division handles her cases.
Reyes faces a plunder case and 15 counts of graft together with her former boss Enrile. On Friday, the cases were raffled off to the Sandiganbayan's 3rd division. (READ: Sandiganbayan assigns plunder, graft cases)
Also over DZBB, alleged scam mastermind Janet Napoles' lawyer Bruce Rivera echoed Estrada's sentiment.
"Napaisip din kami kasi hindi natin alam sino yung bubuo ng special division (We had to stop and think because we don't know who will constitute the special division)," Rivera said.
Rivera added, however, it is ultimately up to the SC to decide if the special courts are "in the best interest of justice."
"Hindi po kami magrereklamo kung hindi prejudicial sa aming kliyenyte (We will not complain if it is not prejudicial to our client)," he said.
Napoles allegedly controlled the fake NGOs that served on paper as beneficiaries of the 3 senators' PDAF. – Rappler.com