Synchronized arrests for Bong, Jinggoy, JPE unlikely
MANILA, Philippines – Following the assignment of plunder and graft cases of the 3 senators to divisions of the Sandiganbayan, it is unlikely that justices will decide all at the same time there is probable cause to issue arrest warrants.
Senator Bong Revilla’s case has been raffled to the 1st division, Senator Juan Ponce Enrile’s to the 3rd division, and Senator Jinggoy Estrada’s to the 5th division. (READ: Sandiganbayan assigns plunder, graft cases)
A justice of the anti-graft court explained that apart from the report of the prosecutor or the Ombudsman finding probable cause to proceed with the filing of the plunder cases, judges and justices are still required to “personally determine the existence of probable cause as stated in the Constitution."
The magistrate also said there are 3 possible scenarios following the raffle of the cases:
- The Division may send back the complaint if the justices are not satisfied with the investigation and recommendation of the Ombudsman
- Outright dismissal in case of glaring deficiencies
- The Division issues the arrest warrant after it determines the existence of probable cause
Such required judicial determination of probable cause was tackled in the 1992 case involving Doris Ho v. the Sandiganbayan by the Supreme Court.
In this case, which the SC decided in 1997, the tribunal declared null and void the arrest warrant issued by the 2nd division of the Sandiganbayan since it was based merely on the resolution of the prosecutor. Former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, who was then a junior justice, penned the ruling.
In his column at the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Panganiban explained that the double determination of probable case – by the prosecutor for the filing of charges and the judge for the issuance of warrant of arrest – “is mandated by the Charter to enable the judiciary to check the abuse of prosecutors who indiscriminately file charges.”
Depending on the justices
With the requirement of the Constitution for magistrates to “personally” review the case, it is likely that one division may take a longer time to study the charges, depending on the predisposition of the justices. “Not all justices are alike. Some are stricter than the others.”
The chair of the division gets the first crack in studying the case followed by the two other members. In very rare cases, justices within the division may have different findings. In cases where “the division cannot agree unanimously, a division of 5 will be created,” a second Sandiganbayan justice explained.
The two anti-graft court justices, who spoke on background, said that while the nature of the cases involving the 3 senators is essentially the same, the circumstances are different.
“Thus it is possible that the other divisions may take longer time to study the cases and issue arrest warrants if they’re satisfied there is probable cause,” one of the justices said.
As to the two other possible scenarios, the justices said it is seldom that they send back the prosecutor’s report for additional evidence or dismiss the case outright. “More often than not, we do not do that but it happens,” they said.
Enrile’s age, health
What about the case of Enrile, who has asked the court for bail, citing advanced age and poor health? Can the court give him an exemption due to humanitarian reasons? The 90-year-old lawmaker has also asked the court to dismiss the charges against him due to weak evidence.
Age and even poor health may not be enough ground to grant bail.
Constitutionalist and former SC Justice Vicente Mendoza stressed that plunder, being a capital offense, is generally non-bailable. But bail can be granted on two grounds:
- If the evidence is weak
- If life will be endangered as a result of incarceration
“(Old) age alone is not reason to be granted bail. As to health, that is a question of fact and you must show proof that your life is endangered with incarceration,” Mendoza said.
For example, a mere cardiac problem is not sufficient basis to seek temporary liberty, Mendoza said. “This must be supported by doctor’s recommendations and findings by medical evidence.”
Someone suffering from tuberculosis may have better chances of staying out of jail if the accused can show that being in detention will further lead to the deterioration of one’s health, Mendoza said.
The World Health Organization observed that detention or prison cells serve as “reservoir for TB, pumping the disease into the civilian community, through staff, visitors and inadequately treated former inmates. TB does not respect prison walls.”
But TB is not among Enrile’s ailments. And it is unlikely that he, Estrada, and Revilla are going to spend time in an ordinary jail.
The National Police has renovated its custodial center that will serve as detention cell for the 3 senators and other accused in the plunder charges. The plunder charges arose from the alleged misuse of millions of pork barrel funds. The alleged mastermind, Janet Lim Napoles, is already in detention in connection with the serious illegal case filed by whistleblower Benhur Luy.
Are the accused getting special treatment?
Under normal circumstances, those accused before the Sandiganbayan are detained at the Quezon City Jail because of proximity.
Sec. 6, Rule 14 (Arrest) of the Philippine National Police Operational Procedures (PNPOP) indicates, “it shall be the duty of the police officer implementing the warrant or arrest to deliver the arrested person without delay to the nearest police station or jail to record the fact of the case.”
Sec. 2 Rule 15 (Custodial Investigation) of the PNPOP however provides that the accused can be admitted or detained at the PNP Custodial Center, provided there is prior request from the arresting unit of a request for custody.
The arresting unit is also required to submit proof of medical examination or medical certificate of the detainee.
Since the service of warrant is an administrative matter, Mendoza said courts normally do not bother themselves with where the accused will be detained as long as the movement of the subject of the arrest warrant is restrained.
Ultimately, the court will make the final determination where to commit the accused after the arrest warrant is served and returned to the court. – Rappler.com