Senate should have power to suspend Enrile – lawyer
MANILA, Philippines – The suspension of Senator Juan Ponce Enrile from public office is incumbent upon his co-legislators at the Philippine Senate and not on the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan, which is hearing his plunder and graft cases.
This was the claim of Enrile's lawyer Estelito "Titong" Mendoza during a hearing Tuesday afternoon, July 22, on the prosecution's motion to have his client suspended for his plunder case.
Mendoza said the 1987 Constitution explicitly provides that the two legislative chambers – the Senate and the House of Representatives – each have the power to "punish its members for disorderly behavior, and with the concurrence of two-thirds of all its members, suspend or expel a member."
"It is our submission that he can only be suspended from the performance of his function under provisions of the Constitution...Otherwise, that will be an infringement on the legislative prerogatives established by the Constitution," Mendoza further explained in a chance interview after the hearing.
Enrile is facing plunder and graft charges for knowingly and financially gaining from allowing his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to fund ghost projects of dubious non-governmental organizations. He is accused of plundering P172 million from his PDAF.
Purpose of suspension
The prosecution argued it is mandatory for the court to issue a suspension order against an accused in a plunder case.
Prosecutors cited Section 5 of Republic Act 7080 or the country's plunder law.
The provision states, "Any public officer against whom any criminal prosecution under a valid information under this Act in whatever stage of execution and mode of participation, is pending in court, shall be suspended from office."
In their motion, the prosecutors said the purpose of Enrile's suspension is to prevent him from using his position to intimidate or influence witnesses, tamper with documentary evidence, and commit other acts that could undermine the integrity of the prosecution.
Mendoza argued that the Consitution, which grants Congress the power to penalize its own members, supercedes the plunder law if the purpose of the suspension is a mere "preliminary, preventive measure."
The eyed "preventive suspension" is a "mere administrative disciplinary measure," he claimed.
"Certainly, such statutory imposition does not apply where it collides with a specific consitutional provision which establishes an independent, and separate administrative disciplinary body with the exclusive authority to impose such disciplinary measure as preventive suspension," read the opposition to the prosecution's motion filed by Enrile's lawyers on Monday, July 21.
Enrile's camp further argued that the validity of the charge sheet against Enrile is still in question, as a motion assailing the same will be filed before the Supreme Court (SC).
Prosecutor Jennifer Agustin Se told the court, however, that the validity of the Information on plunder against Enrile was affirmed when the court separately found probable cause to indict him, prompting the issuance of an arrest warrant against Enrile.
She said the same is true when the court denied Enrile's motion for a bill of particulars – a document that details the charges and corresponding evidence against an accused – and his motion to fix bail.
In an interview, Enrile's lawyer Joseph Sagondoy Jr said their impending SC petition will likewise ask for a reversal of the court's denial of the bill of particulars. He added they still have 60 days from July 11 – when their motion was denied – to file the petition.
The motion to suspend Enrile is set to be resolved by the court's 3rd division.
Earlier, a suspension order was already issued against Senator Jose "Jinggoy" Estrada by the court's 5th division. – Rappler.com