MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Franklin Drilon said the Senate has no choice but to comply with the anti-graft court’s order to suspend senators charged with plunder.
Drilon responded to the argument of the lawyer of Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile that it is the Senate, not the Sandiganbayan, that can suspend his client. Enrile is facing plunder charges over the multi-billion-peso pork barrel corruption scandal involving development funds.
Veteran lawyer Estelito Mendoza said the Constitution provides that the Senate and the House of Representatives each has the power “to punish its members for disorderly behavior” with the concurrence of two-thirds of all its members.
The prosecution, for its part, is citing the plunder law, which provides for the automatic suspension of public officials charged with plunder.
A former justice secretary, Drilon said the Supreme Court already decided on the issue.
“The Supreme Court made a distinction between the power of the Senate to punish its members and the preventive suspension. There is a very basic difference. The power of the Senate is to impose a penalty, which is suspension for 60 days. What the Anti-Graft Law could do is a preventive suspension,” Drilon said on Wednesday, July 23.
Drilon distinguished between suspension as punishment and preventive suspension.
“The penalty of suspension is governed by the institution, of the Senate, which is supreme. Only the Senate can impose the penalty for its members for 60 days. On the other hand, the Anti-Graft Law is applicable to all government officials, and is a preventive suspension for 90 days.”
“By its very nature, its purpose is to prevent the respondent from using his office to influence the investigation. There is no penalty in that, since that is only imposed by the Senate. The Supreme Court was clear on that.”
The Senate president said the Senate then has no choice but to comply with the Sandiganbayan order to preventively suspend a senator.
“That is also the decision of the Supreme Court. The Sandiganbayan has also no discretion on this. It really has to be imposed,” he added.
The anti-graft court is expected to rule on Enrile’s suspension after the defense and prosecution argued for their sides in a hearing on Tuesday.
The Sandiganbayan last week ordered the suspension of Senator Jinggoy Estrada, Enrile’s co-accused. Drilon said he already received the suspension order for the minority senator.
“By the very order, it says that the suspension is effective immediately unless a motion for reconsideration is filed. The senator has 15 days to submit a motion. We will act accordingly once the Sandiganbayan has disposed of the motion if one is filed, or if none, by the end of the 15-day period, which began since I received the copy last Friday,” Drilon said.
Enrile, Estrada and Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr face plunder charges in the country’s biggest corruption scandal in recent history. The 3 are accused of siphoning off funds meant for development and infrastructure projects to fake non-governmental organizations in exchange for millions of pesos in kickbacks.
The 3 senators were arrested separately in June and early July. The court began hearing their petitions for bail, with the actual trial expected to last for years. – Rappler.com