MANILA, Philippines – Senator Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada told the Sandiganbayan that Department of Justice (DOJ) Undersecretary Jose “JJ” Justiniano is not qualified to be a member of the government panel prosecuting the plunder and graft cases against him.
In a motion filed Tuesday, August 26, before the anti-graft court, Estrada said Justiniano’s position as DOJ official prevents him from acting as a government litigator.
Justiniano and 2 others from the DOJ were deputized by the Ombudsman as prosecutors in the cases involving the multi-million-peso misuse of lawmakers’ Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
“The Constitution prohibits a Cabinet Undersecretary from holding any other office or employment,” Estrada’s motion read, citing section 13, article VII, paragraph 1 of the 1987 charter.
Justiniano is currently helping the prosecution team in the plunder and graft cases of detained opposition senators Estrada and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. He has yet to file an entry of appearance for the cases of 90-year-old senator Juan Ponce Enrile.
Earlier, the lawyers of Revilla also objected to Justiniano’s inclusion in the prosecution team against their client. The court’s 1st division denied the move outright.
In the cases of Estrada, the court’s 5th division asked his lawyers to instead file a formal motion in writing.
It was Justiniano who headed the DOJ team that filed the PDAF cases before the Ombudsman for preliminary investigation. He said he’s not paid as a prosecutor and that it’s not a second job for him.
His familiarity with the PDAF cases is what he brings to the prosecution team, in addition to his litigation experience.
A former partner in Sycip Law, Justiniano was part of the prosecution team in the impeachment case against ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Blunders by the prosecution team?
His inclusion in the PDAF prosecution panel came after a series of reported blunders by the government lawyers. This involved a series of proposed amendments in the charge sheets against the 3 senators in their plunder cases.
The amended charge sheets took out the phrase that indicated it was the 3 senators’ co-accused Janet Napoles who misappropriated government funds for her personal gain.
The new phrasing reflected that it was the senators who illegally acquired the public funds. Among the elements of plunder is the amassing of ill-gotten wealth by a public official.
In the plunder case of Revilla, the court junked the prosecution’s move to admit the amendments; in the case of Estrada, prosecutors flip-flopped on the amendments in open court; and in the case of Enrile, the prosecutors withdrew their motion even before it was to be heard in court.
Revilla’s lawyer Joel Bodegon said the proposed and later on junked amendments were a judicial admission that the charge sheet on plunder against his client was inadequate in form.
The prosecution’s actions were likewise seen by some court observers as a costly blunder.
“The information is the heart of the case. If the heart has an ailment, things do not look so rosy,” explained a former prosecutor who helped pin down former president Joseph Ejercito Estrada for plunder.
The information or charge sheet, however, was prepared by a different set of government lawyers who handled the cases at their preliminary investigation stage.
Lead prosecutor Joefferson Toribio maintains they have always been confident about the PDAF cases. – Rappler.com