MANILA, Philippines – The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan ordered House Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte Jr to explain why he has yet to inform the court of whether he has suspended Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
In an order made public Monday, September 15, the Sandiganbayan Fourth Division directed Belmonte to enforce its order to suspend the congresswoman for 90 days, in relation to graft charges that stemmed from a telecommunications contract when she was Philippine president.
The court also ordered Belmonte to explain 10 days from notice why he failed to comply with the initial directive requiring him to report on the action taken by the chamber.
More than two months now from the day his office received a copy of the suspension order last July 1, Belmonte has yet to report to the court.
The suspension order against Arroyo was issued by the Sandiganbayan Fourth Division on June 26 but was received by the House on July 1. (READ: Court orders suspension of Gloria Arroyo as Pampanga solon)
Sought for comment at the time he received a copy of the resolution, Belmonte merely said, “We’re studying the precedents.”
There are at least 3 precedents in the last 44 years where Sandiganbayan-ordered suspensions against House members were not implemented by the House. (READ: Will the House suspend Gloria Arroyo? Here are precedents)
Only the House could suspend its own members, the chamber argued in those cases.
In its new directive that the Speaker’s office received on September 11, the court emphasized that the suspension of former President Arroyo for 90 days had already attained finality. This is because Arroyo did not appeal the suspension.
Rappler sought Belmonte’s comment on the matter, but the Speaker has yet to reply as of posting.
Arroyo is charged with graft before the 4th division over a botched telecommunications contract of the government with Chinese firm NBN-ZTE during her presidency.
The graft charges against Arroyo were filed in December 2011. She is now detained at state-run Veterans Medical Memorial Center over a separate plunder case.
The cases were based on plunder complaints earlier filed before the Ombudsman by former Bayan Muna Representative Teddy Casiño, former Gabriela Women’s Party Representative Liza Maza, and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) chairperson Carol Araullo.
The Ombudsman, however, only approved the filing of graft charges. Unlike plunder, graft is a bailable offense.
While it took months of silence on Belmonte’s part, the opposite was true for his counterpart in the Senate.
It took merely a few days for Senate President Franklin Drilon to submit to court the chamber’s document of compliance with the 90-day suspension orders against senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada.
Senators Estrada, Enrile, and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr are charged with plunder and graft before the Sandiganbayan over the alleged diversion of millions in their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to bogus projects.
Revilla has yet to be suspended with finality, pending the court’s resolution of his appeal.
In assailing Enrile’s suspension, his lawyer Estelito Mendoza likewise argued that his client can only be suspended by his co-legislators at the Philippine Senate. (READ: Senate should have power to suspend Enrile – lawyer)
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.” – Rappler.com
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