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MANILA, Philippines – The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan tagged as absurd the attempt of Senator Jinggoy Estrada to disqualify a justice official deputized by the Ombudsman to prosecute him over plunder and graft cases.
In a 6-page resolution issued Monday, September 15, the Sandiganbayan Fifth Division denied Estrada’s move to prohibit Department of Justice (DOJ) Undersecretary Jose “JJ” Justiniano from acting as a government litigator.
“Indeed, it would be quite absurd that Undersecretary Justiniano, who is one of the DOJ’s officials, cannot assist in the prosecution of offenses which his Department is precisely duty bound to perform,” read the resolution.
In his motion, the detained senator argued that the Constitution prohibits a Cabinet Undersecretary from holding any other office or employment. (READ: Estrada wants DOJ official out of his case)
But the court resolved that Justiniano’s role as deputized prosecutor is “merely an additional function and not another office.”
“His prosecutorial functions which he is tasked to perform are not foreign to his duties as Undersecretary of the DOJ,” the resolution read.
At the DOJ, Justiniano was designated as the undersecretary-in-charge of the probe into the scam that siphoned off millions in lawmakers’ Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and in government’s proceeds from natural gas operations off the shores of Palawan known as the Malampaya Fund.
Opposition senators Estrada, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr, and Juan Ponce Enrile are charged with plunder and graft for allegedly financially benefitting from and knowingly allowing the diversion of their PDAF to ghost projects of non-governmental organizations.
Justiniano is currently helping the prosecution team in Estrada’s and Revilla’s cases. He has yet to file an entry of appearance for the cases of 90-year-old Enrile.
His inclusion in the PDAF prosecution panel came after a series of reported blunders by the government lawyers. This involved proposed amendments in the charge sheets against the 3 senators in their plunder cases. (READ: Weak PDAF cases? Ombudsman amends info vs 3 senators)
Justiniano’s 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.
The court recognized the prosecution’s arguments that Justiniano’s role assisting in the PDAF cases before the Sandiganbayan does not “constitute employment,” adding that Justiniano “is not receiving additional compensation” for it.
The court added that the authority of the Ombudsman to deputize government lawyers is clearly recognized by law, specifically by Section 31 of the Ombudsman Act of 1898.
It further resolved that Justiniano’s duties at the DOJ are not limited to policy-making, contrary to Estrada’s claim.
Such a restriction is not provided by law, the court said.
In assailing the move to disqualify Justiniano, government lawyers dismissed the disqualification attempt as a mere delaying tactic.
“Clearly, therefore, other than to further delay the prosecution of this case, Accused Estrada’s Motion to Disqualify has no basis in law and should be denied outright,” read the opposition they filed last September 3. – Rappler.com