Aquino's Mamasapano cases raffled to Sandigan appointee's division

MANILA, Philippines – The graft and usurpation cases against former president Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III were raffled off on Friday, November 10, to the Third Division of the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan.

The Third Division is chaired by Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang, Aquino's appointee.

"The fact will never influence whatever action we will take in the case. We will act objectively based on what is before the court," Tang told reporters after the raffle.

Tang also said she will not inhibit from the cases. (READ: Aquino's appeal at Ombudsman: A defense of Purisima)

"The court will never shirk from its responsibility to dispense justice. There are legal grounds for inhibition and having been appointed by the accused before is not one of the legal grounds for inhibition," said the Presiding Justice.

The Third Division's other members are Associate Justice Sarah Jane Fernandez, another Aquino appointee, and Associate Justice Bernelito Fernandez, who is President Rodrigo Duterte's first appointee to the Sandiganbayan.

The graft and usurpation of authority charges against Aquino were filed on the accusation that there is conspiracy among him, former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief director-general Alan Purisima, and ex-PNP Special Action Force (SAF) director Getulio Napeñas to commit the crimes.

Similar charges were earlier filed against Purisima and  Napeñas, and their cases were raffled off to the 4th Division. It is unclear now whether there will be a move to consolidate all 3 cases in one division, seeing that the accusation is conspiracy among the 3 men.

After the raffle, the Third Division will have to determine whether there is probable cause to issue a warrant of arrest against Aquino. In the past, Sandiganbayan defendants, especially the high-profile ones, opted to post their bail even before a warrant of arrest is issued to avoid fanfare.

Should Aquino choose to do so, Tang said he can. The Office of the Ombudsman recommended bail at P40,000 or P30,000 for one count of graft and P10,000 for one count of usurpation of authority.

"The court has been doing that. When the accused appears before the court that means he is voluntarily submitting himself to the jurisdiction of the court. It may be exercised anytime provided that the case is bailable in nature," Tang said.

Tang is not new to accusations of bias by virture of her being an Aquino appointee. 

Former senator Juan Ponce Enrile wanted her to recuse from his plunder charges, but Tang denied that motion

Former Makati City mayor Elenita Binay also wanted her to inhibit, but the Presiding Justice denied that motion too. Mrs Binay is also appealing to re-raffle the cases to take them out from the Third Division, and had filed an appeal before the Supreme Court to overturn Tang's denials.

"Lahat naman kami dito inappoint somehow by the President (All of us here were somehow appointed by the President). More than just our gratefulness to those who appointed us, we have a sworn duty and that should be the foremost consideration. To render justice as justice should be dispensed without fear or favor," Tang said. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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