Ombudsman: Pangasinan's Espino not immune to suspension

MANILA, Philippines – The Office of the Ombudsman has disputed a claim by former Pangasinan congressman Amado Espino Jr that only the House of Representatives can suspend him from office in the face of graft charges against him before the Sandiganbayan.

In a 6-page reply released on Wednesday, August 31, Prosecution Bureau 11 Director Jennifer Agustin Se asked the Sandiganbayan Sixth Division to suspend Espino pending trial of his cases.

Espino, longtime governor of Pangasinan until this year, is facing charges for allegedly allowing illegal black sand mining operations in his province in 2011.

In his Opposition, Espino said that the 1987 Constitution gave Congress the power to discipline and suspend its members. He said this makes the House of Representatives the single body than can order his suspension, and an order coming from the anti-graft court would be contrary to the Constitution.

The prosecutor cited the Supreme Court in Defensor Santiago vs the Sandiganbayan, where provisions of Republic Act 3019, the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, were reinforced against Congress members.

“The arguments of accused should not be given merit for lack of factual and legal basis. The authority of the Sandiganbayan to issue preventive suspension…has long been settled by the Supreme Court.”

Se said that in the same Supreme Court ruling, a suspension order from the Sandiganbayan was distinguished as preventive in nature. A similar directive issued by Congress, meanwhile, was punitive and done in response to disorderly behavior by a member.

The prosecutor added that preventive suspension of an accused in a graft case has been declared mandatory in nature. She explained, “The prosecution humbly submits that the suspension of accused Espino pending litigation of this case is but just and proper in accordance with law and jurisprudence." –