Palace on plunder cases: Evidence trumps technicalities

MANILA, Philippines – A weaker case? The Palace doesn't think so.

On Monday, July 30,  Malacañang showed no concern over the Ombudsman's withdrawal of its motion to amend information in relation to plunder charges against lawmakers accused of pocketing millions of their development funds.

Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the evidence gathered by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and submitted to the Ombudsman was more than enough – and that this fact alone is more important than technicalities. (READ: Ombudsman ‘blunder’ may cause the plunder charges?

Anti-graft court Sandiganbayan, however, has since warned the prosecutors that lawmakers could be released from detention if the amendments were admitted.

"I think the courts know the value of technicality. There's a saying in law that technicality should not prevail over substance or over evidence. So our justices also know that. It is up to them to evaluate the evidence," he said.

The Ombudsman withdrew its motion to amend plunder information against Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada, after Sandiganbayan earlier junked the move of the Ombudsman to amend plunder information it filed against Senator Ramon "Bong " Revilla Jr.

Revilla, Enrile and Estrada are accused of conniving with alleged scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles, to channel their development funds to her bogus non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in exchange for hefty kickbacks.

The amended information would have reflected that it was the lawmakers themselves who amassed ill-gotten wealth, rather than Napoles. 

But Malacañang said the current issue is of secondary importance to the fact that there is sufficient evidence pointing to the accused.

"One would go beyond what we see right now and go to the crux of the information. Question asked is – as the President has always stated – do we have evidence as strong enough to pursue? And I think the answer to that is the evidence are there," he said.

Lacierda said not only are there testimonies of the whistleblowers, there are also documents such as the Special Allotment Release Orders, and the Commission on Audit report, among others.

"So we believe that we have an evidence that can meet the standard of proof beyond reasonable doubt but that will take time. In the same manner that the other side will say we don’t have any evidence, our side will say we took some time," he said.

The Palace earlier said amendments are "allowed by rules of court." It also emphasized the amendments being submitted were the initiative of the Ombudsman, which is not under the control of the Executive.

"If you recall, the DOJ and NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) conducted a thorough investigation. They submitted product of their case buildup to the Office of the Ombudsman. The Office of the Ombudsman conducted its own process," Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma earlier said.

Napoles, Estrada and Revilla are currently detained while the Sandiganbayan is studying the complaint against Enrile on whether it could stand in court. -