Sandiganbayan division split on fate of Napoles children

MANILA, Philippines – Two anti-graft court justices think that the two children of Janet Lim Napoles should face trial for graft charges in connection with the misuse of millions of pesos in public funds.

But a third one, Justice Samuel Martires, is not that convinced – not yet anyway – providing a glimmer of hope for Napoles’ children that they may yet get off the hook.

A division of 5 will be convened by the Sandiganbayan 3rd division which is handling the plunder and graft charges against Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, after its members failed to unanimously agree on the issue of probable cause to some of the accused.

Section 2 of the Sandiganbayan’s Rule VII on Motions says that a unanimous vote of the 3 justices in a division is needed for a ruling by the division. "In case a unanimous vote cannot be obtained, a Special Division of five (5) Justices shall be constituted," with a "majority vote of such Special Division" being sufficient to decide on a motion. 

The anti-graft court's internal rules say that it is the Presiding Justice who designates by raffle two justices "on rotation basis from all the other members of the Sandiganbayan to sit temporarily with them, forming a Special Division of Five."

Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang, and members Samuel Martires and Alex Quiroz will hold a meeting Monday, July 7, to discuss the separate concurring resolution of Martires which, in effect, split the division on the fate of 12 other accused in the graft case with Enrile.

Gridlock

A court insider pointed out that Martires' separate resolution is essentially a “dissent” as far as the 12 others were concerned, including Jo Christine and James Christopher Napoles. Martires, who was the last one to study the plunder and graft cases, is the source of the gridlock.

On Friday, July 4, the anti-graft court’s 3rd division found probable cause to proceed with the trial of Enrile and 4 other co-accused in the plunder charge and issued warrants of arrest. (READ: Court orders arest of Enrile, Gigi Reyes, others)

Out of the 49 people charged before the 3rd division for graft charges, 37 got the green light to proceed with the trial. Arrest warrants are expected to be issued by the court anytime soon.

But the court deferred judgment on the determination of probable cause and the issuance of arrest warrants as well to Jo Christine and James Christopher Napoles, plus 10 others.

In his separate concurring opinion, Martires ordered the prosecution to present additional evidence on 8 of the accused, an indication that he found the evidence against them insufficient to establish probable cause. They included Jo Christine and James Napoles, as well as Fernando Ramirez, Aileen Palama, Amparo Fernando, Jesus Bergola Castillo, Dorilyn Fabian, and Renato Ornopia. (READ: Indigents drawn into pork case can’t afford bail)

"I dissent that warrants of arrest be issued against the persons," his separate opinion read. (READ: Court acts as fiscal and judge of Napoles’ children)

The justice also pushed for the dismissal of the graft case against Margarita Guadinez while he voted for the reinvestigation against Laarni Uy, Rodrigo Galang, and Hernani Ditchon.

Bargaining chip

Napoles has used her children as a bargaining chip in exchange for her total cooperation in the pork barrel scam. The alleged mastermind of the worst corruption public fund scandal in recent years had asked government to spare her children from being charged.

Napoles has issued a tell-all affidavit in her effort to be admitted as state witness. The Ombudsman however rejected her plea to become state witness.

Jo Christine and James Christopher posted a surety bond of P450,000 (about $10,000) each for the 15 graft charges filed against them in anticipation of a warrant of arrest. They countered that the charges against them came from “polluted sources.” (READ: Napoles children slam ‘polluted’ state witnesses)

Former employees of Napoles said Napoles’ children took part in the misuse of the P900-million ($20.5 million) Malampaya Fund meant for typhoon victims, and in the operations of bogus non-governmental organizations that were used as fronts in the abuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund of lawmakers. – Rappler.com