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Like in House, Senate bill bans suspension of officials over charges in past positions

MANILA, Philippines – Weeks after leaders of the House of Representatives did the same, a Senate leader filed a bill seeking to ban the suspension of government officials over charges involving their previous government positions.

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III filed Senate Bill Number 1207 on Tuesday, October 18, to amend Section 13 of the decades-old Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

SB Number 1207 seeks to add the exact same line that House Bill Number 3605 also wants to include:

“That in case such incumbent public officer is no longer connected with the office wherein the offense charged was committed, the preventive suspension order shall no longer be implemented."

The House proponents and Sotto had indicated the same reason for filing, as shown in the explanatory notes of the bills filed in both chambers: RA 3019 was enacted "with the laudable intent of breathing life into the time-honored principle that a public office is a public trust."

Except for a few different words, the Senate version goes: "As preventive suspension is imposed to prevent an accused from influencing potential witnesses or tampering with records, the change in the circumstances of the public officer being charged effectively removes the aforementioned threat, thus defeating the very spirit and intent of the law.”

The bill came a few months after the Sandiganbayan ordered the preventive suspension of Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito over graft charges stemming from his alleged misuse of San Juan city funds when he was mayor in 2008.

It also came a day before the anti-graft court cleared Senator Sherwin Gatchalian of all charges in relation to the alleged irregularities in the Local Water Utilities Administration's 2009 purchase of a thrift bank partially owned by the senator's family. At the time, Gatchalian was mayor of Valenzuela City.

The Senate has not yet implemented the suspension order against Ejercito, with Sotto – chairman of the rules committee – saying they are still awaiting the court's decision on Ejercito's demurrer to evidence. (READ: Senate still undecided on JV Ejercito's suspension)

"Senator JV filed petition of demurrer. It is best that the committee wait for the result. Sandali nalang naman iyon so hintayin na namin bago kami umaksyon. Napakapangit naman tignan na i-grant ng court 'yun (demurrer) tapos kami nagpapasuspindi (It won't be too long so let us just wait for it before we act. It won't look nice if the court would grant the demurrer but we already suspended him)," Sotto said.

Now that the bill has been filed in the two chambers of Congress, it remains to be seen if it would be prioritized in the agenda. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

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