Drilon asks for courtesy: Don’t make arrests at the Senate

Ayee Macaraig

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The Senate President points out the senators will only be under preventive suspension for 90 days. 'After 90 days, they can file bills and hold hearings, even if in detention'

COURTESY. While there's no law on this, Senate President Franklin Drilon says he will ask the arresting officer to observe institutional courtesy in the event warrants are issued against 3 senators. Photo by Ayee Macaraig/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Not a matter of law but of courtesy.

If the Sandiganbayan issues an arrest warrant against the 3 senators accused of plunder, Senate President Franklin Drilon said he will not allow them to be arrested in the Senate building “as a matter of institutional courtesy.”

Opposition senators Ramon Revilla Jr, Jinggoy Estrada, and Juan Ponce Enrile face plunder charges for repeatedly endorsing the dummy non-governmental organizations of alleged mastermind Janet Lim Napoles. (READ: What happens if ‘pork’ senators are arrested?)

For doing so, according to the Ombudsman, Revilla allegedly got kickbacks worth P242 million; Enrile, P183 million; and Estrada, P172 million.

The Ombudsman filed on Friday, June 6, plunder charges against the 3 senators and their aides and middlemen, along with Napoles. The Sandiganbayan, the anti-graft court, is expected to issue arrest warrants anytime

“I will talk to the sheriff or law enforcement officer. I would request that they do not arrest the accused in the Senate. This is not a matter of law because, theoretically, the law enforcement officers can arrest them anywhere. It’s a request that certain courtesies be observed, that’s all,” Drilon said in a press briefing in Makati on Friday, June 6.

No impact on legislation

If the 3 senators are arrested, Drilon said it will have no impact on legislation.

The Senate President explained that while the plunder law states that the legislators will be automatically suspended, their absence will not affect the voting on bills and treaties.

Drilon said there is also no need for a Senate reorganization even if the 3 senators hold posts as officers or committee chairmen. Enrile is the minority leader while Estrada heads the labor committee, and Revilla is chairman of the public services committee.

“The vice chairman takes over. I took over as ways and means chairman [in the 15th Congress] when Senator [Ralph] Recto declined to handle the sin tax [bill]. I think he resigned as chairman of ways and means so I took over,” Drilon said.

As a matter of procedure, Drilon said the Ombudsman, through the Special Prosecutor, will file a motion before the Sandiganbayan to ask for the suspension of the senators. He said the law does not allow the Sandiganbayan to deny the motion.

They can function in jail

Once the Sandiganbayan orders the suspension of the senators, Drilon said the Senate will comply. He reiterated though that jurisprudence states that the senators will only be under preventive suspension for 90 days.

“After 90 days, they can file bills and hold hearings, even if in detention. That was the case of Senator [Antonio] Trillanes. He was detained but he was not preventively suspended and therefore he continued to perform the functions of a senator – file bills, conduct committee hearings,” Drilon said.

If jailed, the senators will not be able to vote on measures because they have to be physically present in session to do so.

‘They won’t hide’

Asked if the arrest of the senators will be a loss for the Senate, Drilon said, “Well certainly, that’s one-eighth of 24 [senators]. But we’ll continue to function. Next week on Monday, we’ll pass on third reading 6 measures.”

Drilon said he has no plans of talking to the 3 senators but they can avail themselves of legal relief like filing a petition for bail.

Although plunder is a non-bailable offense, the accused can be granted bail if the court finds that the evidence of guilt is weak. (READ: Miriam on Ombudsman: There’s a God, after all)

“If there’s any advice I can give to them, just follow the process. There are remedies available,” Drilon said.

The Senate leader doused speculation that the 3 will evade arrest, like in the case of former senator Panfilo Lacson and Senator Gregorio Honasan II. Revilla, Estrada and Enrile said they will face the charges against them.   

“I don’t think they will resist arrest or go into hiding. I know them. I don’t think they’ll do that,” said Drilon. – Rappler.com

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