Puno thumbs down special court for pork scam trials

Posted at 06/18/14 11:31 AM

MANILA - Former Chief Justice Reynato Puno believes there is no need to create a special court that will exclusively try the plunder charges against three senators and several other co-accused over the alleged misuse of public funds.

Speaking to radio DZMM, Puno said composing a special court could lead to a violation of the rights of the accused.

"Why call it special? Yung special pipiliin ang mga justices na hahawak niyan? Special in terms of special procedures to be followed, special rules to be followed? Mahirap maging special in that sense because it will violate the rights of the accused and it will violate the law," he said.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales earlier petitioned the Supreme Court to create a special division to handle the pork scam trials, similar to the one that handle the plunder case of former President Joseph Estrada.

Puno, however, said the SC was forced to create the special division because some Sandiganbayan justices during that time "inhibited from the trial, some retired and the regular division cannot try the case."

"Na-compel ang court dun to make that division but the justices were not handpicked. The procedures stayed the same. The right of the accused to fairness was not impaired," he said.

Three senators - Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla - as well as several other individuals are facing plunder and graft charges before the Sandiganbayan for their alleged involvement in the P10 billion pork barrel scam.

A Commission on Audit report earlier said at least P2 billion in priority development assistance funds were funneled to NGOs of Janet Napoles from 2007 to 2009.

Enrile is accused of plundering nearly P173 million in public funds while Revilla is accused of amassing more than P224 million and Estrada P184 million.

Puno said the cases have entered a new stage now that the charges have reached the anti-graft court.

"Let us not just look at quick justice but correct justice will be given by the Sandiganbayan all the way to the Supreme Court," he said.

He warned that the people will lose trust in the judiciary if it fails to deliver the justice expected from an impartial tribunal.

"Kung hindi tama at di karapat-dapat, napakalungkot po ang mangyayari sa ating bayan," he said.

"Our duty as citizens is to be vigilant and be sure that the justice handed down by the Sandiganbayan will be the justice that is expected of an impartial tribunal," he added.

He also warned against delaying the trial, saying that lawyers who purposely delay the proceedings could face sanctions.

The former chief justice said it is up to the court to determine if due process was followed in the filing of the charges against the accused.

"Ginagamit madalas yan pero makikita natin how the High Court approaches these types of questions. Just because a petitioner states that this is a prejudicial question does not mean that the High court will believe it is prejudicial. That is a conclusion. A prejudicial question depends on the facts of the case, the law and many other factors," he said.

"Kung minsan tingin pa lang ng Kataas-taasang Hukuman kung ano yung isyu na inaakyat sa kanila, makikita natin pag nakita nung Korte Suprema na yan ay isang substantive impairment of the rights of the accused, mag ti-TRO kaagad yan. Pero pag di naman, they will make the other party comment so that the court can get a complete picture of the issue."

Revilla earlier asked the Sandiganbayan to suspend the proceedings against him since the Ombudsman has yet to produce the complete records of its preliminary investigation on the charges filed against him.

Puno, however, said the court must consider several factors in Revilla's request.

"Ano ba yung sinasabi o hinihinging affidavit at halimbawa ay sila ba'y nagkaroon na ba ng opportunity na kunin yang affidavit na yan pero hindi nila kinukuha. Gaano ba ka-importante ang affidavit na yan ? Yung issue na rine-raise ay pwede bang i-raise sa Sandiganbayan? In other words, you go by degree in your appreciation of the issue. Ang guideline diyan is how serious is the impairment of the right of the petitioner," he said.

The former chief justice said the pork scam trials will be a "defining moment" not just for the judiciary but the entire nation as well.

"Ako ay naging career justice. Kulang kulang 40 years ako nasa judiciary. Itong mg kaso na ito - this will provide a defining moment for our people and for the nation. Dito po makikita natin kung gaano katatag ang ating demokrasya. Makikita natin kung gaano kagaling ang ibibigay na hustisya ng ating judiciary dito sa napakalahalagang kaso," he said.