Miriam: Automatic suspension for senators in 'pork' case
MANILA, Philippines - Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago said Monday that senators charged with plunder over the P10-billion pork barrel scam should be automatically suspended.
Santiago, a constitutional law expert, said that under the 1991 Anti-Plunder Act, the accused shall be automatically suspended from office when the Ombudsman files plunder charges in court.
"This means that the senators and representatives implicated as persons of interest shall be suspended from Congress while trial is pending," Santiago said in a news release.
She cited Section 5 of the Anti-Plunder Act, which states that "Any public officer against whom any criminal prosecution under a valid information under this Act in whatever stage of execution and mode of participation, is pending in court, shall be suspended from office."
Santiago added that there is no constitutional provision that senators can be suspended only by the upper chamber.
"That provision is not found in the Constitution, but only in the Senate Rules. While under the Anti-Plunder Act, suspension is mandatory as indicated by the word 'shall' in the Senate Rules suspension is merely permissive, as indicated by the use of the word 'may,'" Santiago said.
The Department of Justice filed before the Office of the Ombudsman plunder complaints against Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, and Ramon Revilla Jr., who have been accused of coursing their pork barrel to bogus non-government organizations set up by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.
Senate President Franklin Drilon said the senators charged with plunder before the Office of the Ombudsman won't be suspended from office just yet.
In an interview on ANC Headstart, Drilon said the senators tagged in the pork barrel scam who are now facing plunder charges will not be automatically suspended since the Ombudsman will have to evaluate the evidence gathered by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
Drilon said if the Ombudsman finds the evidence of the NBI sufficient, the charged senators will be required to file their counter-affidavit.
"This is the process dahil the Ombudsman is like a fiscal wherein anyone who is charged will be given the opportunity to respond. Usually, under the rules, they are given 10 days," Drilon said in the ANC interview, a transcript of which was uploaded to the Senate website.
But if the NBI evidence is found insufficient, the Ombudsman will order a further investigation or fact-finding.
Drilon said a legislator will be suspended after the Sandiganbayan issues an arrest warrant against the lawmaker charged with plunder, a non-bailable offense.
"In effect there is suspension because if it's a non-bailable offense, the lawmaker is automatically prevented from reporting for work," said Drilon.