THE Sandiganbayan on Friday raffled off the pork barrel-related plunder and graft suits filed against Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr. to three different divisions of the anti-graft court.
A Supreme Court spokesman, however, said Friday’s raffle would have no effect on a pending request by the Ombudsman for the creation of two special divisions in the Sandiganbayan to exclusively try the cases.
The 45 complaints – 42 for graft and three for plunder – have been consolidated to simplify the proceedings, since all the graft suits are anchored on the plunder cases, said Associate Justice Oscar Herrera, who heads the raffle committee at the Sandiganbayan.
“We have consolidated the cases against Enrile and his co-accused; Estrada and his co-accused; and Revilla and his co-accused,” Herrera said.
Enrile’s cases were raffled off to the anti-graft court’s Third Division chaired by Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje Tang, while Estrada’s cases will be handled by the Fifth Division, chaired by Associate Justice Roland Jurado. Revilla’s suits were raffled off to the First Division under Associate Justice Efren de la Cruz.
The Sandiganbayan gave the justices 10 days to study the cases, establish probable cause and issue arrest warrants.
But a spokesman for the anti-graft court, Renato Bocar, acknowledged that the charges were “complicated,” and that 10 dyas might not be enough to determine probable cause.
The Office of the Ombudsman earlier urged the Supreme Court to create two special divisions to exclusively handle the plunder and graft charges filed against Enrile, Estrada and Revilla.
The Supreme Court ordered the Sandiganbayan to file a comment on the request.
Bocar said if the Supreme Court approves the creation of the special divisions, then all the charges would be transferred to these courts.
The alleged mastermind of the scam, Janet Lim Napoles, the senators’ staff, officers of the implementing government agencies and the non-government organizatiosn involved were named co-respondents in the plunder and graft cases.
Fifteen counts of graft were filed against Enrile and his co-accused; 16 against Revilla and his co-accused; and 12 against Estrada and his co-accused.
Enrile, through the Ponce Enrile Reyes & Manalastas Law Office, filed a bail petition with the Sandiganbayan for his provisional liberty.
Enrile’s petition said his bail should be the “most reasonably amount... possible” because of the “sheere insufficiency of evidence” against him.
It also noted that he was 90 years old, in poor physical condition and requiring constant medical attention.
The petition also said Enrile was not a flight risk, since he had never violated the condition of previous bails granted him, and asked that the anti-graft court issue an order finding no probable cause for a warrant of arrest on Enrile since “nobody actually saw him take any kickback or bribe.”
Revilla, represented by the Bodegon Estorninos Guerzon Borje Law Office, filed motions for judicial determination of probable cuase and to suspend the June 19 proceedings.
Enrile on Friday said he would not oppose a televised trial.
“Better, better, so that it will be open. So that the public will know the truth,” said Enrile.
Following the raffling off of the pork barrel cases, Estrada said he was confident that he would be acquitted of the charges against him and expressed his trust that the Sandiganbayan will decide on his case fairly.
Estrada again expressed his readiness to face arrest, saying he will not leave the country.
“I will not leave the country. If they issue a warrant now, I will go to them now. If [the warrant] comes after one week, then I will wait,” he said.
Revilla’s lawyer also said they expect a fair trial, saying that the appointment of a justice by a sitting president should not be a factor in the case.
In the House, a suggestion by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. to allow Enrile house arrest gained support.
Minority Leader and San Juan Rep. Ronaldo Zamora said that the 90-year-old senator deserves respect and humane treatment.
“I think if you are 90, 80, 70, I think you deserve some consideration from the courts… Our jails are not the best in the world. And I don’t think a 90-year-old individual has to go through this,” Zamora said.
“If you live until 90, perhaps you should be given a little consideration,” Zamora said.
Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, head of the House independent minority bloc, added that Enrile deserved humane treatment.
“It is a little bit worrisome that while the case is not away now from the court of public opinion and are now with regular courts that those who have been charged are already [being portrayed] as guilty,” Romualdez said.
Enrile earlier said he was ready to go to jail, and even die there.
“Why should I resist? I am a lawyer. I know the process. I have no reason to resist,” he told reporters, when asked about his impending arrest.
“I have been prepared since several days ago. I have already packed up my things to bring into Camp Crame if it is where we’re going to be confined,” Enrile said.
Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II said the Philippine National Police is prepared to accommodate 54 accused persons, including the three senators, on a temporary basis at Camp Crame, in case the Sandiganbayan issues arrest warrants.
The PNP could provide a temporary holding area for the three senators until the court has decided where they should be detained, said Roxas, who inspected the detention center at police headquarters.
In a statement after the raffle, Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te said the justices have yet to decide on the Ombudsman’s petition for special divisions.
“The raffle is without prejudice to any action the SC may take on the request,” Te said in a text message to reporters.
If the Court grants the Ombudsman’s request, the cases would simply be transferred from the regular divisions to the special courts, he said.
The last time a special division of the anti-graft court was created was in January 2002 when former President Joseph Estrada was indicted for plunder. Jinggoy Estrada was also an accused in that plunder case, but he was later cleared. With Maricel V. Cruz, Rey E. Requejo and Francisco Tuyay
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