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Drilon: Enrile, Jinggoy, Bong face suspension

MANILA, Philippines - Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile and Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Bong Revilla Jr are facing automatic suspension once the Sandiganbayan finds probable case on the plunder complaint filed against them and more than 30 others in relation with the pork barrel fund misuse.

Senate President Franklin Drilon did not rule out this possibility once the Sandiganbayan finds merit in the filing of plunder complaint against the three incumbent senators and issues the warrants of arrest against them.

Drilon issued the statement when asked whether he thinks the 24-member Senate will still be complete once it resumes from the Holy Week break on May 4.

“That will be up to the Sandiganbayan, which has the power to issue the warrant of arrest,” Drilon said over DWIZ radio.

Drilon, a former justice secretary, noted that the plunder complaint is a non-bailable offense, which would warrant the detention of the respondents even as the Sandiganbayan is still hearing the case.

Drilon cited the case of a certain Governor Veloso, where the Supreme Court ruled that public officials will get automatic suspension upon the filing of the prosecution of the appropriate decision before the Sandiganbayan.

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“Once the case is filed. So assuming that the case is elevated before the Sandiganbayan, first, I repeat, the Sandiganbayan has the powers to issue the warrants of arrest and that this is a non-bailable offense,” Drilon said.

“Secondly, this warrants for automatic suspension [which happens] the moment that the Ombudsman files the petition to suspend those accused as public officials,” Drilon said.

Drilon said the issue will be out of the hands of the Senate leadership since it will be the Sandiganbayan that will be issuing the suspension orders.

“Well, I am sure that the Sandiganbayan will act, or will have to act on it. That’s their job. So we will just wait for the action of the Ombudsman on the motions for recommendation which were filed on the first week of April,” Drilon said in Filipino.

'It is logical for Reyes to come back'

At the same time, Drilon also welcomed the move of lawyer Gigi Reyes,  Enrile's former chief of staff, to return to the country to defend herself against accusations of pork barrel fund misuse.

“It’s a logical move. It is very difficult to hide overseas. You cannot hide all your life…It is good that she returned and decided to face the charges being leveled against her,” Drilon said.

Drilon said Reyes made the good move to subject herself to the legal processes in the country where “the guilty are jailed and the innocents are acquitted.”

Reyes has to pass the requisites of the law if she wants to become state witness, the Senate president added.

“Under the Rules of Court and the Witness Protection Program, being a state witness has pre-requisites. First, she should be least guilty and second, her testimony can be used to convict the mastermind,” Drilon said.

“Who is the principal mastermind? Are there enough conditions so that (the mastermind) is convicted even without her (the state witness)?,” Drilon asked, adding that it is up to the Ombudsman to determine whether Reyes can be accepted as state witness.

Blue Ribbon waits for Reyes

Sen. Sergio Osmeña, vice-chairperson of the Blue Ribbon committee, said the panel has been unable to reach Reyes to determine if she wants to attend a Senate hearing on the pork barrel.

He said Blue Ribbon chairman Sen. Teofisto Guingona III has tried but failed so far to talk to Reyes, who returned to the country last Saturday about eight months after she slipped out of the country after she was tagged in the pork barrel scam.

Just like any other respondents in the pork barrel complaint, Osmeña noted that Reyes can be qualified as a state witness “unless you are the most guilty.”

On reports that Reyes was pinning down the blame on her deputy chief of staff, Jose Evangelista, Osmeña said every person is entitled to put up a defense. “I don’t know their processes inside their office.”

Osmeña said he is leaving it up to Reyes whether she will appear before the Senate Blue Ribbon committee once invited by the panel.

“Under our democracy, the accused also have rights and they cannot be forced to speak before the Blue Ribbon committee,” the senator said.

In the case of Napoles, Osmeña noted that the alleged pork barrel mastermind was mum on her role in the disbursement of the pork barrel funds of lawmakers.  She invoked her right not to incriminate herself, the senator recalled.

“It depends. We have no power to force someone to speak,” Osmeña added.

Osmeña said Reyes can be summoned to the Senate “only if additional information will be given to the committee” otherwise, the Senate will just be wasting its time if it conducts another hearing.

Osmeña’s statement differs from Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who has been vocal in her call for the Blue Ribbon to summon the former chief of staff of her nemesis.

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