The pork barrel cases: What’s next?
The respondents in the pork barrel cases had five days to file their motions for reconsideration (MR) challenging the order of the Office of the Ombudsman (OOO) to charge them with plunder and other offenses. The MR of Ruby Tuason was granted, and she was given immunity from criminal prosecution. If the MRs of the others are denied, the OOO will file the criminal informations (charge sheets) in the Sandiganbayan (SBN).
Fight on probable cause. Upon such filing, will they (who will then be called “accused”) be automatically arrested and detained? No, not yet. Pursuant to the Bill of Rights of the Constitution, “… no warrant of arrest shall issue except upon probable cause to be determined personally by the judge…”
True, the OOO would have already determined the existence of probable cause before filing the informations. However, in a long line of cases, our Supreme Court has consistently held that judges should not rely on this “executive determination” because, to repeat, the Constitution specifically requires them to determine probable cause “personally” before they issue warrants of arrest. And because the evidence here is voluminous (“truckloads”), such judicial determination could take several days.
The accused may even intervene to show why no warrant of arrest should be issued. Given the capital nature of plunder, the accused may be detained indefinitely pending trial. Like other accused in all criminal cases, they are given many chances to avoid unwarranted detention.
The judicial, apart from the executive, determination of probable cause is required by the 1987 Constitution to curb abuses during martial law when hapless suspects were arbitrarily arrested on the say-so of corrupt or uncaring prosecutors. The Supreme Court has sanctioned judges who failed to heed this duty.
Fight for bail. If the SBN finds probable cause and orders the detention of the accused, the next step would be a grand battle for bail. This can be tedious, as shown by the Maguindanao murder cases which, after four years, are still locked in the fight for the temporary liberty of the many accused. The Constitution mandates the grant of bail in all crimes, except in capital offenses (like plunder) “when the evidence of guilt is strong.”
As in the Maguindanao cases, many cohorts perpetrated the pork barrel scams. Worse, plunder is more complicated than murder because it is a composite of several crimes. Hence, expect an acrimonious battle (1) on the existence of probable cause, and (2) later, on whether the evidence of guilt is strong.
Other motions (like to quash for insufficiency of the information, or to determine place of detention, or to hold proceedings in abeyance due to “prejudicial” questions) could be posed by the accused. But the two above battles would be the major next steps.
What about the recent affidavit of Janet Lim Napoles allegedly incriminating over 100 lawmakers, including 13 senators? Until its contents are revealed and verified, I will not offer any opinion.
An opinion is good only if anchored on verified facts. Those based on speculation or incomplete information are noxious; they merely confuse readers, divert attention, and muddle issues.
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Saint JP II. The canonization last week of Pope John Paul II spawned vivid memories of my personal encounters with him. The first was in November 1985 after I was elected in Rome as the chair—the first Asian—of the International Council of Governors of the American Society of Travel Agents (Asta), the world’s largest travel organization. At that time, the Asta had over 20,000 members from 128 countries.
Mentally and physically robust at 65, JP II impressed even the non-Catholic Asta governors with his inclusive theme of uniting all the descendants of Abraham—Jews, Christians and Muslims—in his anticommunist struggle. I was particularly touched by his strong advocacy against the death penalty.
My second encounter with him was in January 1995 when he keynoted the World Youth Day in our country. As a member of the preparatory committee, I practiced the airport arrival formalities with the then president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, Archbishop Carmelo Morelos. He role-played the part of JP II, and I, that of President Fidel V. Ramos who was to meet the Pope at the tarmac.
During the final rehearsal, Archbishop Morelos quipped, “With our several rehearsals, I think you will be president of our country someday.” To which I replied, “Your prophecy will happen only if you, Excellency, will be the pope!” We both had a good laugh. But as destiny would have it, President Ramos appointed me to the Supreme Court later that year.
Incidentally, our eldest grandson, Miguel P. Sandejas, then five years old, and Vada Rodriguez, granddaughter of Ambassador Tita and Bing de Villa, were the official youth welcomers, the first to greet JP II upon his descent from the Alitalia DC-10 plane. Miguel handed JP II his colored drawing titled “Viva il Papa” and a salakot, which the Pontiff gamely wore for a while and then waved joyfully to the crowd. Vada gifted him with a garland and a poem she had composed.
In 1996, JP II named me a member for five years of the Pontifical Council for the Laity (PCL), which met with him annually in the Vatican. With 30 other PCL members from various countries, I was lucky to have had several close encounters with one of the greatest leaders of the Catholic Church in its 2,000-year history.
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