Press Release
September 16, 2013


Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago said that under the 1991 Anti-Plunder Act, when the Ombudsman files plunder charges in court, the accused shall be automatically suspended from office.

"This means that the senators and representatives implicated as persons of interest shall be suspended from Congress while trial is pending," she said.

The feisty lady senator directly contradicted an earlier statement by Senate President Franklin Drilon that the implicated senator can only be suspended after conviction.

Santiago, a constitutional law expert, also said that a provision cited by Drilon was not contained in the Constitution, but only in the Senate Rules.

She said that Drilon's statements suffered from "doctrinal confusion."

Santiago quoted the Anti-Plunder Act, Sec. 5: "Suspension and Loss of Benefits. - 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."

She said that there is no constitutional provision that senators can be suspended only by the Senate.

"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,'" she said.

Santiago quoted the Senate Rules, Rule 34, Sec. 97: "Upon the recommendation of the Committee on Ethics and Privileges, the Senate may punish any Member for disorderly behaviour and, with the concurrence of two-thirds (2/3) of the entire membership, suspend or expel a Member. A penalty of suspension shall not exceed sixty (60) calendar days."

She said she was compelled to issue her statement, in order to stand by her similar statement made during a speech before some 1,000 students attending a national conference at SMX Convention Center last September 9.

Last Sunday, September 15, a major daily quoted Drilon as saying that "even if they are criminally charged before the Ombudsman, the senators cannot be suspended until they are convicted."

Drilon reportedly made the statement at a Quezon City media forum last September 14. Drilon's statement was contrary to Santiago's statement last September 9.

Santiago further disagreed with Drilon's prediction that after the NBI report is submitted to the Ombudsman, a long time will be needed before the case is filed in court.

Santiago said that the Ombudsman has already ensured quick action by creating a Special Team of Investigators, which is conducting parallel investigation with the NBI.

The senator said that under the Ombudsman's Administrative Order No. 7, the investigating panel will receive the complaint with the attached affidavits of supporting witnesses.

The panel will issue an order directing the respondents to submit, within ten days from receipt, their counter-affidavits and contradicting evidence.

In turn, the complainant may file a reply-affidavit within ten days from service of the counter-affidavits.

After the filing of the parties' respective affidavits, the investigating panel may conduct a clarificatory hearing.

Both parties will be given the opportunity to present their witnesses, but the parties may not examine or cross-examine the witnesses.

"Under the Ombudsman's Administrative Order No. 7, any of the following are prohibited: motion to dismiss, motion for bill of particulars or a motion for more definite statement of crimes. Thus, delay tactics are avoided," she said.

"Contrary to the prediction that the cases will drag on, under the law, the Ombudsman will finish the preliminary investigation within 30 days from submission. If she files cases with the Sandigan court, the court is required to render a decision within three months from the date the case was submitted for decision," she said.

Santiago cited Administrative Order No. 7, aka Rules of Procedures of the Office of the Ombudsman, particularly Sec. 4; and P.D. No. 1606 revising a prior law creating the Sandigan. In her statement, Santiago further explained that both the Ombudsman and Justice Department have concurrent jurisdiction to investigate cases filed against senators.

But she said that under the 2012 Memorandum of Agreement between the Ombudsman and DOJ, the latter must advise the complainant to file the case with the Ombudsman if the complaint, upon its face, appears to be under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Sandigan.

Under R.A. No. 8249, also known as the Sandiganbayan Law, the Sandigan has jurisdiction over Congress members and officials classified as Grade 27 and up, under the 1989 Compensation and Position Classification Act.

Congress members are classified under Salary Grade 31, and therefore fall under the jurisdiction of the Sandigan.

The prosecution of cases cognizable by the Sandigan shall be under the direct control and supervision of the Ombudsman, Santiago said.

Santiago said that it is "irrelevant" for Drilon to cite the case against former Zamboanga Del Norte Rep. Romeo Jalosjos, because the charge against Jalosjos was not plunder, but rape.

She added that it is also irrelevant for Drilon to cite the case against former President Gloria Arroyo, because the charge so far against Arroyo is not plunder, but election fraud.

In both cases, the accused lawmakers were not suspended from office, because they faced charges other than plunder.

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