Aquino adviser fights suspension on graft chargesBy Leila B. Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer
President Benigno Aquino III’s adviser on environmental protection is fighting a move to suspend him from office while his trial for graft is ongoing, saying that to do so would be tantamount to suspending Mr. Aquino himself.
Nereus Acosta, in an opposition filed with the Sandiganbayan’s Fourth Division, is contesting his preventive suspension which the Office of the Special Prosecutor said was mandatory under the antigraft law.
Acosta, also a board member of the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA), is on trial for violation of the antigraft law over the alleged misuse of his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel in 2000 and 2001 when he was the representative of Bukidnon in Congress.
Acosta is a member of the Liberal Party headed by President Aquino. He ran for senator in 2010 but lost.
In August this year, Mr. Aquino named him presidential adviser on environmental protection. In September the President appointed him to the board of the LLDA.
In his motion, Acosta said he was a presidential appointee and a member of the Cabinet, and people like him were in “a class by themselves.” This meant that he served at the pleasure of the President and was his alter-ego. He was not even covered by civil service rules, he said.
“As the alter-ego of the President, accused cannot be suspended because to do so would be tantamount to suspending the President himself, and thus encroaches upon his exclusive prerogative to appoint people whom he thinks are the best to advise him as head of state,” Acosta said.
He said that since presidential appointees were not covered by civil service rules, only Mr. Aquino could suspend or fire them.
“To allow the suspension of presidential appointees is to hamper the day-to-day operations of the government to the detriment of public service.”
Beyond court’s power
Acosta said his appointment by Mr. Aquino was a political act, thus it was “beyond the power of the courts to rule upon, interfere with or adjudicate against.”
He contended that the purpose of a preventive suspension would not be served by his temporary removal from office.
A preventive suspension is enforced to prevent an accused from tampering with evidence or intimidating witnesses, and to prevent him from committing further acts of malfeasance.
Acosta said his was a “peculiar situation” because the purposes for a preventive suspension would not apply.
He said the presentation of evidence by the prosecution in his trial was nearly complete so there was no reason to fear he would intimidate or influence witnesses.
As for documentary evidence, he said he could not tamper with them since they were in the government’s possession.
He said he was also no longer a congressman and thus had no access to his former office or documents.
He said his being a Cabinet member who served at the pleasure of the President was prevention enough.
Acosta also averred that the provision in the antigraft law that mandates the suspension of officials charged with graft did not apply to him since the position he now held was different from the one he held when he allegedly committed the crime.