Espino, Villafuerte appeal their graft suspension
Two lawmakers on trial for graft are contesting the preventive suspension orders imposed upon them by the Sandiganbayan, as the House of Representatives bides its time on their status.
In separate motions for reconsideration, Representatives Amado Espino Jr. of Pangasinan and Luis Raymund Villafuerte Jr. of Camarines Sur sought a reversal of the antigraft court’s resolutions, both dated Sept. 7, which ordered them to desist from performing their duties pending litigation of their respective cases.
In Espino’s Sept. 14 motion, he argued that his 90-day suspension was being used by his political rivals as “an instrument for politically motivated harassment and persecution.”
“The suspension is being used as a mere weapon to unseat the lawful representative of the people and to damage his reputation,” his pleading read. Espino was formerly with the Nationalist People’s Coalition and supported the erstwhile ruling Liberal Party in the May elections.
“Consequently, political rivals, such as in this case, aims to have at least a preventive suspension executed, particularly because it is a convenient way to ensure a disgraceful interruption of the official’s term with no actual hearing yet to be done and no unlawful act yet to be proven with finality,” he said.
Espino, a former governor of Pangasinan, was suspended by the Sandiganbayan on a graft charge for authorizing the illegal extraction of magnetite or black sand along the coast of the Lingayen Gulf for the development of a golf course.
He argued that the Sandiganbayan’s basis for suspending him, Section 13 of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, was no longer applicable in modern times. He said it was “unconstitutional and archaic.”
He argued he had an “inherent right” to attend sessions, and missing them would deprive his constituents of representation in Congress. He said he posed no risk of destroying evidence or influencing witnesses.
On the other hand, Villafuerte of the Nacionalista Party did not make any claims that politics could be behind the case against him, though he shared Espino’s argument that his suspension would deny his constituents representation in Congress. He cited the circumstances that he said showed why his suspension would not affect the resolution of his case.
Villafuerte, also a former governor of Camarines Sur, is facing a graft charge for the alleged anomalous procurement of P20 million worth of petroleum products for the provincial government in 2010.
Villafuerte noted that he had been arraigned more than two years ago, “at which time he was no longer holding any public office.”
“The pretrial proceedings of the instant case have already been completed more than two years ago, and the presentation of the evidence for the prosecution is almost complete,” he said.
He added that he no longer held office in Camarines Sur, as he now reported for work at the Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City.
“And it is a matter of record that at no point has accused Villafuerte ever interfered with or impeded the proceedings of the instant case,” he said.
Under orders of the Sandiganbayan to suspend the two lawmakers, the House has referred the matter to the rules committee and has made no decision as to whether to obey.
Under the graft law, public officials facing a graft case may be suspended “pendente lite” or pending litigation for 90 days and stand to lose their benefits.
But the 1987 Constitution states that “each House may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds of all its members, suspend or expel a member. A penalty for suspension, when imposed, shall not exceed 60 days.” TVJ
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