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Iloilo lawmaker suspended for pork misuse

The Sandiganbayan has ordered the 90-day suspension of Iloilo City Rep. Jerry Treñas in connection with a graft case involving the P500,000 construction of the Iloilo Press Club building at Molo district when he was mayor in 2003.

Treñas on Sunday said he would comply with the Sandiganbayan order suspending him.

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The graft case, filed by the Ombudsman in October last year, concerned Treñas’ use of Sen. Loren Legarda’s share of the Priority Development Assistance Fund, a pork barrel, in favor of the Iloilo Press Club despite it not being an accredited nongovernment organization at the time.

The then mayor also allegedly failed to monitor the project’s implementation and to require the liquidation of the funds, in violation of Commission on Audit rules.

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In a text message on Sunday, Legarda said “[s]enators do not implement projects.”

Preventive

In a resolution dated Jan. 3, the Sandiganbayan’s Seventh Division said the preventive suspension of officials facing graft cases was mandatory under the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

The antigraft court rejected Treñas’ argument that he should not be suspended for an offense allegedly committed during his previous position as city mayor.

Citing Section 13 of the graft law, the court said: “Once the information is found to be sufficient in form and substance, the court must issue the order of suspension as a matter of course. There are no ifs and buts about it.”

The resolution was issued by Associate Justices Ma. Theresa Dolores Gomez-Estoesta (division chair), Zaldy Trespeses and Bayani Jacinto.

Treñas argued that a preventive suspension, meant to prevent the accused from influencing or intimidating witnesses or tampering with evidence, would not serve its purpose in his case.

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But the court said the Supreme Court’s Santiago ruling in 2001 pointed out that the graft law did not limit the suspension to defendants who remained in their offices involved in the case.

Congress’ prerogative

The lawmaker also claimed Congress had the sole prerogative to discipline its own members. In addition, he invoked the separation of powers in asking the court not to stop him from performing his duties.

The court disagreed, as the Santiago ruling already explained that separation of powers did not exclude congressmen from the sanctions of the graft law.

The court requested Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to inform it of the date Treñas would begin serving his suspension.

In a statement, Treñas assured the court that he would coordinate with the Office of the Speaker for its implementation.

“It is part of the judicial process, which should be respected … I know in the end I will be cleared of all these charges since all legal processes were followed when the assistance was given to the Iloilo Press Club in 2003,” he said on Sunday.

Legal processes

Reached by the Inquirer for comment, Treñas said he had not spoken to Alvarez but said he would comply with the Sandiganbayan resolution.

“The release of funds was done through legal processes and procedures,” he said.

Treñas declined to issue further statements as the case was already pending in the antigraft court.

His lawyer, Jose Justiniano, said he and the lawmaker were waiting for Alvarez’s decision on when the suspension order would be implemented.

Since Treñas pleaded not guilty during his arraignment, the court scheduled for Jan. 16 and 17 the preliminary conference on his case.

Treñas served three terms as mayor from 2001 to 2010 and is serving his third term as representative of Iloilo City’s lone congressional district. —WITH A REPORT FROM CHRISTINE O. AVENDAÑO

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TAGS: graft case, Iloilo Press Club, Jerry Treñas, Loren Legarda, PDAF, pork barrel misuse, Sandiganbayan
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