Martires orders prosecutors: Stop filing suspension motions

Published September 6, 2018, 2:49 PM

by Patrick Garcia

By Czarina Nicole Ong

It is now up to the courts to issue suspension orders against officials facing graft charges, and prosecutors no longer need to file motions for it.

Ombudsman Samuel Martires
Ombudsman Samuel Martires

Ombudsman Samuel Martires has directed all prosecutors to stop filing motions to suspend pedente lite of accused public officials before the Sandiganbayan and other lower courts, as well as to withdraw earlier motions seeking the same.

In a memorandum dated August 28 titled “Suspension Pedente Lite of Accused Public Officials,” Martires said that prosecutors “shall no longer be required to file motions to suspend the accused pedente lite before the Sandiganbayan or the lower courts.”

Even those motions to suspend that have earlier been filed before the issuance of the memorandum, but which remain unsolved by the trial courts, are ordered withdrawn.

“Where the ruling in the motion for suspension pedente lite have been appealed, the handling prosecutor shall withdraw the motion and accordingly inform the appellate court that the motion has been withdrawn,” the memorandum read.

Martires highlighted the declarations of the Supreme Court in Luciano v. Mariano (G.R. No. L-30306, 20 June 1969) in his memorandum, which states that “by Section 13 of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, solely the court in which the criminal case has been filed shall wield the power of suspension.”

He also invoked Flores v. Layosa (G.R. No. 154714, 12 August 2004) which states that “Section 13 of. R.A. No. 3019, as worded, allows the court to issue the suspension order motu propio.”

Motu propio is Latin for “on his own impulse.” It is described as an official act taken without a formal request from another party.

Will Sandiganbayan Follow?
When asked if the Sandiganbayan would acknowledge Martires’ memorandum, Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang said in a text message that it would actually hold.
“Section 13 of the Anti Graft and Corrupt Practices Act does not actually require that the prosecution file a motion to suspend an accused public officer pendente lite before the court may suspend the said accused,” she said. “All that the law requires is that there is a valid Information and that a pre-suspension hearing is conducted to afford the accused an opportunity to be heard thereon.”
“The second requirement emanates from SC Decisions,” she added.
She did, however, acknowledge that the filing of motions to suspend pedente lite has been the regular “practice” of the Office of the Special Prosecutor. As far as she is concerned, the Third Division has never issued a suspension order motu proprio.
Cabotaje-Tang added that the First Division had the occasion to place some accused under suspension pedente lite motu proprio, but still gave the accused the opportunity to explain why they should not be suspended.

Motion to suspend Honasan withdrawn
In light of this directive, the prosecutors handling the graft case of Senator Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan II has filed an urgent manifestation with ex-parte motion before the Sandiganbayan Second Division and revealed its intent to withdraw its earlier motion to suspend pedente lite.

“The panel’s intent to withdraw the subject motion, however, does not necessarily convey that it is turning its back away from the mandatory character of preventive suspension of an accused pending litigation,” the manifestation read.

“What the panel respectfully seeks, by filing this instant manifestation with motion, is to fully concede with and respect the full authority and sound wisdom of this Honorable Court to order the preventive suspension motu propio of herein accused pending litigation,” it added.

Section 13 of R.A. No. 3019 provides that any incumbent public officer against whom any criminal prosecution under a valid information under this Act or under Title 7, Book II of the Revised Penal Code or for any offense involving fraud upon government or public funds or property in whatever stage of execution and mode of participation, is pending in court, shall be suspended from office.

After the prosecution filed a motion to suspend him, Honasan filed an opposition and argued that the motion is “premature” because he still has a pending petition for certiorari before the Supreme Court. A petition for certiorari gives a higher court the jurisdiction to review a decision of a lower court.

Honasan was earlier slapped with violations of Section 3(e) of R.A. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act due to the alleged misuse of his P29.1 million priority development assistance fund (PDAF) in 2012.

Honasan’s charges were for the release of his PDAF to the National Council of Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) in April 2012, which was meant to help small and medium-scale livelihood projects for Muslim Filipinos in the National Capital Region (NCR) and Zambales.

Honasan endorsed Focus Development Goals Foundation, Inc. on June 2012 as the implementing non-government organization (NGO). However, Ombudsman investigators discovered that the NGO was endorsed even without the benefit of compliance with procurement regulations.

At the same time, the check and disbursement voucher dated May 30, 2012 were prepared for Focus even before the NGO was informed it was qualified to undertake the project on June 4, 2012.