Senators implicated in the alleged P10-billion pork barrel scam face expulsion if proven guilty with plunder, Senate President Franklin Drilon said.
“If they are convicted, even if we don't take any action in the Senate, they are automatically expelled in effect because the penalty carries the perpetual disqualification from holding public office,” Drilon said.
Related story: Plunder raps vs. Napoles, lawmakers filed
This, even as he noted that the procedure may clash with the school of thought that under the Constitution, only Congress can discipline its members.
Section 11, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution bars the arrest of any member of both Senate and the House of Representatives while Congress is in session.
They shall “in all offenses punishable by not more than six years imprisonment, be privileged from arrest while the Congress is in session,” the provision says.
But Drilon said the Sandiganbayan is also constitutionally empowered to suspend any public official. He cited the example of Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who was charged with electoral sabotage.
“For all practical purposes, she is suspended because then she is under physical detention. She cannot report for work. That is the effect of a warrant of arrest in a non-bailable offense,” Drilon said.
He added however that “this has never happened in the Senate” so lawmakers will have to study the possibilities, adding that the senators would first have to respond.
Also read: Banks with Napoles ties may also be accountable, says Drilon
Drilon’s statement comes after the Justice Department announced that it is set to file a plunder case against businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles and at least three senators.
It has also presented evidence that Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Bong Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada funneled funds to bogus non-government organizations under Napoles.
If the case is filed before the Ombudsman, the constitutional body would first have to determine whether there is sufficient evidence, after which it will require respondents to file their counter-affidavit.
The Ombudsman will then evaluate whether there is a prima facie case to charge the respondents before the Sandiganbayan and to determine the charges that can be supported.
“Assuming that there is indeed a prima facie case or probable cause, then the Sandiganbayan will now issue the warrant of arrest upon their own evaluation,” Drilon said.