Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, in a marathon series of interviews with four radio stations yesterday morning* said that no motion for postponement, particularly on the ground of diarrhea, should be allowed by the Ombudsman to delay preliminary investigation of plunder cases filed by the National Bureau of Investigation.
“When I was Regional Trial Court judge of Quezon City, I discovered that the country suffers from pandemic diarrhea. That is the most common ground for postponement sought by lawyers, the parties, and their witnesses. No postponement should be granted in the name of the almighty diarrhea,” she said.
Santiago also proposed that the Ombudsman, because of the “acute public interest” in the cases, would be justified in devoting all the Ombudsman’s resources to the plunder cases, to the exclusion of other pending cases.
During martial law, Santiago, as RTC judge, presided over a case for illegal assembly punishable by death, filed by the military against some 50 students from the University of the Philippines and Ateneo, and movie personalities including Lino Brocka and Behn Cervantes. Their crime was holding a rowdy street demonstration against martial law in Quezon City.
Exercising her judicial discretion, Santiago cancelled trials of other cases and conducted continuous trial of the case until she issued a decision in favour of the students.
Her decision was appealed but was upheld by the Supreme Court, and she was hailed as an exemplary trial judge for expediting the case.
Santiago said that the Ombudsman can speed up the preliminary investigation of plunder cases by observing its own rules of procedure which prohibit the following delay tactics: motion to dismiss, motion for bill of particulars, or motion for more definite statement of crimes.
As an RTC judge, Santiago imposed a “no postponement” policy in her courtroom, which served as one of the bases for her awards for judicial excellence, including TOYM (The Outstanding Young Men) and TOWNS (The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service).
Santiago also said that the Senate as an institution should be distinguished from individual senators who have been charged with plunder.
“The Senate is a hallowed institution; it remains sentient but impervious to the alleged misbehaviour of a few senators. It is not the case that 24 senators equals the Senate. Hence, I do not fear for the future of the Senate, because I consider this scandal as a catharsis,” she said.
Santiago urged radio listeners to follow the example held up by Jose Rizal in his novel, Noli Me Tangere, where Rizal advocated that people with terminal diseases should be exposed on the steps of the church, so that the public could examine the illness and maybe prescribe the right treatment.
“I respectfully disagree with some senators who think that we should behave like the three monkeys – see nothing, hear nothing, say nothing. On the contrary, I believe in the free market of ideas. Let us expose what ails us, so that the public will see the Senate is capable of healing itself,” she said.
The senator said that there are some senators who believe there should be a rule of omerta, or silence among themselves.
“If we refuse to talk about the pork scam, people might suspect that we are adopting a fortress mentality and building walls against the rest of the country, or that we are circling our wagons against public opinion. Instead, we should demand justice for both the accusers and the accused,” she said.
Santiago countered fears that the plunder cases will take five or more years to be finally decided by the Sandiganbayan, and, in cases of appeal, before the Court of Appeals and even by the Supreme Court.
“If our judges are lackadaisical and allow such a gross delay, the public, in line with the temper of the times, will definitely howl in protest and possibly seek extra-legal remedies, meaning remedies outside the legal system. I don’t know if our judicial system is ready to take that risk,” she said.
Santiago, in an earlier speech described the pork barrel scam as “the most bloodcurdling crime in Philippine political history.”
*Santiago was interviewed in succession yesterday morning by the following radio stations: DZBB, Radyo Inquirer, RadyoBombo Iloilo, and DZAR.