It has been discussed for several months already but for this week, it finally happened. Voting 8 to 4, the Supreme Court paved the way for Senator Juan Ponce Enrile to post bail in connection to the plunder case filed against him in 2014.
Enrile is tagged as one of the biggest beneficiaries of the multi-billion peso pork barrel fund scam said to be orchestrated by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles. He has been in detention for the past 13 months now at the Philippine National Police General Hospital in Camp Crame, Quezon City.
A former Senate President, Enrile remains the leader of the minority block in the Senate and is one of the leaders of the United Nationalist Alliance. Also detained for the same offense are his fellow Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla. All three are members of the opposition and are constitutionally barred from seeking reelection this 2016.
Senator Juan Ponce Enrile just proved he’s one of the toughest legal minds in the country. How exactly can you get released on bail for a capital offense like plunder? And as shall be discussed later, because no less than the Supreme Court upheld Enrile’s line of reasoning, it can be used as a framework for individuals in similar circumstances especially former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Below are the main points of his petition, as detailed in SC’s decision in Enrile vs Sandiganbayan, :
1) AGE DOES MATTER – While plunder is punishable by reclusion perpetua (imprisonment for 20 to 40 years), Act 3815 or the Revised Penal Code of 1930 outlined ten circumstances that mitigate criminal liability.
Article 13, number 2 states that an offender must be given due consideration if he/she is “under eighteen year of age or over seventy years.” Enrile asserted that since he is already 91, reclusion temporal (imprisonment of 12 to 20 years) is the highest penalty for him if he’s guilty.
3) GOOD BEHAVIOR IS REWARDED – The Revised Penal Code also mentions that surrendering voluntarily to a person in authority or his agents is also mitigate criminal liability.Compared to Bong Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada, Enrile surrendered to the police without much fanfare last year.
In their majority decision, the Supreme Court repeatedly referred to that as evidence that Enrile is no longer a flight-risk. If that’s merely a calculated move, then it’s a brilliant one.
3) CITE THE CONSTITUTION – According to the 1987 Constitution, “all persons, except those charged with offenses PUNISHABLE BY RECLUSION PERPETUA WHEN EVIDENCE OF GUILT IS STRONG, shall, before conviction, be bailable by sufficient sureties.” Enrile also anchored his successful bail petition on that emphasized line.
Without a doubt, SC’s ruling on Enrile’s bail petition is a landmark jurisprudence. It is easy to imagine the lawyers of individuals in similar circumstances (e.g. aging detainees with a record of good behavior) to use the same logic to boost their respective bail petitions in the very near future.
As mentioned earlier, one potential beneficiary of this SC ruling is former President Arroyo, who has been under detention at the Veterans Memorial Medial Center for nearly four years now, except for a brief period in 2012 and whenever she’s allowed to have a furlough.
Arroyo cannot cite her age as a plus factor in her bail petition (she’s ‘only’ 68), but she can mention her long list of life-threatening health problems. However, her camp has a more potent weapon: all except two cases filed against her through the years has already been dismissed for various reasons.
Enrile’s conditional liberty has already been described as a game-changer especially since the Senate is scheduled to tackle major legislation in the next few months, including the 2016 national budget and the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law. Arroyo’s possible release may significantly impact the dynamics of the next presidential elections.