Political Law

Miriam Defensor Santiago vs Sandiganbayan (2001)

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G.R. No. 128055 – 356 SCRA 636 – Political Law – Constitutional Law – The Legislative Department – Suspension of a Member of Congress – Violations of RA 3019; Preventive Suspension 

In October 1988, Miriam Defensor Santiago, who was the then Commissioner of the Commission of Immigration and Deportation (CID), approved the application for legalization of the stay of about 32 aliens. Her act was said to be illegal and was tainted with bad faith and it ran counter against Republic Act No. 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act). The legalization of such is also a violation of Executive Order No. 324 which prohibits the legalization of disqualified aliens. The aliens legalized by Santiago were allegedly known by her to be disqualified. Two other criminal cases were filed against Santiago. Francis Garchitorena, a presiding Justice of the Sandiganbayan, issued a warrant of arrest against Santiago. Santiago petitioned for provisional liberty since she was just recovering from a car accident which was approved. In 1995, a motion was filed with the Sandiganbayan for the suspension of Santiago, who was already a senator by then. The Sandiganbayan ordered the Senate President (Maceda) to suspend Santiago from office for 90 days.

ISSUE: Whether or not Sandiganbayan can order suspension of a member of the Senate without violating the Constitution.

HELD: Yes. It is true that the Constitution provides that “each house may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds of all its Members, suspend or expel a Member.  A penalty of suspension, when imposed, shall not exceed sixty days.

But on the other hand, Section 13 of R.A No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act provides:

Suspension and loss of benefits. – 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 whether as a simple or as a complex offense and in whatever stage of execution and mode of participation, is pending in court, shall be suspended from office.  Should he be convicted by final judgment, he shall lose all retirement or gratuity benefits under any law, but if he is acquitted, he shall be entitled to reinstatement and to the salaries and benefits which he failed to receive during suspension, unless in the meantime administrative proceedings have been filed against him.

In here, the order of suspension prescribed by RA. 3019 is distinct from the power of Congress to discipline its own ranks under the Constitution. The suspension contemplated in the above constitutional provision is a punitive measure that is imposed upon determination by the Senate or the Lower House, as the case may be, upon an erring member. This is quite distinct from the suspension spoken of in Section 13 of RA 3019, which is not a penalty but a preliminary, preventive measure, prescinding from the fact that the latter is not being imposed on petitioner for misbehavior as a Member of the Senate.

Republic Act No. 3019 does not exclude from its coverage the members of Congress.

But Santiago committed the said act when she was still the CID commissioner, can she still be suspended as a senator?

Section 13 of Republic Act No. 3019 does not state that the public officer concerned must be suspended only in the office where he is alleged to have committed the acts with which he has been charged.  Thus, it has been held that the use of the word “office” would indicate that it applies to any office which the officer charged may be holding, and not only the particular office under which he stands accused.

Santiago has not yet been convicted of the alleged crime, can she still be suspended?

The law does not require that the guilt of the accused must be established in a pre-suspension proceeding before trial on the merits proceeds.  Neither does it contemplate a proceeding to determine (1) the strength of the evidence of culpability against him, (2) the gravity of the offense charged, or (3) whether or not his continuance in office could influence the witnesses or pose a threat to the safety and integrity of the records another evidence before the court could have a valid basis in decreeing preventive suspension pending the trial of the case.  All it secures to the accused is adequate opportunity to challenge the validity or regularity of the proceedings against him, such as, that he has not been afforded the right to due preliminary investigation, that the acts imputed to him do not constitute a specific crime warranting his mandatory suspension from office under Section 13 of Republic Act No. 3019, or that the information is subject to quashal on any of the grounds set out in Section 3, Rule 117, of the Revised Rules on Criminal procedure.

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