Manila: The Supreme Court started hearing a request to create two special courts that will totally focus on the plunder and graft cases filed against senators and congressmen who allegedly released their development funds to bogus projects in order to enrich themselves and their associates.

The Supreme Court asked the Sandiganbayan, an anti-graft court, and the accused lawmakers to respond in three days, without any delay, to the request of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales that two special courts must be created to fast track the hearing of the plunder and graft cases that were filed last Friday and Monday, respectively, against Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jingoy Estrada, Ramon Revilla, and businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles, Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te said on Tuesday.

The office of the special prosecutor was also asked to respond to the request of the Ombudsman, said Te.

It resulted in the temporary postponement of the hearing of the accused senators and Napoles at the Sandiganbayan. “It’s a matter of judicial courtesy [to wait for the Apex Court to decide on the request of the Ombudsman],” explained Atty. Renato Bocar, acting spokesperson for the pork barrel scam case at the Sandiganbayan.

But in the same breath, Bocar said the Sandiganbayan has decided to raffle the cases by Friday, if the Supreme Court has failed to respondto the Ombudsman’s request by that time.

The decision on this issue will be announced by the Supreme Court, not by any other court, explained Te, the High Tribunal’s spokesperson.

Making her request last week, Ombudsman Morales said she wanted the two special court to “exclusively try and conduct continuous trial” the pork barrel scam.

Explaining reasons for her request, Morales enumerated “national magnitude of these cases, the complexities of the issues involved, the number of accused, and the far-reaching consequences of these cases.”

In a letter to Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Ombudsman Morales said the Philippine Constitution has given the Supreme Court the power to “promulgate rules concerning pleading, practice, and procedure in all courts”.”

In 2002, the Supreme Court allowed the Sandiganbayan to create a special division to hear the plunder case filed by the government against former President Joseph Estrada.

Estrada was accused then of allegedly getting protection money from operators of illegal numbers game nationwide. Estrada was ousted in 2001 by military-backed street protests launched by those who were against the abrupt ending of his impeachment complaint at the Senate in late 2000.

The controversial pork barrel scam involved senators and congressmen approving the release their development funds through non-functioning nongovernment organisations that Napoles, a private businesswoman, established to defraud congressional funds.

The lawmakers’ development funds were supposed to fund livelihood projects and farm inputs for poor farmers and fishermen who were perrennialy affected by typhoons and earthquakes.

Napoles said that Budget Secretary Florencio Abad taught her how to undertake the scheme that resulted in zero projects and 100 per cent sharing of released funds by the lawmakers and other people involved in the scam.

Last week, Napoles released a list of 100 congressmen and 20 senators who were allegedly involved in the scam.

Her nephew Benhur Luy who became a whistle blower claimed that Napoles was the scam’s alleged mastermind. Last week, he also released a longer list of 138 congressmen and 26 senators who were involved in the scam.

Napoles has been detained in a police headquarters in southern Luzon following her surrender after the illegal detention complaint filed against her by Luy was elevated by investigators to a lower court.