Santiago sees plunder in 44 mayors’ letters

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Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

Forty-four letters from mayors asking for the same multimillion-peso amount from the same funding source, with the money never coming, show a crime  pattern that is reason enough to bring plunder charges, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said on Sunday.

“In the case of plunder, one is not required to submit evidence for each act or separate crime. If [a] person is charged with several counts of plunder, all one has to do is prove the pattern of criminal acts,” Santiago said in English and Filipino in a radio interview.

Santiago was reacting to the Inquirer report that businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles allegedly facilitated requests from 44 mayors through letters asking former Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap for a uniform P5 million for each town from his department’s Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (Acef) from 2006 to 2007.

The letters never reached Yap’s office because they were collected by fashion designer Eddie Baddeo who delivered them to Napoles’ office at Discovery Suites in Pasig City, according to a statement he had submitted to the National Bureau of Investigation. The agency is investigating the P10-billion pork scam.

One of the local officials who supposedly asked for P5 million from Acef, former Mayor Carina Flores of Oton town, Iloilo province, questioned the authenticity of her supposed request, as it was dated and signed after her term expired in 2007.

Flores said Sunday she had never met Baddeo.

“I don’t think [Baddeo] has ever set foot in Oton,” Flores said in a text message to the Inquirer. “It’s not true at all that he came to see me.”

Flores said Baddeo should clarify who he had seen in Oton about a letter of request.

She raised the possibility that her signature in the letter dated Nov. 13, 2007, had been forged by someone who did not know that her term expired on June 30 that year.

Santiago, a former trial judge and agrarian reform secretary, said that while she would rather wait for the conclusion of the NBI’s investigation of Napoles’ activities, the Inquirer report had convinced her that plunder had been committed.

Plunder, not malversation

“This is a case of plunder, not just malversation,” she said. “Remember that President Cory Aquino signed a law that says once an amount of over P75 million is pocketed or became kickback, it is considered plunder and is punishable by life imprisonment.”

Santiago would not say the specific individuals or public officials who could be charged with plunder in the case of Napoles.

But she dismissed as “irrelevant” the observation that only her colleagues who are not members of the ruling Liberal Party have been named among the legislators who allegedly gave shares of their allocations from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), or pork barrel, to Napoles.

“[If] there is evidence against that person, [there is nothing we can do],” Santiago said.

“Possibly, it’s because they cannot convince those not allied with them. It cannot possibly work along the same pattern with people who are not their political allies. So you can interpret that in that way,” she said.

Bogus NGOs

The NBI investigation has so far identified Senators Ramon Revilla Jr., Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Gregorio Honasan II among those who allegedly gave varying amounts from their PDAF allocations to bogus NGOs allegedly created by Napoles.

Eventually, the names of Senators Lito Lapid and Vicente Sotto III also cropped up, but they were linked to another contractor, Victoria Tolentino, whose company received shares from their pork allocations to buy chemicals for fighting dengue for three towns in Rizal province and one town in Quezon province where there were no outbreaks of the disease.

Santiago said the mayors could not be faulted for agreeing to sign the letters asking for P5 million for each of their towns.

Crime pattern

“They knew nothing but they signed. If you’re a mayor, you’ll sign a letter to the department secretary. Who wouldn’t like [P5 million]? So they all signed,” Santiago said.

“The problem is nothing came out of those letters. But the records showed that P5 million was released to each of them. So who got the money?” she asked.

“You can already see that there is a pattern of overt criminal act. … Under the antiplunder law, we don’t have to prove each and every act of plunder. All we have to do is prove a pattern and the pattern is there,” she said.

Last week, Santiago filed a bill that would phase out the PDAF over the next three years. The measure received lukewarm response from her fellow senators.

Senate inquiry

Santiago indicated that she was not interested in Sen. Francis Escudero’s proposed Senate inquiry into the pork scam.

Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano has said he prefers an investigation by either the Department of Justice or by the Office of the Ombudsman.

“I said nothing would happen after a Senate investigation,” Santiago said, referring to Escudero’s call for a Senate inquiry.

Santiago said there had been occasions when the Senate ethics committee hesitated to investigate senators who had been accused of irregularities.

“Look at the record of the Senate ethics committee, the specific panel designated to investigate senators. Somebody might file cases but nothing happens,” she said.

“Even the [committee] chair doesn’t want to convene the committee because it is so awkward and definitely it’s very problematic to probe your coequal colleague. It’s better that a senator is investigated by someone higher than him. That’s why I agree that it’s better to finish the NBI investigation,” she said.—With a report from Connie E. Fernandez, Inquirer Visayas

Originally posted: 8:51 pm | Sunday, August 4th, 2013

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