The Department of Justice (DOJ) is poised to file criminal charges against lawmakers involved in the alleged misuse of public funds that the National Bureau of Investigation is looking into, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said on Tuesday.
“The NBI has been validating, double-checking the accuracy of the list and we will file charges in the next few weeks where there is sufficient evidence,” De Lima told reporters in an ambush interview at the House of Representatives yesterday.
De Lima said the cases would most probably be filed in the Office of the Ombudsman, which is also doing a parallel probe. But she said she did not expect the investigations to end any time soon.
“In other words, this investigation would go on for a long time because of the massive scope of the alleged scam or the magnitude of the alleged scam,” she said.
There is also a “bigger and enhanced” team involved in the investigation of the scheme, allegedly masterminded by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, to channel funds of lawmakers’ Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), or pork barrel, into ghost projects through bogus nongovernment organizations (NGOs).
De Lima noted that Napoles’ camp earlier indicated that it did not want the probe to be handled by the same NBI team involved in the rescue of Benhur Luy, who allegedly was detained for three months by the businesswoman.
Luy is among five former Napoles employees who have accused Napoles of being the brains behind the pork barrel racket involving dummy nongovernment organizations that have taken advantage of the PDAF of at least five senators and 23 members of the House of Representatives.
Among those named were Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon Revilla Jr., Jinggoy Estrada, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Gregorio Honasan. The senators have denied wrongdoing and said they would cooperate in the inquiry on the use of their PDAF funds. Napoles likewise has denied any wrongdoing.
De Lima said investigators and lawyers from other NBI divisions, such as the antifraud unit and the legal office, had joined the inquiry.
Napoles lawyer’s demand
Lorna Kapunan, a Napoles counsel, told GMA News TV’s program “News To Go” on Tuesday that she wanted a special fact-finding body to conduct the inquiry.
Kapunan reiterated the objection by Napoles to the participation in that probe of the same NBI team that arrested Napoles’ brother Reynaldo Lim for the alleged illegal detention of Luy.
“With due respect to Attorney Lorna, it’s not for any party, especially those who are subjects of investigation, to impose or dictate on the NBI/
DOJ on what to do,” De Lima said in a text message to reporters.
De Lima denied that the investigation was zeroing in on members of the opposition.
“There is no such standard of segregating or separating the opposition from the administration. We don’t care. In the ongoing probe, it was never a criterion,” she said.
“Maybe later when we start filing charges, you would know or see that it’s not at all a benchmark, and the political color of the subject of the investigation does not matter,” she added.
As to the 97 mayors whom the DOJ had summoned, De Lima said investigators just wanted to hear from them whether they had anything to do with the request for financial assistance under the Malampaya gas fund.
The NBI’s whistle-blowers had told investigators that the requests from mayors were fabricated and that the P900 million, which was intended to help towns ravaged by Typhoons “Ondoy” and “Pepeng” in 2009, went to Napoles or her firm, the JLN group of companies.
“What the mayors would say could be corroborative evidence,” De Lima said.
She noted that a few of the mayors earlier told the Commission on Audit (COA) and the NBI that they had not made any such requests.
Trust the NBI
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the 97 mayors, whose signatures were allegedly forged and used in the conversion of the fund, could trust the NBI to conduct a credible investigation.
“Their cooperation is needed in the investigation,” Valte told a briefing in Malacañang. “So it’s also in the interest of those people named to clear their names. As the President said, it’s important to know who were involved, and who were used.”
Interior Secretary Mar Roxas on Tuesday also thumbed down suggestions for his office to look into the cases of the 97 mayors.
“I think it would be better to let the NBI finish its investigation. If we conduct our own investigation, we might be accused of politicking,” Roxas told the Inquirer after the 112th Police Service anniversary at Camp Crame.
“If we do a separate probe, there will just be a duplication of work. Why? Are you not happy with the NBI?” he said.
Told of the clamor for the Liberal Party to lead the congressional inquiry into the alleged PDAF scam, he said: “That’s another issue.”
“Let me just make it clear that I’m in favor of an investigation of this matter. I will support any investigation of the House, Senate, NBI or DOJ,” Roxas said.—With reports from TJ Burgonio, Marlon Ramos and Christine O. Avendaño
Originally posted: 5:51 pm | Tuesday, August 13th, 2013