Lawmakers dragged in pork barrel scam prepare defense

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Justice Secretary Leila de Lima. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines — Congressmen implicated in the alleged pork barrel scam have begun readying their defense, as Justice Secretary Leila de Lima warned on Wednesday, that members of the executive branch could also be included in the charges.

De Lima said she would not release the names of legislators allegedly involved in the scam, until the completion of the investigation.

“We are not yet done identifying exactly the lawmakers and other executive officials who could be charged because there is sufficient evidence,” she said during the congressional hearing on the Department of Justice budget.

“We will only announce that list when we are ready really to file already the charges and we will endorse that, we will endorse the report of the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) to the Ombudsman with our recommendations and Ombudsman will act accordingly.”

“What is clear to us now, to the NBI, is the scheme used by JLN (company) and Janet Napoles in relation to PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) and in relation to Malampaya (funds),” she added.

Members of the House of Representatives who would eventually land in the charge sheet would not be able to hide behind parliamentary immunity, said 1-BAP Rep. Silvestre Bello III, a lawyer.

“Their immunity only covers prision correctional, (meaning the) penalty enforceable is six years below,” he said in a weekly House minority press briefing.

“This is plunder. We will probably see each other at Veterans’ Hospital,” he said in jest, seemingly referring to former President Gloria Arroyo who’s detained in the hospital while facing separate charges of plunder and electoral sabotage.

Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, chairman of the powerful committee on appropriations, denied involvement in the scam, insisting that he did not know or had met Napoles, the alleged brains behind the P10-billion pork barrel scam.

“If the truth is on your side, why be afraid?” he said during a break at the budget hearing. “I have never asserted a single lie in my public life.”

Ungab said he had prepared documents and pictures showing that projects funded by his pork barrel were “fully implemented.”

“My conscience is clear since I kept a record of all my projects,” he said. “I have my list of beneficiaries. I have my pictures and they are warm bodies because I saw the distribution.”

Cagayan De Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, who was also implicated in the controversy, said he was not aware that P3 million of his PDAF allocation had gone to a “fake” non-government organization by Napoles.

“We did not know that it went to the fake NGO, never did we know that. In fact, we are calling for the investigation of this NGO that is fake,” he told reporters.

Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora urged De Lima to “name names” in connection with legislators allegedly involved in the pork scam. Bello said they would eventually be identified once cases were filed.

De Lima made a distinction between legislators who “benefited” in the PDAF racket and those who were “merely a victim.” She said the latter would not be charged.

Rodriguez said his signature was forged in the paper work that allowed a fake NGO to take a portion of his PDAF.

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