For doing her job, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima may not get confirmed by the bicameral Commission on Appointments (CA) again, especially after she said that charges were being readied against 28 lawmakers allegedly involved in the misuse of P10 billion in pork barrel over the past decade.
Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., a member of the commission that confirms the President’s appointees, said the pork barrel issue would be raised when lawmakers question De Lima in her confirmation hearing.
“It will come up. Everything is a factor. When you’re talking about the highest levels of government … every part of that nomination is going to be examined,” he said.
Marcos is one of the 28 lawmakers, including four other senators, linked to the alleged misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), the formal name of pork barrel in the country.
The other senators are Ramon Revilla Jr., Jinggoy Estrada, Gregorio Honasan II and Juan Ponce Enrile. Twenty-three members of the House of Representatives have also been linked to the alleged scam.
Marcos said linking him to the scam was politically motivated. “You’re asking me if there’s politics involved. What do you think? Yes, very clearly.”
Marcos, a member of the administration coalition in the Senate, is the son of the late dictator whom President Aquino’s family blames for the assassination of Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr., on Aug. 21, 1983.
De Lima said on Tuesday that the probe was not zeroing in on 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.”
Honasan took exception to the continued media coverage of the pork barrel scam when the National Bureau of Investigation, an agency under the Department of Justice (DOJ), had yet to complete its probe.
It was the Inquirer that broke the story after several whistle-blowers submitted affidavits to the NBI detailing how billions in PDAF were channeled to bogus nongovernment organizations (NGOs) and to nonexistent projects.
The whistle-blowers, former employees of Janet Lim-Napoles, said up to 60 percent of the funds released from the pork barrel represented kickbacks of lawmakers.
‘Trial by publicity’
“Invoking the core constitutional principles of presumption of innocence and presumption of honor, I condemn the serialized trial by publicity,” Honasan said.
“If Secretary De Lima is part of it and she will face the Commission on Appointments for confirmation, then that is her problem,” he added.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the investigation being conducted by the NBI would be pursued with or without De Lima getting the confirmation.
“She will do her job in spite of the fact that she has not been confirmed for the longest time; she has continuously done her job regardless of who gets affected, or who’s involved (in anomalies under investigation by the DOJ),” Lacierda said in a briefing.
Since her appointment in 2010, De Lima has been repeatedly bypassed by the CA, prompting President Aquino to repeatedly legitimize her stay in government via an ad interim appointment.
At the House hearing on the DOJ budget, De Lima on Wednesday said members of the executive branch could also be included in the charges.
“We are not yet done identifying exactly the lawmakers and other executive officials who could be charged because there is sufficient evidence,” she said.
Names of lawmakers
House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora urged De Lima to “name names” in connection with legislators allegedly involved in the pork scam.
Until the investigation is completed, De Lima said she would not release the names of legislators allegedly involved in the scam.
“We will only announce that list when we are ready to file the charges and we will endorse that. We will endorse the report of the NBI to the Ombudsman with our recommendations and the Ombudsman will act accordingly,” she said.
“What is clear to us now, to the NBI, is the scheme used by JLN (company) and Janet Napoles in relation to PDAF and in relation to Malampaya (funds),” she added.
De Lima made a distinction between legislators who “benefited” in the PDAF racket and those who were “merely victims.” She said the latter would not be charged.
The NBI has yet to get the side of five senators linked to the alleged misuse of the PDAF. Estrada, Honasan and Marcos said they had yet to be contacted by the NBI.
“I was never contacted by the NBI. I suppose they should hear both sides,” Estrada told reporters before the start of the Senate session Wednesday afternoon.
In a telephone interview, Honasan said he was “willing to be summoned for documents in my possession by the NBI, the Ombudsman, the [Department of Justice] or by any court of law.”
Enrile, for his part, said he had readied documents for the investigation. “My records are complete,” Enrile told reporters when asked whether he was bothered by De Lima’s pronouncements.
Members of the House, who will eventually land in the DOJ charge sheet, will 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,” Bello said in a weekly House minority press briefing.
“This is plunder. We will probably see each other at Veterans’ Hospital,” he said in jest, referring to former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who is detained in the hospital while facing separate charges of plunder and electoral sabotage.
Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, chair of the powerful committee on appropriations, maintained that he was innocent, insisting that he did not know or had not 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 said 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 keep 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” NGO allegedly set up by Napoles.
As a prelude to his questions on the DOJ budget, Rodriguez told De Lima that in 2007, he gave P3.5 million to the Technology Livelihood and Resource Center, a government agency that provides livelihood projects.
But last year, he learned from the Commission on Audit (COA) that the funds had apparently gone to an NGO connected with JLN. He came to know of this when the COA asked him to confirm the liquidation of the P3.5 million, he said.
“All my signatures were forged,” he said.—With a report from Michael Lim Ubac