Saying he deeply regretted it, President Benigno Aquino III on Friday accepted the resignation of National Bureau of Investigation Director Nonnatus Rojas, but heaped praise on the official he had unwittingly hurt to send him off with his dignity intact.
“In the limited time since he was appointed Director of the National Bureau of Investigation on July 20, 2012, Atty. Nonnatus R. Rojas managed the transformation of the NBI from an agency reeling from very serious controversies, to one that has regained pride of place as the foremost investigative arm of the Department of Justice (DOJ),” Mr. Aquino said in a statement released by presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda.
“This is all the more remarkable, because Director Rojas only expected to serve as an officer in charge when former Director Magtanggol B. Gatdula was dismissed over allegations of kidnapping and extortion attempts by NBI agents,” the President said.
At the NBI, Rojas accomplished a lot, Mr. Aquino said.
“Director Rojas gave up a career spent as a prosecutor in the Department of Justice in order to stay on as NBI director. He did not fail us. Director Rojas excelled in his assigned tasks, and was instrumental in restoring the credibility of the NBI,” he said.
Rojas resigned on Monday after Mr. Aquino spoke to Inquirer editors and reporters on
Aug. 29 about “less trustworthy” officials at the NBI, alluding to two deputy directors in the agency who had been linked to alleged irregularities.
The two deputies are believed to have tipped off Janet Lim-Napoles, the alleged brains behind the P10-billion pork barrel scam, to the issuance on Aug. 14 by a Makati City court of a warrant for her arrest for the alleged illegal detention of the principal witness in the investigation of the scandal.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima recommended to Mr. Aquino not to accept Rojas’ resignation and she herself tried to talk Rojas out of it.
But Rojas, who had said he quit out of delicadeza (propriety), was adamant about leaving, even amid the NBI’s preparation for bringing plunder charges against Napoles and, possibly, the lawmakers who allegedly connived with her to embezzle state funds from the pork barrel.
Mr. Aquino explained why he accepted Rojas’ resignation.
“We in the government recognize, however, that his period of service has taken a serious toll on his health. It is my belief that it would be an unwarranted imposition on the well-being of a model public servant, for Director Rojas, to remain in the NBI. For this reason, I am constrained to accept, with deep regret, his resignation,” the President said.
A source in the administration who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to talk to journalists about the issue, said Rojas had a “heart problem.”
The source said that with Rojas’ condition, the Palace knew it would be detrimental to his health to make him stay on at the NBI.
With Rojas gone, De Lima takes direct control of the NBI, the investigative arm of the DOJ.
President Aquino made it clear that De Lima had the authority to reorganize the bureau and appoint an interim director.
“In the meantime, the secretary of justice will directly supervise the National Bureau of Investigation, including the appointment of an officer in charge to ensure the effective continuation of the NBI’s tasks,” the President said.
Asked by reporters if she already had someone in mind to appoint as NBI officer in charge, De Lima replied: “I’m still scouting for one. I have a few names in mind.”
Happy to go
In an interview with reporters on Friday, Rojas said he did not recommend anyone to take his place.
“The NBI will move on. She (De Lima) will oversee the affairs of the NBI, but an (officer in charge) will be appointed any time now,” Rojas said.
“My family is happy,” Rojas said after President Aquino had announced his acceptance of his resignation.
“I consulted my family about this. They also wanted me to get out of the NBI. They said I was making the right decision,” he said.
In an interview with the Inquirer on Monday, Rojas declined to disclose his reason for leaving.
“It was a difficult decision. Now that it’s finally over, my family is happy. It’s time to move on,” he said yesterday.
He said he wanted to go back to the judiciary.
Asked if he would be given a new position in the government, Rojas replied: “We’re not that important. I will have to knock on doors to apply and I’ll be doing that as soon as possible.”
Rojas thanked all the people who supported him during his tenure at the NBI.
“I like to thank the President for giving me the opportunity to (lead) the NBI and to Secretary De Lima for the trust she gave me,” he said.
Rojas said he hoped the “reculturing of character” that he introduced in the NBI would bear fruit soon.
“It’s a little awkward that our agents carry firearms, but they are training for morals and values, how to deal with people, all with the (purpose of becoming) well rounded in doing their job,” Rojas said. “NBI personnel should be kind and efficient.”
Rojas said he would not immediately leave the bureau.
“I will still be around for a while, helping out in the transition,” he said.
De Lima said she would reorganize the bureau and the refusal of deputy directors to resign to give her a free hand would not stop her from carrying out the revamp.
The NBI has six deputy directors: Virgilio Mendez (regional operation service), Edmundo Arugay (administrative service), Reynaldo Esmeralda (intelligence service), Ruel Lasala (special investigation service) and Rafael Ragos (comptroller service).
De Lima had asked them all to hand in courtesy resignations to resolve questions of “trust and integrity” in the bureau.
Arugay quit on Tuesday “out of delicadeza” and called on the others to do the same.
None of the remaining five deputies had budged as of Friday.
According to several sources interviewed by the Inquirer, Mendez is at the top of the list of possible replacements for Rojas.
De Lima herself vouched for the integrity of Mendez in an interview on Tuesday.
While she demanded the resignation of all six deputies, she was particular about Mendez staying put, she said.
On Friday, she said the reorganization of the NBI would have to wait until the bureau could complete the investigation of the pork barrel scam.
De Lima said she had met with all the whistle-blowers in the pork barrel scam and the NBI investigative team for a briefing on the progress of the case.
At the meeting were Mendez, Ragos and Assistant Directors Medardo de Lemos and Rolando Argabioso.
“I told them that they should cooperate and tell the truth,” she said, referring to the whistle-blowers.
The lawyers for the whistle-blowers, Levito Baligod and Lourdes Benipayo, said they were satisfied with how the meeting went.
De Lima said the whistle-blowers, all former employees of Napoles, did not ask for anything other than protection.
The case, she said, is “almost complete” and an “internal deadline” has been set for bringing charges in court.
De Lima declined to disclose the deadline. With reports from Jerome Aning and Nancy C. Carvajal