MANILA, Philippines—Malacañang has no appetite for striking any compromise with Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr., and the two ex-congressmen implicated in the alleged P10-billion pork barrel scam.
President Benigno Aquino III’s spokesman, Edwin Lacierda, said the ball was no longer in the court of the executive following the filing of plunder and other charges against 38 personalities, including businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, the alleged architect of the scam involving the congressional Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) over the last 10 years.
“I can guarantee you that there’s no compromise because, once the charges are filed, it’s no longer with us. It is already with the Ombudsman,” Lacierda said at a Palace news briefing.
He said that Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales “will have full discretion as to what charges will be filed against any particular individual—both as a legislator and both as an official of all those NGOs (non-governmental organizations)” allegedly controlled by Napoles.
Lacierda made this clear when asked if the executive, through the Department of Justice, would be amenable to a compromise with the respondents at this early stage of the legal process.
Lacierda said he was also counting on the public not to lose interest in the plunder case when told that Morales herself admitted to the Senate, where she defended the proposed P1.8-billion budget for 2014 of her office on Tuesday, that the preliminary investigation of the cases could take a year or less to finish.
“It’s part of the obligation of the people because we have an engaged citizenry. Let’s not forget that these things have to be solved—resolved,” said Lacierda.
The DoJ charged Napoles, Enrile, Estrada and Revilla Jr., and former House members Rizalina Seachon-Lanete, now on her second term as governor of Masbate, and Edgar Valdez with plunder for allegedly siphoning the PDAF into ghost projects.
The three senators were accused of receiving a total of P581 million in kickbacks from Napoles. The former members of the House of Representatives, according to the NBI, likewise received kickbacks: Lanete, P108,405,000, and Valdez, P56,087,500.
Besides the plunder case against Napoles and six others, charges of malversation of public funds, bribery, graft and corrupt practices were lodged in the Office of the Ombudsman against 32 others.
Charges of malversation, direct bribery and other graft and corrupt practices were leveled against three former representatives: Rodolfo Plaza who allegedly received P42,137,800 from PDAF allocations of P79,500,000; Samuel Dangwa, P26,770,472 from PDAF allocations of P54 million; and Constantino Jaraula, P20,843,750 from PDAF allocations of P50.5 million.
Facing the same charges are the former chiefs of staff or aides of the lawmakers—Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes (Enrile), Richard Cambe (Revilla), Ruby Tuazon (Enrile/Estrada), Pauline Labayen (Estrada), Jose Sumalpong and Jenanette de la Cruz (Lanete), Erwin Dangwa and Carlos Lozada (Dangwa).
The heads of agencies charged with either plunder or malversation, bribery and graft and corruption were: Allan Javellana, former president, National Agribusiness Corp. (Nabcor); Gondolina Amata, president, National Livelihood Development Cooperation (NLDC); Antonio Ortiz, former director general of the Training and Research Center (TRC); Dennis Cunanan, former deputy director general and now director general of TRC; and Salvador Salacup, former president, ZNAC Rubber Estate Corporation and now assistant agriculture secretary.
Also facing plunder and malversation are the heads of Napoles’ NGOs: Jocelyn Piorato (Agricultura para sa Magbubukid Foundation), Nemesio Pablo (Agri and Economic Program for Farmers Foundation), Mylene Encarnacion (Countrywide Agri and Rural Economic and Development Foundation), Evelyn de Leon (Philippine Social Development Foundation) and Ronald John Lim (Ginintuang Alay sa Magsasaka Foundation).
The implementing agency officials and employees involved in plunder or malversation, bribery, or graft by conspiracy are Victor Cacal and Romulo Revelo, Ma. Ninez Guanizo, Julie Johnson, and Rhodora Mendoza, all of Nabcor; Alexis Sevidal, Sofia Cruz and Chila Jalandoni of NLDC; and Francisco Jover and Marivic Jover of TRC.
According to Morales, the Ombudsman will immediately go over the voluminous evidence against the DOJ’s first batch of respondents while waiting for the filing of the rest of the cases in connection with the scam.
At the Palace news briefing, Lacierda denied that any of the respondents had put out feelers seeking a compromise of sorts with the executive over the prosecution of those who immensely benefited from the pork barrel over a period of 10 years.
“We knew nothing about it. If there is, we don’t know which one,” said Lacierda, explaining that talk of absolving the others, particularly allies of the administration, of criminal liability was baseless since the DOJ had already filed the charges.
Meanwhile, Lacierda said the government fully supported the protest actions against PDAF planned for this weekend.
The protest “is against corruption, isn’t it? It’s more than the PDAF; it’s the use of the PDAF—how the taxpayers’ money has been diverted,” he said, recalling that the President had earlier welcomed the staging of anti-pork barrel rallies across the country.
But Lacierda insisted that the Palace would not go along with calls for the total scrapping of the pork barrel, explaining for the nth time that there was a “justification” for the continued budgetary allocations for discretionary and contingency funds in the national budget.
“Is the issue about the executive branch misusing PDAF? If it’s not being misused, then why should it be abolished?” he said.
Citing the President’s Social Fund, which is being used to defray the burial and other expenses of those killed in combat, among other things, Lacierda the money was “being used properly and, if there is no issue of misuse, why abolish it?”