Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile on Wednesday appeared to be distancing himself from the alleged illicit activities of his controversial chief of staff, saying he did not sign any document endorsing any of the dubious agencies controlled by Janet Lim-Napoles in the P10-billion pork barrel scam.
Enrile was one of the three senators accused in the Office of the Ombudsman on Monday of plunder. The three allegedly pocketed a total of P581 million in kickbacks from the Napoles schemes in ghost projects implemented by dummy nongovernment organizations (NGOs).
Among those charged also for plunder in the Ombudsman were Enrile’s former chief of staff, Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes, and his deputy chief of staff, Jose Antonio Evangelista. In all, 38 people were charged with either plunder or malversation.
Enrique de la Cruz, counsel of Enrile, whose cut in the racket was said to have reached P172.8 million, described as hilaw or “weak” the government’s plunder complaint against the former Senate president.
“There is no document that links Senator Enrile to plunder. He didn’t sign any document that indicated he was allocating his funds to NGOs,” De la Cruz said in an interview over radio station dwIZ.
Funds for LGUs, not NGOs
“The documents he signed were only in relation to his allocation of funds to local government units (LGUs). No whistle-blower said that he or she gave money to Senator Enrile or that Senator Enrile asked for a kickback or a commission,” De la Cruz said.
“So there is no element of plunder. That’s why, in our view, the weak case was hastily prepared,” De la Cruz added.
The Commission on Audit (COA) and whistle-blowers have pointed to the lawmakers’ chiefs of staff and authorized representatives as among those who signed for their respective principals in documents endorsing the fake NGOs as recipients of the public funds.
Not following instructions
“Senator Enrile’s instruction was clear… In the endorsements that he signed, he allocated his funds to local government units—provinces, towns and barangays (villages). If he had employees that didn’t follow this or did something to divert the said funds to NGOs, it wasn’t in compliance with Senator Enrile’s instructions,” De la Cruz said.
“Perhaps it might not be justified to make Senator Enrile accountable for the said wrongdoing or violation of the law,” De la Cruz added.
Reyes as ‘24th senator’
On Reyes’ alleged involvement in the PDAF scam, De la Cruz said, “The legal team deemed it best not to comment on her participation because we know she also has her own lawyer.”
De la Cruz indicated that Enrile was willing to submit to the processes of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales.
“Senator Enrile trusts our Ombudsman and he believes this is where there will be a fair investigation to uncover the whole truth,” De la Cruz said.
While Reyes has resigned as Enrile’s chief of staff even before the pork barrel scam, a member of the senator’s media staff said that Evangelista was still with Enrile’s office “and still reporting for work.”
As chief aide to the then Senate President, the 50-year-old Reyes was dubbed the “24th senator.” She signed checks in the millions of pesos on behalf of Enrile, 89, and issued memos to Senate functionaries involving the funds of the chamber. She resigned last December in the aftermath of the alleged selective distribution of Christmas bonuses to senators by Enrile.
Immigration authorities said Reyes left for Macau on Aug. 31.
A document submitted to the NBI said that whistle-blowers delivered alleged kickbacks for Enrile to Reyes’ house. Benhur Luy, the principal whistle-blower, tagged Reyes as one of Napoles’ main contacts in the Senate President’s office, along with Evangelista.
De la Cruz is a former managing partner of Enrile’s law firm Pecabar. He remains a member of the firm’s management committee.
A holder of a master’s degree in international and comparative business law from the London Metropolitan University, Dela Cruz is an expert in civil, criminal and corporate litigation.
He graduated with honors from the University of Santo Tomas College of Law in 2000 and passed the bar exams in the same year with a general weighted average of 86.05 percent.
‘We must see it’
Reached for further comment on whether Enrile’s camp was disowning the endorsement letters allegedly signed in Enrile’s behalf by Reyes and Evangelista, De la Cruz said, “We cannot disown it until we see it.”
“We have yet to see a copy of the complaint,” De la Cruz told the Inquirer. Without this, he said he could not say that Enrile allocated his PDAF entitlements only to LGUs and not to NGOs. However, he added, “We also don’t want to discuss our legal strategies in public.”
On Aug. 24, an Inquirer story cited the COA report on PDAF releases that said while Enrile denied signing any documents relating to the fake NGOs, “he confirmed to have authorized his chief of staff to sign on his behalf.”
Reacting to that story, Reyes then said the senator would normally designate her “or any of our deputy chiefs of staff” to sign documents on his behalf.
“But specifically regarding his PDAF, Senator Enrile himself signs the endorsement to the DBM,” Reyes said. “I never signed any endorsement to the DBM to nominate any project whether under the senator’s PDAF, VILP (Various Infrastructure including Local Projects) or other sources,” she added.
Reyes at that time told the Inquirer that either she or Evangelista would sign documents required by the implementing agencies, “but only pursuant to the written authorization of the senator.”
“But the COA provided our office numerous documents where our signatures were obviously forged and we intend to present these in the investigation,” she said.