‘Cases now in probable cause stage: 1 year too long’By Christian V. Esguerra |Philippine Daily Inquirer
The House minority bloc is not buying Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales’ pronouncement that her office would take up to one year to decide whether to file plunder and other criminal charges against legislators and others implicated in the alleged P10-billion pork barrel scam.
House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora on Wednesday said the timeframe was too long, considering that the Ombudsman would need to determine only “probable cause” to elevate the cases to the Sandiganbayan, the antigraft court.
“We’re wondering why the figure given was one year,” he said in a press conference, noting that the cases had already been evaluated by the Department of Justice (DOJ).
“We are at the stage of determining probable cause,” he added.
Zamora said the Ombudsman should be done “before Christmas,” arguing that it would neither deal with a “new” case nor gather a new set of evidence.
“Let us not forget that justice delayed is no justice at all,” he said.
Validate DOJ findings
Zamora said all the Ombudsman would have to do was to “validate” the DOJ findings that certain Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocations had been misused and pocketed by some legislators.
“You don’t have to read the million pages (in evidence),” he said. “All you have to see is whether there is a case or none.”
The truckloads of documents accompanying the plunder and malversation cases filed by the National Bureau of Investigation will be useless if they do not convince the Ombudsman and the court, a lawyers’ group said.
The National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) said the documentary evidence presented by the NBI should, in combination with the testimonies of the whistle-blowers and other witnesses, prove the involvement of the 38 suspects, which included the alleged mastermind, Janet Lim-Napoles, as well as former and incumbent legislators.
“What is important is not the volume of the documentary evidence but whether all the evidence can pass muster the legal standards at major junctures of the proceedings,” NUPL secretary general Edre Olalia said in a statement.
“The standards are: the existence of probable cause to charge the respondents; evidence of guilt is strong when the accused will petition for bail; and proof beyond reasonable doubt for conviction,” Olalia added.
Olalia said that whether the investigation lasts a year or more, what was important was that the government prosecutors must be good and that the people must be kept updated of the proceedings so that they will not lose interest or become apathetic.
“What is decisive is that public interest and vigilance must not wane, political will must be strong, the process and those who will sit in judgment must be fair and fearless, and that no political accommodation or rehabilitation would occur,” he said.
Otherwise, Olalia added, “we will just go full circle and all these would just be another pep squad show that will not decide the endgame for the people’s cry for good government and public accountability.”
The NBI is set to file cases against two more batches of suspects.
This week, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said, cases would be filed against those involved in the misuse of funds coming from the government’s share of the profits from the Malampaya gas field in Palawan.
“As a matter of principle, all those who are involved must be charged regardless of political affiliation. The administration must satisfactorily and credibly demonstrate to the public that it is indeed not selective. It must not abuse this moral and legal issue for its own partisan agenda,” Olalia said.
Zamora said the minority bloc was preparing to quiz the congressman who would sponsor the DOJ budget in plenary in connection with the PDAF cases now with the Ombudsman.
One question, he said, would be whether the plunder and malversation cases would not be limited to opposition legislators and would also cover administration allies.
“Those were the questions, in fact, that we will be asking Secretary De Lima when she gets to the floor. Rather, not specifically Secretary De Lima but whoever will be the one sponsoring the budget of the DOJ,” he said.
“Obviously, we have an interest in this. We want to make sure that not only the guilty would be punished, but the innocent are absolved as soon as possible.”
Malacañang has no appetite for striking a compromise deal with Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr., and the two former members of the House of Representatives implicated in the pork barrel scam.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the ball was no longer in the court of the executive branch following the filing of plunder and other charges against 38 people, including Napoles.
“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 briefing in the Palace.
Lacierda was 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 on the cases would take a year or less to finish.
“It’s part of the obligation of the people (to remain vigilant) because we have an engaged citizenry. Let’s not forget that these things have to be resolved,” Lacierda said.
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 channeling the PDAF into ghost projects and getting huge kickbacks.
The three senators were accused of receiving a total of P581 million in kickbacks from Napoles, while the former members of the House, 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 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).—With reports from Michael Lim Ubac and Jerome Aning