DOJ eyes malversation raps vs next batch of lawmakers tagged in pork scam
MANILA, Philippines – In a major shift in legal strategy, the Department of Justice is planning to file charges of malversation, instead of plunder charges against the next batch of senators, representatives and fake nongovernment organizations to be charged in the pork barrel scam cases.
A DOJ official, who agreed to speak on the agency’s legal maneuvers on condition of anonymity, said that a malversation case would not require any whistleblowers and would not have the stringent P50 million threshhold like a plunder case. The DOJ official said both malversation and plunder were non-bailable offenses that would satisfy the public’s cry for putting erring high-powered individuals behind bars.
“Plunder is just much better to hear than malversation but both have the same results. And malversation is much easier to prove than plunder,” said the DOJ source.
The DOJ-National Bureau of Investigation (DOJ-NBI) has already filed two batches of cases in the pork barrel scam allegedly perpetrated by Janet Lim-Napoles.
The first batch consisted of 38 individuals led by Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr.; and former representatives Rodolfo Plaza of Agusan del Sur, Samuel Dangwa of Benguet, and Constantino Jaraula of Cagayan de Oro who have been charged with plunder and graft charges. The second DOJ-NBI case involved 34 individuals including former Muntinlupa Rep. Rozzano Rufino Biazon, former Oriental Mindoro Rep. Rodolfo Valencia, former Davao del Norte Rep. Arrel Olano, former Davao del Sur Rep. Marc Douglas Cagas IV, former Ilocos Sur Rep. Salacnib Baterina, former South Cotabato Rep. Arthur Pinggoy Jr. and former Davao del Sur Rep. Douglas Cagas.
The third and last pork scam case involving Napoles NGOs for transactions in the 2007-to-2009 period covered by a Commission on Audit special report, which reportedly included Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda), has yet to be filed by the DOJ-NBI.
The DOJ official said that malversation cases would likely be filed as the next batch of pork barrel scam cases involving the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) transactions of Napoles NGOs during the Aquino administration. The DOJ official said the same tactic would be used in the filing of cases against dozens of non-Napoles NGOs that were identified in the 2007-2009 COA report.
According to the DOJ source, the change in legal tactics is being mulled in view of the difficulty experienced by state prosecutors in proving plunder, which has a more rigid requirement than malversation.
The DOJ source noted prosecutors have to prove that the accused repeatedly received kickbacks of not less than P50 million through the misappropriation of government funds. But in a malversation case, the DOJ source said the burden of proof would shift to the public official to prove that the funds under his care were properly spent and the financial hurdle would be as little as P22,000 for the maximum penalty. Also, the DOJ source said a malversation case would primarily require documentary evidence compared with plunder where a whistleblower like Benhur Luy was essential.
“It’s like a murder case, if you can’t prove treachery, you can always charge the accused with homicide, which involves jail penalty too,” said the DOJ source.
The DOJ source said that in case the senators and their co-accused were not charged with plunder, they would likely get nailed for graft charges.
“The senators’ main defense is to blame the implementing agencies for failing to ensure that the NGOs implemented the projects properly, noting that this was the reason why they too charge management fees from the PDAF transactions. The implementing agencies, however, contend that the senators themselves endorsed the specific NGOs as recipients of their pork and that their MOAs (memorandum of agreement) have a provision wherein the senator would be responsible for seeing to it that the project is properly implemented,” the DOJ source said.
“The senators may be right based on COA rules that they have no obligation on the implementation of projects, but they negated this when they signed the MOAs taking on this responsibility,” said the DOJ source.
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