Teary Masbate gov in P108-M pork scam charges falls
A tearful Masbate Gov. Rizalina Seachon-Lanete turned herself in to the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), hours after she was ordered arrested for plunder in the Napoles pork barrel scam.
Lanete allegedly received P108.4 million in kickbacks for allowing the allocation of her Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to fake nongovernment organizations supposedly owned by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.
Upon her surrender, Lanete’s mugshot and fingerprints were taken and she underwent a medical examination.
Supt. Danilo Macerin, the CIDG chief for Metro Manila, said the Masbate governor would be in their custody until the court has decided where she will be detained.
Lanete surrendered to CIDG head Director Benjamin Magalong in Camp Crame around 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, accompanied by a lawyer and some members of her family.
“She was visibly sad and crying. I didn’t want to add to her stress,” Magalong said in an interview.
According to the CIDG chief, the governor’s family sent word a week before that she was willing to surrender quietly.
“One of her children contacted us and said she wanted to surrender to the CIDG. Upon issuance of the arrest warrant, she immediately come here and we took custody of her,” Magalong said.
Asked if he personally knew Lanete, Magalong replied in the negative, saying the governor might have chosen to surrender to the CIDG since other people linked to the scam had also turned themselves in to the CIDG.
On Wednesday, the Fourth Division of the Sandiganbayan ordered Lanete’s arrest after finding probable cause to try her for plunder and graft for her alleged involvement in the pork barrel fund scam.
Her coaccused on 11 counts of graft were Undersecretary Mario Relampago and officials Rosario Nuñez, Lalaine Paule and Marilou Bare of the Department of Budget and Management; former Technology Resource Center director Dennis Cunanan; and National Agribusiness Corp. officials Allan Javellana, Rhodora Mendoza and Victor Roman Cacal.
Also ordered arrested were Evelyn de Leon, Gondelina Amata, Francisco Figura, Gregoria Buenaventura, Emmanuel Alexis Sevidal, Chita Jalandoni, Sofia Cruz, Ofelia Ordoñez, Eulogio Rodriguez, Maria Ninez Guañizo;
Maria Julie Villaralvo-Johnson, Henry Soliman, Romulo Relevo, Salvador Salacup, Eduardo Nolasco, Roy Bongalo, Antonio Ortiz, Marivic Jover, Ma. Rosalinda Lacsamana, Filipina Rodriguez, Jeaneth de la Cruz and Consuelo Lilian Espiritu.
The court deferred the issuance of an arrest warrant against Lanete’s chief of staff, Jose Sumalpong, who filed a pleading to defer his arrest.
Magalong said Lanete’s coaccused were expected to post bail and present themselves to the court since their charges were bailable.
Lanete’s surrender did not surprise Masbateños, who had anticipated the Sandiganbayan to order her arrest.
“Everybody was expecting that this would come,” Masbate City Mayor Rowena Tuason said.
In a text message on Thursday, Tuason said she learned from an aide of the governor that Lanete left for Metro Manila on Tuesday purposely to give herself up on learning that an arrest warrant would be issued against her.
Lanete is accused of misusing her PDAF funds when she was a representative of Masbate.
Lanete is the first among former or present members of the House of Representatives to be arrested for supposed involvement in the P10-billion pork barrel scam.
A close ally of Lanete, who asked not to be identified, said he was with Lanete and her supporters on Valentine’s Day when the governor told them that she knew of her impending arrest.
The source said Lanete had been waiting for Camp Crame policemen to come and arrest her in Masbate. At the last minute, however, she decided to proceed to the Philippine National Police headquarters to surrender.
Tuason said Lanete’s supporters were saddened by the news even if they knew of her plan to surrender.
Tuason is a member of the Liberal Party while Lanete belongs to the Nationalist People’s Coalition. They are known in Masbate to have remained on good terms despite their party affiliations.
In the case filed in the Sandiganbayan, principal whistle-blower Benhur Luy claimed Lanete received P108.4 million in kickbacks from 2004 to 2010.
In its indictment, the Ombudsman said Lanete “continuously endorsed the implementation of her PDAF-funded livelihood and agricultural projects to questionable NGOs associated with or controlled by Napoles.”
In its arrest order against Lanete and the others, the Sandiganbayan said the court “finds probable cause to hold the accused for trial for the crime of plunder.” At least four other former congressmen were included in the charge sheet. With a report from Marlon Ramos
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