Pork scam lawyer scores De Lima for ‘drifting away’
MANILA, Philippines–Lawyer Levito Baligod on Tuesday accused Justice Secretary Leila de Lima of “drifting away from the fight against corruption,” insinuating that the apparent slowness in the filing of charges against a third batch of lawmakers linked to the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam could favor some administration candidates in 2016.
Baligod held a press conference to denounce De Lima’s announcement that she would no longer be focusing on the filing of charges against the third batch of lawmakers allegedly involved in the P10-billion PDAF or pork barrel scam.
Baligod said De Lima should make good on her promise to charge all those involved in the scam, whether or not they are allied with the Aquino administration.
“We’re saddened by her announcement. We’re worried about the attitude of the DOJ that the third batch of cases is no longer important. It’s as if the DOJ is retreating from the fight against corruption,” the lawyer said.
He reminded De Lima that she made a commitment to press charges against the third batch of PDAF suspects in June 2014. He said he hoped there were “no political considerations” behind De Lima’s pronouncement.
Baligod, one of the complainants in the first and second batches of PDAF cases, said the secretary had yet to reply to his letter last month wherein he inquired about 34 other former and current lawmakers who had yet to be charged for alleged involvement in the scam.
Among the 34 were at least three Aquino administration allies said to be planning to run for the Senate in next year’s election. Baligod declined to name the three.
Baligod said the remaining cases also involved nongovernment organizations that were not directly linked to alleged scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles. The lawyer added that if the investigation were widened to cover the alleged anomalous use of the PDAF after 2009 and before 2007, even more cases could be filed.
Baligod said that if there was still no action from the DOJ, he would go ahead and file malversation cases before the Office of the Ombudsman against the third batch by June.
Sought for her reaction, De Lima said the DOJ was not abandoning the PDAF cases.
“I was just stating a fact that indeed there are very important and urgent matters on my table. At any given time, I need to attend to several priority matters and assignments simultaneously or almost simultaneously. I already repeatedly said why the third batch is still on hold,” De Lima said in a text message to reporters.
Baligod dismissed De Lima’s explanation that government investigators were having difficulties and taking a long time to verify the signatures on the documents regarding the scam as “feeble.”
“The defense of those earlier charged was that their signatures were forged. Why the change now in the standard for the third batch? It’s like the rule of law is not being applied here. Moreover, it’s only the courts that can declare signatures as falsified. Also, there are many other documents that can show misuse of public funds. So this reason is feeble,” Baligod said.
He said that since lawmakers’ projects and programs funded with their PDAF were supposed to have beneficiaries, it should be easy for investigators to check whether or not there were such projects and programs. He said the Commission on Audit already had a report that could be used to initiate a case.
Baligod said the DOJ could also use the testimonies of his former clients and co-complainants, Benhur Luy and Merlita Suñas, who are state witnesses against Napoles.
The lawyer also asked De Lima to disclose early whether or not she plans to run for senator so the people can judge if there are political considerations in the delay in the filing of cases against the third batch.
“To those running for election, they should show their willingness to fight corruption. If she intends to participate in the electoral exercise, she should recall her statement,” Baligod said.
The lawyer said failure to pursue cases against the third batch would lead to the Aquino administration losing the “moral high ground” in combating corruption.
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