The Office of the Ombudsman has finally filed in the Sandiganbayan the case of the P900-million Malampaya fund scam in which aid supposedly for victims of widespread flooding in 2009 in Luzon went to ghost livelihood projects. Plunder charges, however, will no longer be pursued.
Prosecutors indicted former Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr., former Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman, businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles and 22 others for 97 counts each of malversation through falsification and violation of Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
The charges were filed on Dec. 1, but the cases were made known to reporters only on Thursday because of the sheer volume of documents, totaling 1,164 pages.
The Ombudsman’s Public Information and Media Relations Bureau said a Sept. 5 order partially granted the respondents’ appeal and dropped its finding of probable cause to file plunder charges under its December 2016 resolution.
Andaya, currently a Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, said he found the downgrading of the plunder complaint as a point in his favor. “[This] means that the original indictment actively sought has been debunked,” he said.
In a statement, Andaya said he welcomed the filing of the case, “confident that at the end, when my side will be fully heard and the evidence I submit will be appreciated, truth will prevail and I shall be acquitted of the charges against me.”
The officials were accused of diverting the Malampaya gas field royalties to dubious nongovernment organizations (NGOs) allegedly ran by Napoles, a scheme reminiscent of the P10-billion pork barrel scam.
Just like in the pork barrel scam cases, whistle-blowers Benhur Luy, Merlina Suñas and Marina Sula will be presented as prosecution witnesses.
Napoles’ children Jo Christine and James Christopher, brother Reynald Lim, nephew Ronald John Lim, and other employees allegedly forged the request letters of the mayors of 97 towns and cities in Luzon, only for the funds to be diverted to what turned out to be “ghost” livelihood projects.
For his role in the scheme, Pangandaman allegedly received commissions from Napoles through former Mayor Rene Maglanque of Candaba, Pampanga province.
According to the charge sheets, Pangandaman directed Agrarian Reform Undersecretary Narciso Nieto to request P900 million in discretionary funds “without any clear basis.”
He allegedly requested the release of a notice of cash allowance only on the sole claim that the P900 million was already fully obligated, without validating the regularity and the legality of the obligations.
For his part, Andaya allegedly approved the request for the discretionary funds “despite the lack of any clear basis.”
Although Department of Budget and Management Director Nora Oliveros observed a lack of supporting documents, Andaya allegedly signed the special allotment release order and the notice of cash allocation requested by Pangandaman before she reviewed the request.
Ruby Tuason, whose request for immunity was rejected by the Ombudsman, allegedly helped facilitate the scheme “by finding, through her brother, a contact in Malacañang.” She was also allegedly paid kickbacks by Napoles.
Other Department of Agrarian Reform officials—chief administrative officer Ronald Venancio, chief accountant Angelita Cacananta and finance director Teresita Panlilio—were faulted for processing the payments to fake mayor-beneficiaries despite the “attendant glaring irregularities” in the supporting documents for the transactions.
Like Pangandaman, Panlilio was accused of receiving commissions from Napoles.
Ma. Winnie Villanueva, a former manager of the Metrobank Magdalena branch in Binondo, Manila, allegedly facilitated the diversion of the funds by allowing 12 Napoles-linked NGOs to open bank accounts despite submitting questionable documents.
Prosecutors recommended that bail be set at P30,000 for each count of graft and P200,000 for each count of malversation through falsification, or a total of P22.31 million for each of the accused.
The National Bureau of Investigation originally included former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her former Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita in its complaint, on grounds that her Executive Order No. 848 made it possible to use the funds for nonenergy-related projects under the guise of assistance to the victims of widespread flooding in 2009.
But the Ombudsman said in its December 2016 resolution that there was no probable cause to charge Arroyo and Ermita, as they were found to have issued the executive order in good faith.
The legality of the executive order was based on Section 8 of Presidential Decree No. 910, before spending under the decree was declared unconstitutional for diverting the gas field royalties to uses outside the energy industry.
PD 910 created the special fund to finance energy resource development programs and projects and “for such other purposes as may be hereafter directed by the President.”