Antigraft task force can still probe lawmakers – DOJ
MANILA, Philippines — Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Wednesday clarified that President Rodrigo Duterte’s refusal to investigate legislators suspected of lining their pockets with kickbacks from graft-laden projects did not preclude the anticorruption task force that he heads from conducting the probe.
Guevarra reiterated that all public officials, including lawmakers, may be named in the criminal complaints that the Task Force Against Corruption would bring to the Office of the Ombudsman.
“It’s the corrupt act or transaction that is being investigated. Whoever will be implicated, it will not matter if they are outside the executive department. That is how we should view it,” the justice secretary told the Inquirer.
“During our meeting last Monday, I clarified that if in the course of investigating a particular act or transaction … (we find) certain government officials outside the executive department are involved, then these officials will necessarily be included in complaints that the task force may file,” he said.
“The President stated that if the involvement of a member of Congress, for instance, is germane to the anomalous transaction, then the latter’s inclusion in criminal charges will have to be endorsed to the Ombudsman through (my office),” Guevarra said.
During his public address on Monday night, Mr. Duterte said he could not publicly disclose the names of lawmakers who allegedly got kickbacks from private contractors since they belonged to another branch of government.
“If I cannot investigate the congressmen, then I have no authority to be releasing their names,” the President said.
De Lima, ‘drug matrix’
This position was in stark contrast to his vicious attacks against his fiercest critic, Sen. Leila de Lima, who was indicted and jailed afte. Duterte linked her to the illegal drug trade inside the state penitentiary when she was still the justice secretary.
Using his “drug matrix,” the President had also named several judges and House members allegedly involved in narcotics.
Duterte also seemed to contradict his own statements recently against the unabated corruption in government, which prompted him to direct Guevarra and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to lead the special antigraft body to put an end to the misuse of public funds.
Guevarra stressed that Duterte was right in pointing out that, as chief executive, he had no power to have officials in the judiciary and the legislative branches investigated for administrative offenses, such as misconduct and dishonesty.
“When it comes to criminal investigation and prosecution, no one is exempt, except those enjoying immunity from suit during their tenure. The rule is different in administrative cases,” Guevarra said.
At the House of Representatives, Minority Leader Joseph Stephen Paduano said the minority bloc would not object to any House investigation of congressmen allegedly involved in corruption.
Speaking in an online press briefing, Paduano said an investigation could only commence if the majority of the members of the House ethics committee voted for it.
“And for us in the minority, that’s not a problem for us, just in case,” he said.
But for Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin, a member of the minority, such an investigation would just be “a waste of time.”
“In my opinion, knowing the institution and having been with Congress for a long time before, sometimes it’s not that worth it if we will be investigating colleagues especially, if they are many, because allegedly the list that the President was looking at is a long list,” Garin said.
Referring to the often-cited corruption in infrastructure projects, especially road building, she said irregularities occurred because there was no strict costings for each type of public works.
“Costing or the specific expenditures on every kilometer or every project—that will be the solution,” she said.
Paduano said the Ombudsman could always investigate cases filed against any House member, a department secretary or an ordinary government employee for that matter.
“So there is no problem there,” he said.
He said someone had to first file a case against any allegedly corrupt member of the House.
According to Greco Belgica, a member of the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC), there were “12 or less than 12” House members allegedly involved in corruption in projects of the Department Public Works and Highways (DPWH) that it had reported to Mr. Duterte “two weeks to about a month ago.”
Belgica said contractors, government employees and other witnesses gave direct testimony and other evidence, such as letters, documents and even pictures and videos, incriminating the lawmakers.
In one case, a winning project contractor complained that a congressman was demanding a 10-percent kickback from projects facilitated by the lawmaker in his district, he said.
The complainant was further infuriated because the congressman demanded 5 percent in kickbacks from projects of other government agencies, Belgica said.
Another form of irregularity was the continuous funding for “ghost” projects of certain congressmen, he added.
He said the PACC was planning to turn over the affidavits and other evidence against these House members to the Ombudsman and Guevarra’s commission because the anticorruption body had no jurisdiction over congressmen.
Created in 2017 by Executive Order No. 43, and amended by EO 73, the PACC has jurisdiction only over presidential appointees and employees in the executive branch.
—With reports from Nestor Corrales and Jerome Aning
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