Task force to probe Enrile
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Friday said she had created a special task force to look into Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s accusations of smuggling, illegal gambling, illegal logging and other crimes against Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile.
The task force, chaired by Justice Undersecretary Jose Justiniano with lawyers from the Department of Justice (DOJ) and National Bureau of Investigation as members, will conduct a “fact-finding” inquiry, De Lima said. It will make regular reports directly to her and is required to submit a final report within three months.
“We’ll just see if there can be bases for further action, whether criminal or not,” she said.
“We cannot set aside the allegations made by Senator Santiago because they are very, very serious allegations and especially so that that day after she delivered that privilege speech, she immediately sent a formal request to me,” De Lima told reporters. “We might be accused of dereliction of duty if we don’t act on it, if we ignore that request.”
The justice secretary said the five allegations against Enrile that would be covered by the task force were narrowed down after an assessment. “These allegations are worth probing, worth looking into,” she said.
According to Department Order No. 994 issued by De Lima, the task force is mandated to conduct an investigation of alleged criminal acts or activities by Enrile as enumerated in Santiago’s letter to the DOJ on Dec. 5.
The group will look into the alleged illegal importation or smuggling of automobiles through the Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport (CSEZFP) in conspiracy with its administrator and chief executive officer Jose Mari Ponce and James Kocher, Enrile’s son-in-law.
Kocher runs an automobile importing operation in the zone and is allegedly involved in smuggling.
The task force will also investigate alleged illegal gambling through the CSEZFP, by the grant of franchises to entities to engage in online gambling.
These were allegedly accomplished using a “master license” issued to First Cagayan License and Resort Corp. authorizing it to issue seven-year licenses to foreign entities to operate online gambling, and a license to Meridien Vista Gaming Corp. authorizing it to conduct gaming operations, including jai-alai, in the free port and to set up betting stations.
The alleged illegal logging through San Jose Lumber, whose license expired in 2007, will also be investigated.
The DOJ task force’s mandate also covers two other areas: submission of falsified statement of assets, liabilities and net worth, and “other related issues constituting criminal offenses under existing criminal statutes.”
De Lima explained why crimes such as murder and enforced disappearances allegedly committed by Enrile during the martial law years, when he was defense minister, would no longer be investigated.
“Maybe it’s no longer feasible to look into these crimes because they happened a long time ago. The crimes have a prescribed time and it may be difficult to gather evidence.”
The special task force was mandated to evaluate the evidence gathered and recommend possible courses of action or legal processes.
Among these are the filing of criminal complaints as the evidence may warrant preliminary investigation, request for investigation by the Anti-Money Laundering Council and the filing of civil cases for forfeiture of ill-gotten wealth in coordination with the Office of the Solicitor General.
The members of the task force are Assistant State Prosecutors Niven Canlapan and Nolibien Quiambao from the National Prosecution Service; DOJ legal staff and state counsels Adonis Suli and Charles Romulus Cambaliza, and Jonathan Mengullo and Catherine Camposano from the NBI antigraft division.
Enrile has denied Santiago’s allegations and challenged the public to inspect his records of his activities in the economic zone and during martial law. He also dismissed as baseless Santiago’s attacks on his former chief of staff, Gigi Reyes.
“Our colleague only confirmed everything I said about her mental health and her propensity to make unfounded accusations,” Enrile said after Santiago’s privilege speech.
Enrile and Reyes, along with two other senators and several former and current congressmen, are facing a complaint of plunder and malversation of public funds in connection with the P10-billion Priority Development Assistance Fund scam.