Media men in payoff may face bribe raps
MANILA, Philippines—Journalists found to have benefited from the pork barrel scam face charges of direct bribery and malversation of public funds, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said on Thursday.
Two former officials of National Agribusiness Corp. (Nabcor), Rhodora Mendoza and Vicente Cacal, said in affidavits submitted to the Office of the Ombudsman that TV5 news anchor Erwin Tulfo and GMA 7 radio talk show host Carmelo del Prado Magdurulang received payoffs in the form of “advertising expenses” from pork funds that legislators channeled to phantom projects through the state-owned company from 2007 to 2009.
Both journalists have denied taking money from Nabcor.
Mike Enriquez, consultant for radio operations of GMA 7, issued a statement on Wednesday saying the network would thoroughly investigate the allegation against Magdurulang, also known as Melo del Prado, and would apply “full sanctions” if these would be found necessary.
TV5 also issued a statement saying it had spoken with Tulfo, who denied that he has had business dealings with Nabcor and said that any involvement he had with the company had to do with his work as a journalist.
“TV5 stands by the statement of Mr. Tulfo but will conduct its own internal inquiry into the matter,” the network said.
Public funds involved
De Lima, who said she would investigate the alleged involvement of journalists in the pork barrel scam, made it clear that “definitely” even journalists would be held liable, as public funds were involved in the diversion of P10 billion from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to ghost projects proposed by dubious nongovernment organizations (NGOs) owned by detained businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.
“If you’re a member of the media, you’re a private individual, you’re not a public official. But if it concerns public funds and you are in the company of public officials, you are part of it. You can be charged with such offenses as direct bribery and malversation of public funds, among others,” De Lima told reporters.
She was asked about the liability of journalists found to have taken money from the racket allegedly masterminded by Napoles.
No special treatment
Malacañang on Thursday said journalists who would be linked to the pork barrel scam would get no special treatment from the government.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said President Aquino had ordered the Department of Justice to look into all allegations and bring charges against all who would be found liable.
“It certainly is interesting to know the extent of corruption that happened and the amount of information that Nabcor officials knew,” Lacierda told the Inquirer in a text message.
On Wednesday, De Lima said she would look into the sworn statements of Mendoza and Cacal, two new whistle-blowers in the pork barrel scam who claimed that 83 lawmakers instructed Nabcor to release P1.7 billion from the PDAF to Napoles’ NGOs.
Mendoza and Cacal submitted their statements to the Office of the Ombudsman, which is investigating Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., Napoles and more than 30 former members of the House of Representatives and former government officials over the pork barrel scam.
Mendoza and Cacal also submitted cashed checks to show that Tulfo and Magdurulang benefited from projects financed from the PDAF through Nabcor.
They claimed that on March 10, 2009, a check for P245,535 was issued to Tulfo, drawn from a Nabcor account at the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) branch on Tektite Road, Ortigas Center, Pasig City.
They said three checks for a total of P245,535 were issued to Magdurulang in 2009 and the funds were also drawn from the same Nabcor account at the UCPB Tektite branch.
Mendoza also alleged that a third broadcast journalist received P2 million from Nabcor as payoff to stop criticism of the company but she had no documentation to support that claim.
De Lima was to get copies of the affidavits of Mendoza and Cacal Thursday. She will meet with the two witnesses’ lawyer, Levito Baligod, Friday for a discussion of their admission into the Witness Protection Program of the Department of Justice.
“I will first look into the allegations in the sworn statements, see how substantial, how plausible are the allegations against the media personalities,” De Lima said.
Entire media affected
She explained that an investigation of the allegations against Tulfo and Magdurulang was necessary, as the entire media had been affected by those charges.
Asked whether the National Bureau of Investigation will conduct the investigation of the alleged media payoffs, De Lima said this would depend on the Office of the Ombudsman, which was now in possession of the affidavits of Mendoza and Cacal.
She said the Ombudsman could either forward the documents to its Field Investigation Office or to the Anti-Graft Coordinating Council, one of whose members is the NBI.—With a report from Christian V. Esguerra
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