Palace defends prosecution in plunder cases
MANILA, Philippines – State prosecutors are not bungling the cases against Senators Ramon “Bong” Revilla, Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile, Malacañang assured the public Saturday.
The President’s spokesman, Edwin Lacierda, said the junking of the amended information against Revilla, and the withdrawal of the amended information against Estrada in the pork barrel scam were merely “procedural’’ matters.
He said these did not weaken the government’s plunder and graft cases against the senators which he said were backed by government documents and testimonies of whistleblowers.
And contrary to public perception, Lacierda said, the Department of Justice did not recommend that alleged pork scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles be made a state witness purportedly to bolster the cases against the senators.
“No, it’s not bungling. We don’t believe they are mishandling it. They have more than enough evidence, in the form of SAROS (special allotment release orders), and testimonies of whistleblowers to identify the culpability of the accused,’’ he said in an interview by phone.
Lacierda said the DOJ was confident about the strength and sufficiency of the evidence it submitted to the Office of the Ombudsman, which eventually filed the formal charges against the senators in the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court.
“These matters are procedural in nature, and do not in any way diminish the strength of the case, or the evidence against the accused,” he said.
Special prosecutors from the Office of the Ombudsman last Friday withdrew an amended information against Estrada, a day after a similar amended information against Revilla was junked by the court.
Both were seen as an attempt to remedy an ambiguity in the information filed against the senators that pictured Napoles as the principal in the plunder case and the lawmakers as mere recipients of kickbacks from her.
Napoles is an ordinary citizen. Plunder is an offense that can be filed against public officials who amass at least P50 million in ill-gotten wealth.
The amended information sought to make Revilla and Estrada the principal accused in the plunder cases.
Last Thursday, the anti-graft court’s First Division threw out the prosecutors’ amendments to the plunder case against Revilla because these would alter the court’s finding that there was probable cause to put him on trial, the reason he was ordered arrested and detained.
Had it granted the amended information, the court would have had to set Revilla free.
Last Friday, the prosecutors were forced to withdraw the amended complaint after Fifth Division justices warned them that they would order Estrada’s release if the basis for his arrest and detention was revised.
Lacierda, a lawyer and law professor, admitted that he was just as puzzled as Justice Secretary Leila de Lima why the court denied the amended information.
“It’s a matter of right,” he said, pointing out that the prosecutors could amend the information before arraignment. “I share her puzzlement. But in fairness to the Sandiganbayan, I have not seen the reason for the denial.”
As far as he knew, Lacierda said, the prosecutors merely wanted to “clarify the allegations” in the information by filing an amended information.
“It doesn’t lessen the strength of the case in any event. The documents and testimonies will buttress the allegations in the information,” he said.
Asked if the prosecutors were attempting to make Napoles a state witness to bolster the cases against the senators, Lacierda said: “The DOJ didn’t’ recommend Napoles to be a state witness.”
But he deferred to the anti-graft court to decide on this if it is raised.
In previous interviews with the media, President Aquino admitted being taken aback by the “fluctuating number” of scam players named by Napoles in her affidavits.
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