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Ong silent on ouster

/ 02:58 AM July 01, 2014

MANILA, Philippines–Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Gregory Ong on Monday declined to comment on an Inquirer report that a Supreme Court investigative body has recommended his dismissal over his association with Janet Lim-Napoles, the alleged mastermind of the P10-billion pork barrel scam.

Ong’s staff told the Inquirer that he could not comment on the report published Monday because the investigation was still going on and confidential.

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Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno ordered Ong investigated on Oct. 7, 2013, after pork barrel scam whistle-blowers Benhur Luy and Marina Sula disclosed the ties between Ong and Napoles in their testimony to the Senate blue ribbon committee on Sept. 26, 2013.

Retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez was tapped to handle the investigation. Gutierrez submitted her report and recommendations to the highest tribunal on May 15.

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The Inquirer obtained a copy of the 34-page report and recommendations.

The Supreme Court has yet to decide Ong’s fate.

Gutierrez recommended administrative charges against Ong for gross misconduct, dishonesty and impropriety.

Kevlar case fixed

Among the findings is that Ong allowed himself to be Napoles’ contact in the Sandiganbayan and that he accepted money from her for fixing the 2010 Kevlar case to acquit her.

Acquitted with Napoles in that case were ranking military officials who were accused of graft and malversation of public funds over the questionable purchase of 500 substandard Kevlar helmets worth P3.8 million for the Philippine Marines in 1998.

Ong headed the Sandiganbayan Fourth Division that acquitted Napoles and her coaccused in October 2010. The decision was written by Associate Justice Jose R. Hernandez and concurred in by Ong and Associate Justice Maria Cristina Cornejo.

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Napoles acquitted

The antigraft court acquitted Napoles and some of the coaccused “for failure of the prosecution to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt.”

The ruling was handed down nine years after the Office of the Ombudsman filed graft and malversation charges against former Lt. Gen. Edgardo Espinosa and 17 others, including Napoles and her husband, retired Army Maj. Jaime Napoles.

Napoles was accused of making fraudulent deliveries of Kevlar helmets to the Marines. Then Ombudsman Aniano Desierto said the accused made it appear that the purchase consisted of Kevlar helmets made in the United States but the actual deliveries were inferior ones made in Taiwan.

The Ombudsman found that purchase orders, requisition and issue orders worth P3.8 million were split into small purchases of P300,000 each to avoid having to obtain the approval of higher authorities.

Desierto said the bidding was discovered to have been simulated, as the companies that were supposed to have participated were either fictitious or dummies of the winner, Napoles.

Further, despite the full payment for the Kevlar helmets on Jan. 7, 1999, the delivery was completed only two years after the payment was made.

The scheme—using fake, ghost or overpriced deliveries and payoffs to officials—employed by Napoles to defraud the military in the Kevlar case was the same method that she allegedly used in the P10-billion pork barrel scam.

Napoles’ husband was dropped from the graft and malversation information in March 2002 “for lack of probable cause as regards his failure to conduct an investigation on the existence of the suppliers.”

Ong visits Napoles

In their testimony at the Senate blue ribbon committee, Luy and Sula said Ong visited Napoles in her office at Ortigas Center, Pasig City, at least twice in 2012.

The two whistle-blowers recounted their knowledge of Napoles’ association with Ong in their testimony in Gutierrez’s investigation.

Luy said that during one of Ong’s visits, Napoles instructed him to prepare 11 checks, each for P282,000, or a total of P3.10 million, for her to give to the justice.

He said Napoles told him that Ong wanted to invest in the Armed Forces of the Philippines Savings and Loans Association Inc. (AFPSLAI), which was offering 13 percent annual interest, and the money she was giving to him was an advance on interest.

She said Ong gave her a check for P25.5 million, which she would deposit in her bank account, and she would issue him checks, according to Luy.

Sula corroborated Luy’s account.

Repeating her testimony in the Senate, Sula said Napoles had told her staff not to worry about the pork barrel scam cases because she had contacts in the Office of the Ombudsman and in the Sandiganbayan.

She said Napoles did not name her contact in the Ombudsman but the staff knew that Ong was her contact in the Sandiganbayan.

Sula said Napoles once told her staff that Ong would help her in the Kevlar case.

Ong defends himself

Ong, Gutierrez said in her report, denied the whistle-blowers’ statements during his own testimony at the investigation.

He denied fixing the Kevlar case, saying the decision was written by his three-member division as a collegial body, Gutierrez said.

Ong admitted visiting Napoles in her office but said he only wanted to thank her for helping arrange a meeting with Msgr. Josefino Ramirez, a former parish priest at Quiapo Church, who gave him access to the robe of the Black Nazarene, of which he claimed to be a devotee, Gutierrez said.

But Gutierrez said Ong failed to present Napoles and Ramirez during the investigation, rendering his testimony hearsay.

Gutierrez said she found the testimonies of Luy and Sula truthful and recommended sanctions against Ong.–Reports from Dona Z. Pazzibugan and Inquirer Research

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TAGS: Gregory Ong, Janet Lim Napoles, Kevlar helmets case, Philippines, pork barrel scam, Sandiganbayan, Supreme Court probe
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