DoJ readies charges vs Napoles, solons, other govt officials
Fugitive businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles will be charged with plunder along with several lawmakers and government officials for their supposed role in siphoning billions in congressional pork barrel to bogus non-government organizations, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said on Thursday.
Two resolutions. Senate Majority Leader Alan Cayetano on Thursday filed Resolution 196 seeking the abolition of the pork barrel, and Resolution 197 seeking former Senator Panfilo Lacson’s appointment as a special investigator of the alleged misuse of lawmakers’ pork barrel appropriations. Ey Acasio
“We were able to identify lawmakers who will be charged along with Napoles and we are just collating documentary evidence to support the charges,” De Lima said, noting that the National Bureau of Investigation will file the raps in the next few days.
De Lima declined to identify the officials involved or discuss details of the cases until after the complaints are filed before the Ombudsman, but a highly-placed source said the NBI were preparing charges of plunder, a non-bailable offense punishable by life imprisonment.
De Lima said the NBI would have completed its report and recommendations were it not for the monsoon rain, but they are expected to submit the case to the Ombudsman for preliminary investigation within days.
The DOJ chie said President Benigno Simeon Aquino III wanted the NBI to file charges against people suspected to be involved in the scam where the Priority Development Assistance Funds allocated to lawmakers are given to non-government organizations for their public service projects.
“The standing instruction of the President is for us to file strongs cases or those with strong evidence as early as we can,” said De Lima, stressing however that the initial cases will only cover instances involving Napoles and based on the claims of supposed whistleblower Benhur Luy.
On Wednesday, the President said he was disgusted at the long list of lawmakers implicated in the scandal, but Aquino blamed his predecessor, now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Arroyo, for her alleged failure to institute safeguards to prevent the misuse of the pork barrel fund.
Aquino made his statement even as Budget Secretary Florencio Abad admitted that the Department of Budget and Management made mistakes that were used as bases for the COA audit covering the years 2007 to 2009.
Abad said he is now studying the findings of CoA to “establish more lines of accountability and spot areas for operational improvement.”
“We have already formed an internal group that will helm this exercise, beginning with the reconciliation of data from the COA report with our own records,” Abad said.
“The President’s instruction for us to tighten PDAF rules is especially timely, now that budget deliberations are at full throttle. This is most opportune for our colleagues in Congress to signify their full cooperation with the administration’s transparency and accountability agenda, beginning with the approval of much-needed reforms in the management of PDAF,” he added.
President Aquino blamed his predecessor, former President and currently Pampanga Rep. Gloria Arroyo for failing to institute safeguards against the misuse of pork.
“I think it is but right that I am disgusted over the PDAF abuses,” he said. “But we have to remind the public, all these happened during the past administration that had different policies from us.”
Meanwhile, calls for the abolition of the pork barrel grew louder amid reports that Napoles diverted at least P10 billion in congressional funds to bogus non-government organizations for ghost projects.
But the Palace on Thursday said the Million People March against pork barrel set for National Heroes’ Day next week is not a national security concern.
“We do not see any problem with that gathering. It is not a national security concern. I am sure the Philippine National Police can take care of it,” Presidential Security Group head Brig. Gen. Ramon Dizon said.
“They are not threatening the President and they have the right to free speech,” Dizon added.
In fact, some of the organizers of the protest movement are supporters of President Aquino, such as educator Gang Badoy.
The event on Aug. 26 at Luneta Park is set to begin at 9 a.m, wiith attendees encourage to wear white and are asked to meet at the KM 0 marker adjacent to the Rizal Monument.
Similar calls for gatherings in Davao City, Iloilo City, Dagupan, Baguio, Legazpi City, and Lucena City were also made through online sites.
But the President has repeatedly said that while the pork barrel has been suspended, in the long run, Aquino said he was not in favor in abolishing the PDAF.
He said the pork barrel “helps the government, through the elected congressional representative, to respond to the needs of the people in a timely fashion.”
Instead, Aquino said he wants stricter measures for the release of the PDAF, saying that the releases should be “performance and time-bound.”
De Lima noted that the Inter-Agency Anti-Graft Coordinating Council, which includes the Ombudsman, DOJ and NBI, has already convened to pursue cases against other people involved in the “wider web” of the scam bared by the Commission on Audit in a recent report.
De Lima said only 10 of 82 NGOs tagged by COA in the PDAF anomalies were linked to Napoles, which means there is a bigger picture to the scam.
Meanwhile, the NBI continues its hunt for Napoles and her brother Reynald Lim a week after a Makati regional trial court ordered their arrest over the alleged serious illegal detention of Luy.
“The NBI is now pursuing certain leads that they think are more or less credible. Teams have been deployed for these leads that the NBI believes are not pranks,” the DOJ chief stressed.
She also said there is no indication Napoles and her brother were able to leave the country, saying it would be hard for Napoles and Lim to sneak out of the country since the Bureau of Immigration has been alerted against their possible escape.
Still, she said the NBI would seek the help of the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) by placing the two fugitives in Interpol’s “red list” of fugitives, but the the NBI will not likely offer any bounty for the arrest of the siblings.
“NBI officials had a debate among themselves on this and most of them believed (offering a reward) would no longer be necessary, because if we offer P1 or P2 million, that would be insignificant considering the resources of the fugitives who can easily counter the offer,” she explained.