THE Office of the Ombudsman on Tuesday found probable cause to indict Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon Revilla Jr. and Jinggoy Estrada, and Janet Lim Napoles for plunder and graft over the P10 billion pork barrel scam.
“After a careful and thorough investigation of the evidence presented by the parties involved, (the Ombudsman) ruled there was sufficient evidence to hold them liable to the people,” Assistant Ombudsman Asyrman Rafanan, told a news conference.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales approved the recommendations of the five-member special panel to sue Enrile, Revilla, Estrada and Napoles before the anti-graft court, the Sandiganbayan, for violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
Forty-three others implicated in the pork barrel scam will also be sued.
“The three senators took undue advantage of their official position to illegally divert in connivance with certain respondents their respective PDAF (priority development assistance funds) to the Napoles’ non-governmental organizations in exchange for kickbacks or commission amounting to more than P172 million, P242 million and P183 million in the case of Senators Enrile, Revilla and Estrada, respectively, with the PDAF-funded projects turning out to be the ghost projects under a modus operandi of a combination and series of overt criminal acts repeatedly taking over a number of years,” the Ombudsman statement read.
The 144-page joint resolution indicted Enrile along with Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes, his former chief of staff; whistleblower Ruby Tuason; Napoles; Ronald John Lim, and Raymond de Asis, for plunder.
Enrile; Reyes; Jose Antonio Evangelista II, deputy chief of staff; Alan Javellana, National Agribusiness Corp. president; Gondelina Amata, National Livelihood Development Corp. president; Antonio Ortiz,
Technology Resource Center director general; Dennis Cunanan, TRC deputy director general; Napoles, Janet’s brother, and several others were also slapped with 15 counts of graft.
In a 140-page resolution, Revilla was also sued for plunder.
Richard Cambe, Revilla’s former chief political staff; Napoles; Lim, and De Asis were similarly indicted.
The Ombudsman also found probable cause to charge Revilla, Cambe, De Asis, Cunanan, Napoles, and many others with 16 counts of graft.
In a 120-page resolution, the Ombudsman recommended the filing of plunder charges against Estrada, staff member Pauline Therese Mary Labayen, Napoles, Tuason and De Asis.
The resolution also found probable cause to file 11 counts of graft against Estrada, Labayen, Tuason, Cunanan, Napoles and De Asis.
The Office of the Ombudsman ruled that Enrile, Revilla and Estrada had conspired in causing undue injury to the government and received P345 million, P517 million and P278 million, respectively, in kickbacks for channeling their funds to Napoles-owned NGOs and ghost projects.
The resolutions cited the sworn statements of whistleblowers Benhur Luy, Marina Sula and Merlilna Suñas who detailed the sequence of events, the Commission on Audit reports on PDAF disbursements, and reports on the field verification, saying the senators’ pork barrel funds went to Napoles’ ghost projects.
Plunder is punishable by reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment and forfeiture of ill-gotten wealth.
Graft is punishable by imprisonment of not less than six years and one month no more than 15 years, perpetual disqualification from public office and confiscation or forfeiture of unexplained wealth.
The joint resolutions said the senators and their co-accused used a common scheme to endorse and fund Napoles’ fake foundations, and to receive down payments of their supposed kickbacks or commissions and the balance upon the release of their special allotment release order or notice of cash allocation.
Rafanan said the Ombudsman will personally deliver the resolutions to Enrile, Revilla and Estrada at the Senate.
The Ombudsman is set to file the charges before the Sandiganbayan within the prescriptive period of five days upon Morales’ approval of the resolutions.
“We are also inclined to resolve the motions of the accused within the next five working days so we could file the charges,” Rafanan told reporters.
One of the motions to be addressed is the appeal for immunity forTuason, who came forward to express her willingness to testify against the senators.
“Tuason applied for immunity in writing,” Rafanan said.
Enrile, Revilla and Estrada were accused of diverting up to P10 billion in PDAF allotments to ghost foundations linked to Napoles.
On the same day, the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee chaired by Senator Teofisto Guingona III also recommended the filing of plunder and other criminal charges gainst Enrile, Estrada and Revilla.
“In support of the findings of other investigative bodies, the committee finds merit in the evidence presented and finds sufficient basis for the filing of criminal cases with the proper court,” said the 122-page draft committee report that was being circulated for signature by the panel members.
The report enumerated the other names of persons who should be held liable for misusing PDAF, commonly referred to as pork barrel. They included Napoles, who was the alleged mastermind of the pork barrel scam.
Napoles should also be charged for giving false testimony before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, the report said.
The report also called for the prosecution of Reyes, Labayen, Cambe, Javellana and Ortiz.
The charges include direct bribary, violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, fraud against the public treasury, and the violation of the Code of Ethical Standards for Public Officials.
The report also recommended disbarment proceedings against Enrile and his former aide, Reyes.
Javellana and Ortiz, who allegedly served as conduits in the scam, should also be slapped with additional charges for violating the Government Procurement Reform Act, the committee said.
Guingona said he would leave it up to the Ombudsman to decide the fate of provisional witnesses Tuason and Cunanan.
The report took note of the importance of Tuason’s testimony, however.
“Ms. Tuason’s voluntary surrender and admission of guilt constitutes critical information that identifies two legislators as recipients of kickbacks sourced from simulated government projects. Being an admission against interest, her statements deserve serious consideration by the court. She would not have implicated herself in these crimes if it was not true.”
In the case of Cunanan, the committee said his testimony supported the case theory that there was “direction by the lawmakers involved in the stealing of public funds and that TRC was used only as a conduit for the whole operation.”
The same report also recommended that the three senators face an ethics committee investigation for possible sanctions for their alleged involvement in the anomaly.
“While the committee is aware that only a handful of senators were involved, it cannot be denied that this has greatly damaged the reputation of the Senate as an institution. To restore the integrity of the Senate and the trust and confidence of the public, an institutional purging is needed once and for all,” the report said.
“Note that some of Napoles’ employees served as whistleblowers for this investigation, and provided critical information to help the prosecution prevent similar scams in the future. These whistleblowers, although technically considered participants of Janet Lim Napoles’ operations, were not included in the complaint filed by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), for their immeasurable value as witnesses for the prosecution and because they were probably not considered the most guilty,” said the report.
“In all these cases, the whistleblowers were able to clearly and convincingly explain how bogus NGOs (non-government organizations) were set up, under the direction of Janet Lim Napoles, in order to access and appropriate the PDAF of certain legislators, for personal use.”
“Against the general denials of Janet Lim Napoles and the government officials questioned, the whistleblowers gave specific and categorical details, with conviction, about their racketeering activities, and how Janet Lim Napoles worked closely with legislators and their agents, in order to overcome, if not contravene, the procedural requirements for successful fund releases,” read the report.
In announcing the his committee’s recommendations, Guingona noted how the alleged pork barrel scam systematically plundered public funds.
Aside from criminal prosecution of individuals allegedly involved in the scam, the draft report also recommended the strengthening of the Government Procurement Act, and the passage of a law on the accreditation of NGOs.
The report also wants a “real-time audit” of public funds, as well as a ban on the government use of NGOs that have not been in existence for at least three years.
Guingona said evidence shows that the unlawful use of public funds in these cases has been tolerated for several years. There was a lack of responsible and accountable management of public funds.
Although the Commission on Audit was able to detect the anomalies and report them, corrective measures are slow, ineffective and late in coming, the report said.
It cited the clear failure of control on the part of the implementing agencies and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) who were in the best position to prevent these anomalies.
“The implementing agencies did not make diligent efforts to study the NGOs they were dealing with before awarding them with government contracts worth millions of pesos,” the report further said.
Copies of the draft report were being circulated for signature by members of the Blue Ribbon Committee. Once approved by a majority of the members, the report will be presented to the Senate floor.
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