VICE President Jejomar Binay dared the government Wednesday to prosecute not only his allies, but those allied with the Aquino administration implicated in the pork barrel scam.
Binay’s statement followed the announcement Tuesday by the Office of the Ombudsman that it would file plunder and graft charges against three opposition senators, two of whom were allied with Binay, as well as 44 others that included Janet Lim Napoles, the alleged mastermind of the pork barrel scam.
“If it stops with filing of the plunder cases against three senators who are not political allies and confines itselt to the [Janet] Napoles case, it will create the impression of being selective, and that political partisanship, not justice, is the sole motivation behind these charges,” Binay said in a statement.
The President’s spokesman Herminio Coloma said there was no concerted effort to target the opposition lawmakers, Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr., even though the Ombudsman’s announcement coincided with the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee recommendation that they be charged.
On Wednesday, the Bureau of Internal Revenue said it would also investigate the three opposition senators for tax violations.
Estrada denounced what he called the Ombudsman’s selective or “color-coded” indictment of opposition lawmakers, and cast doubts on its claims of “a careful and thorough investigation.”
“In my experience, the trite expression ‘after a careful and thorough investigation’ used in resolutions by government investigators is the best indicator that
no such thing was done. Ask for proof and they cannot present evidence of such a careful and thorough investigation,” Estrada said.
He added that the charges against him were politically motivated, since he is widely expected to run for the vice presidency in 2016.
Revilla, on the other hand, is expected to be the standard bearer for the Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas-CMD) two years from now.
Enrile, whose term ends in 2016, is a top official of the opposition and one of the founders of the United Nationalist Alliance.
“We were only three opposition senators highlighted (in the filing). There were no administration lawmakers. This is really suspicious,” Estrada told a TV interview on ABS-CBN Wednesday.
Binay said the government must also file cases against administration allies who were cited in the Commission on Audit (COA) report released last year.
“The public would want no less than full accountability from its public officials. The rule of law must prevail regardless of stature or political affiliations,” Binay said.
“The COA has mentioned other legislators and other fake NGOs [non-government organizations] in a comprehensive report last year. We hope the concerned government agencies will act on these findings with the same determination and focus displayed in the Napoles case,” he said.
While Enrile and Estrada are Binay’s allies in the United Nationalist Alliance, Revilla from the Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats is an ally of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
All three senators have been accused of channeling their pork barrel to bogus NGOs set up by Napoles for ghost projects in exchange for kickbacks.
All three have denied the charges.
Binay said he was confident that the three senators would receive fair treatment in court.
He also said that the Ombudsman’s decision to file the case against them was “a test of fairness and trustworthiness of our legal system.”
The three senators were among 47 people facing plunder, malversation and graft charges before the Ombudsman.
Revilla was accused of pocketing P224.5 million; Enrile, P172.8 million; and Estrada, P183.79 million in kickbacks.
Also on the list were Masbate Gov. Rizalina Seachon-Lanete, former congressmen Edgar Valdez of the APEC party-list, Samuel Dangwa of Benguet, Constantino Jaraula of Cagayan de Oro, and Richard Cambe, Pauline Labayen, Joy Sumalpong, Jeannete Dela Cruz, Erwin Dangwa, and Carlos Lozada.
Former National Agribusiness Corp. president Alan Javellana, National Livelihood Development Corp. president Gondelina Amata, Technology Resource Center former director general Antonio Ortiz, TRC director general Dennis Cunanan, and Agriculture Assistant Secretary Salvador Salacup were also included in the list.
The independent minority bloc in the House of Representatives denounced what it called the continuing political persecution of Administration critics, and demanded that the Palace move against its allies who were implicated in the pork barrel scandal as well.
“We protest the deliberate delays in the filing of complaints and charges against Palace allies whose names have been mentioned in the pork barrel scam. The political persecution against critics... must stop now,” said Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, who leads the bloc.
“Everybody should be made answerable and accountable. Our authorities should not hesitate to go after people regardless of their political affiliation,” he added.
Abakada party-list Rep. Jonathan dela Cruz demanded that officials of the Department of Budget and Management, COA and legislators identified with the Aquino administration also be made accountable for their role in the pork barrel scam.
Gabriela party-list Rep. Luz Ilagan urged the Aquino government to also focus its attention on the filing of cases against other lawmakers who are allies of the President and his administration.
“Aquino succeeded in going after his political opponents. While it may be a positive development in holding corrupt officials responsible, still it is not enough. They haven’t gone to jail yet and many of the guilty co-conspirators are still free,” Ilagan told the Manila Standard.
Ilagan also assailed the Aquino government of selective persecution.
“The vindictiveness is obvious here but the determination to see justice find its course is missing,” Ilagan added.
Paranaque City Rep. Gus Tambunting, on the other hand, said the filing of charges would give the lawmakers an opportunity to defend themselves in court.
“The indictments will provide a forum for the respondents to formally answer the charges and air their side on the controversy.” Tambunting said.
House Deputy Majority Leader Sherwin Tugna said he believed the Office of the Ombudsman had strong cases against the respondents.
“Even if it took some time for the Ombudsman to resolve the preliminary investigation, I am convinced that the Ombudsman has well-prepared cases because it underwent a thorough review and preparation,” Tugna said.
Napoles was named co-defendant in each of the cases against the three senators along with John Raymond de Asis and John Ronald Lim, who were identified as officials of her NGOs.
Named in two counts in connection with Enrile and Estrada was Ruby Tuason, who is hoping to turn state witness.
Also facing one plunder case each are Enrile’s chief of staff Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes, Revilla’s chief political staff Richard Cambe and Estrada’s appointments staff Pauline Therese Mary Labayen.
Assistant Ombudsman Asryman Rafanan said all the defendants still have an opportunity to file motions for reconsideration within five days upon receipt of the Ombudsman’s resolution.
He said the Ombudsman was considering asking the anti-graft court, the Sandiganbayan, to immediately freeze the assets of all defendants through a writ of preliminary attachment and seek hold departure orders against them.
Bail is not allowed for plunder, a capital offense, so all the defendants face possible arest and detention for the duration of the trial.
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, who has had a long-running feud with Enrile, said once the Ombudsman files the case with the Sandiganbayan, the accused senators “are automatically and instantaneously” suspended from public office. They will then be dragged to jail, she said.