House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. on Saturday cautioned Justice Secretary Leila de Lim not to resort to a media blitz and just file the case against the “next two batches” of lawmakers implicated in the P10-billion pork barrel scandal.
Belmonte said it would be prudent for de Lima to just file the case if she thinks the Justice department has enough evidence against those accused.
This developed even as Vice President Jejomar Binay said that accused senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon “Bong” Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada a chance to defend themselves.
Enrile, Revilla and Estrada were charged with plunder and graft before the Office of the Ombudsman for allegedly channeling their pork barrel to bogus non-government organizations set up by detained businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles in exchange for kickbacks.
Forty-three other persons are facing similar charges before the Ombudsman.
Meanwhile, Abakada party-list Rep. Jonathan de la Cruz, a member of the House Independent Bloc of Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, and House Deputy Majority Leader and Sherwin Tugna of Citizens Battle Against Corruption (Cibac) also echoed Belmonte’s view.
De la Cruz said de Lima’s announcement prior to the formal filing of the complaint was a “shame campaign” of the Aquino government to divert the real issues facing the nation such as poverty, joblessness, power hikes, etc.
For his part, Tugna said the DoJ should not telegraph its move and should file the cases immediately instead of being discussed in public.
But Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga, Jr. defended de Lima.
Barzaga said De Lima’s announcement was “a categorical affirmation that the pork barrel investigation being conducted is far from being over and is still continuing.”
He added that De Lima’s declaration that members of the Liberal party and other allies of the administration may also been involved “belies the claim of selective persecution.”
1-BAP party-list Rep. Silvestre Bello III, a former justice secretary, urged de Lima to file the case immediately as soon as the evidence is complete.
Bello said there is nothing wrong in De Lima making the announcement prior to the formal filing of the next batch of cases for as long as there is solid evidence that will back up the cases.
On Friday, the Justice Department said it would file two new batches of graft complaints against other lawmakers involved in the multi-billion pork barrel scam allegedly masterminded by Napoles.
De Lima made the announcement a week after the Ombudsman recommended the prosecution of Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Revilla Jr.
The Ombudsman’s sparked accusations that the administration was being selective in its prosecution.
De Lima said NBI officials and the Justice Department, through Undersecretary Jose Justiniano, met early this week to discuss the next batches of respondents to be charged.
“We conducted an inventory to determine which cases can now be filed next. We are looking at two sets of respondents,” De Lima said.
De Lima declined to identify who the new respondents are.
She also did not say when the third batch of complaints would be filed with the Office of the Ombudsman.
Binay, meanwhile, said he understand that the cases filed against the three senators was part of the “process, but said that the accused should be given a chance to defend themselves”.
“It is part of the process of trying to quench the thirst for justice. But just like in the Constitutional provision, it should always have the presumption of innocence,” he said.
Enrile and Estrada are Binay’s allies in the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA).
Binay had earlier dared the government to prosecute not only the president’s allies, but also those involved in the scam who are known allies of the Aquino administration.
Binay, meanwhile, downplayed rumors that Estrada will be his running mate in the presidential race in May 2016.
“You know, I really do not know where those things came from, but unless the party makes an announcement, every aspirant is being considered,” he added.
Aside from the three senators, also included in the first batch charged by the Ombudsman include 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.
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 has applied to be a 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.