THE Aquino administration wants to immediately imprison three senators ahead of President Benigno Aquino III’s State of the Nation Address on July 28 so that the President can highlight the gains of his anti-corruption drive, according to one of the senators indicted over the pork barrel scandal.
But Senator Jinggoy Estrada questioned on Saturday why allies of the Aquino administration who have also been implicated in the same scandal have not even been investigated by the authorities.
“They want us imprisoned before President Aquino’s SONA,” Estrada said in an interview with radio station dzMM on Saturday.
“Naturally, he will say ‘we put in prison one president and three senators’... but up to now, they have never lifted a finger to investigate the allies of the administration who have already been implicated,” Estrada said in Filipino.
Estrada was referring to Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, who were both implicated by whistleblower Benhur Luy and Estrada’s co-accused Janet Lim-Napoles.
“That’s what really saddens me,” Estrada said. “Why are these allies of the administration not being investigated?”
But Malacañang insisted on Saturday that the filing of charges against Estrada, Juan Ponce Enrile and Ramon Revilla Jr. was a significant step toward the truth.
“This constitutes a major step forward in our mission to find out the truth about these anomalies,” said Deputy Presidential Spokeswoman Abigail Valte in an interview on state-owned dzRB.
Valte also dismissed Estrada’s claim that the charges were rushed in time for the State of the Nation Address.
She said the Ombudsman, which is an independent constitutional body, was given enough time to review and consider all the evidence that was submitted by the Department of Justice.
But several lawmakers also questioned the apparent bias in the investigation and demanded that Abad resign, or at least go on leave of absence, pending an investigation.
“Aquino has raised fire and hell against senators and congressmen involved in the scam, but now, here he is, defending Abad and other Cabinet members who are standing knee-deep in this scandal,” said Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon.
“The officials involved, especially DBM Sec. Florencio Abad, are the ones who approve and release government funds at present. It is simply not right that they’re still sitting smugly in their offices, acting as if nothing transpired,” Ridon said.
House Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares also warned Aquino to stop lawyering and defending Abad and his allies to dispel suspicions that he is using the powers of the presidency to obstruct justice.
“The people will definitely not like it if they see that the investigation of the pork barrel scandal is tainted with bias against the opposition and in favor of the allies, and that this is nothing more than an attempt to cripple the opponents of the President in 2016,” Colmenares said.
But Estrada, who has already gone to jail for two years before he was acquitted of plunder, insisted that his conscience was clear and he was prepared to face the charges against him even if he had to go to jail again.
“I will surrender willingly. Just tell me where you want to pick me up and I will go. If the police or the Sandiganbayan sheriff tells me to go to the Sandigan or Camp Crame, I will go. I will not evade arrest.”
But Estrada asked for some leniency to his co-accused, Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile.
“The man is already 90 years old. I hope they don’t imprison him anymore. Let’s let it be if we have to go to jail, but not Manong Johnny,” he said.
But another accused Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. and his former aide Richard Cambe was more in a fighting mood and asked the Sandiganbayan on Saturday to judicially determine the probable cause of the plunder charges that were filed against the three senators and six others on Friday.
Revilla’s lawyer Joel Bodegon said they also asked the Sandiganbayan for the complete records of the preliminary investigations, suspend its hearings on the plunder cases and not to issue arrest warrants against the accused.
Aside from Estrada, Enrile and Revilla, the Ombudsman also charged Napoles, Cambe, Enrile’s former chief of staff Jessica Lucille Reyes, Estrada’s aide Pauline Therese Mary Labayen, Napoles aide John Raymond de Asis and Napoles’ brother Ronald Lim.
The case will be raffled off to the Sandiganbayan’s five divisions on June 13 and the assigned court will be given 10 days to establish a probable cause for the issuance of warrants of arrest.
But lawyers of the the Ombudsman said the cases are only the first batch of all the recommendations submitted by the NBI and more charges for violations of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act are set to be filed next week.
On Friday, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales asked the Supreme Court to create at least two sepcial divisions of the Sandiganbayan so that the cases can be heard continuously.
“National magnitude of these cases, the complexities of the issues involved, the number of accused and the far-reaching consequences of these cases,” Morales said in her letter to Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.
Morales formed a special prosecution panel, composed of three teams, to handle the first set of plunder cases against PDAF scam suspects.
The Prosecution Panel is co-chaired by Deputy Special Prosecutor John Turalba and Acting Deputy Special Prosecutor Manuel Soriano Jr.
The panel’s first team is composed of Janina Hidalgo as team leader with Assistant Special Prosecutors Edwin Gomez, Jennifer Agustin-Se and Annielyn Medes-Cabellis as members.
The second team is composed of Danilo Lopez as team leader with Assistant Special Prosecutors Christina Marallag-Batacan, Anna Isabel Aurellano and Peter Jedd Boco as members while the third team is composed of Acting Director Joefferson Toribio as team leader with Assistant Special Prosecutors Jacinto Dela Cruz, Lyn Dimayuga and Emerita Francia as members.
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