THE Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) on Wednesday questioned the government’s seemingly selective indictment of people linked to the multi-billion-peso pork barrel scam.
“There seems to be a selective justice. We are all aware there are many people involved and yet only three are charged,” said IBP president Vicente Joyas, referring to opposition Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr.
The alleged mastermind of the scam, Janet Lim Napoles, named 20 senators and 100 congressmen in an affidavit submitted to the Justice Department, but so far, only the three opposition lawmakers have been charged.
Joyas also opposed the creation of two special divisions at the Sandiganbayan to exclusively hear cases related to the misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel.
“If there are two special divisions to be created to try PDAF cases, there is a possibility that one may render a decision of conviction and the other division may render a decision of acquittal,” Joyas said.
Earlier, Ranhilio Aquino, dean of the San Beda Graduate School of Law, said the creation of special divisions was unwarranted.
Joyas agreed saying the move would be a sign of “singular treatment against the accused.”
Last week, the Ombudsman asked the Supreme Court to create at least two special divisions in the anti-graft court due to the “national magnitude of these cases, the complexities of the issues involved, the number of accused and the far-reaching consequences of these cases.”
The Court has sought comments from the Sandiganbayan and parties in the plunder and graft cases filed by the Ombudsman last week.
The last time a special division of the anti-graft court was created was in January 2002 when former President Joseph Estrada was indicted for plunder. Jinggoy Estrada was also an accused in that plunder case involving proceeds from the illegal numbers game jueteng, but he was cleared.
Napoles’ lawyer and spokesman, Bruce Rivera, said his client was still hoping to be granted immunity from suit in exchange for turning state witness.
“We are still open to all possibilities,” Rivera said.
Rivera also denied a press report said Napoles would no longer cooperate with the government after the Ombudsman turned down her application for immunity.
“We didn’t say that. We are always misquoted by the broadcast and the print media. We will cooperate whatever happens in our case,” Rivera said.
Rivera also shared the IBP’s concern over selective prosecution, noting that Napoles had checks, vouchers and transaction records to support her allegations.
Napoles, who is now detained at the Fort Sto. Domingo in Sta. Rosa, Laguna, was charged with plunder and graft before the Sandigabayan.
Enrile, Revilla and Estrada were also indicted for their alleged involvement in the illegal diversion of billions of pesos from their PDAF allocations to bogus projects in exchange for kickbacks.
The three senators denied the accusations and said they would answer them in court.
The Palace on Wednesday reminded the courts that the people demand accountability for those involved in the pork barrel scam.
“Our call for the judicial system is this: our people are asking for accountability. We just ask the courts to perform their mandate as they see fit or as they deem proper,” presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said.
Lacierda declined to comment on the petition of the Ombudsman for the creation of a special court to try the pork barrel scam cases.
“We are supportive of the constitutional principles on the right of accused to speedy trial but we will leave it with the Supreme Court and also with the Sandiganbayan as to how to address the plea made by the Office of the Ombudsman,” he said.
Lacierda also insisted that the Aquino administration has not been selective in its quest for justice as only opposition senators have been slapped with plunder charges in connection with the scam.
“With respect to claims that why we are only going after the three – that is incorrect,” he said. “There are three sets of cases actually now in different stages of the proceedings.”
“All charges will be evaluated, whether you are friend or foe. We are colorblind as to culpability,” Lacierda added.
Just before her confirmation hearing Wednesday, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said a third batch of complaints related to the pork barrel scam would be filed this month, and include several lawmakers.
The Sandiganbayan said the Supreme Court has ordered it to proceed with the raffling of the pork barrel cases on Friday.
The anti-graft court’s spokesman, Renato Bocar, said the Court also ordered the Sandiganbayan to comment on the Ombudsman’s request to create two divisions to exclusively try the cases.
Also on Wednesday, the independent minority bloc in the House supported the suggestion that Enrile, 90, be allowed house arrest in view of is advanced age.
The bloc’s leader, Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, also lamented the trial by publicity being done against the perceived enemies of the administration.
At the same time, Romualdez expressed frustration at the lack of support from the Commission on Audit and the Budget Department for copies of records and all related documents related to the pork barrel scam.
“We have been asking for those documents from since last year,” Romualdez said.
“Their importance in finding out the truth about the scam is crystal-clear. But we are nothing less than surprised that the House leadership is ignoring this, considering the fact that so many of our colleagues have been dragged into the anomaly,” Romualdez added.
He also lamented the reluctance of House leaders to investigate the contentious Disbursement Acceleration Program, which critics have dubbed President Benigno Aquino III’s pork barrel, as well as other anomalies in the government. – With Joyce Pangco Pañares, Maricel V. Cruz, Macon Ramos-Araneta and Rio N. Araja
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