A palace official on Thursday questioned why it took the Ombudsman four years to indict former President Benigno Aquino III over the P72-billion Disbursement Acceleration Program even as administration allies slammed the decision as a “whitewash” and a “slap on the wrist.”
“Personally I am asking why it took all these time before anyone could be charged with DAP. I think it’s been over four years since the decision came out,” Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said.
“And number two, some quarters are already asking—why only usurpation which is punishable only by six months? The original complaint was for malversation,” he added.
While the Palace is “pleased” with the indictment of Aquino and his former Budget chief Florencio Abad, Roque said the Ombudsman should have considered accusations that the DAP was used for the impeachment of the late Chief Justice Renato Corona.
“I could only surmise that the Ombdusman did not see any personal benefit so they lowered the case to usurpation. But perhaps they should have considered that the benefit was not for the personal pockets [of the accused]. It could be the case of what former Senator Jinggoy Estrada said—that DAP was used to buy votes for the [Corona] impeachment,” Roque said.
“I think that should have been considered. But it is the call of the Ombudsman as we all know,” he said.
For his part, Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission Commissioner Greco Belgica likened the decision of Morales to a “whitewash.”
“She downgraded the cases on DAP against Aquino and Abad, perhaps as a strategy to allow them to post bail because the offense of usurpation of le gislative power requires only P1,000 bail,” Belgica said.
“It will also be dangerous if this case will be filed in court because the doctrine of double jeopardy would apply and it could prevent the filing of more grave offenses,” he added.
Senator JV Ejercito said the usurpation case is a “slap on the wrist” as the charges should have been either malversation or plunder, especially for Abad.
“Maybe Ombudsman Morales was trying to preempt the incoming Ombudsman from filing anymore a case as it will be double jeopardy,” he said.
Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the Senate committee on Justice and Human Rights, said the Ombudsman should have charged Aquino and Abad with malversation.
“Though I don’t know all the facts yet, I would have chosen the more stringent offenses which are graft and corruption and malversation. They were even guilty of malversation, technical malversation,” Gordon said.
Gordon said the DAP case constituted technical malversation because Aquino and Abad tampered with the appropriations by declaring these as savings.
Meanwhile, the Department of Justice will pursue its probe on the criminal liabilities of Aquino and Abad in connection with the DAP case.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said despite the Ombudsman findings, he ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to proceed with the probe to determine criminal liabilities of former officials over the economic stimulus program.
“That investigation on DAP will proceed. The NBI is doing it as we speak. We have instructed them to continue the investigation and proceed with the case buildup,” Guevarra said.