The government will file appropriate charges against all those involved in corruption whether they are lawmakers, government officials or private persons subject to the evidence gathered, Malacanang said.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the task force to be created by President Rodrigo Duterte will investigate the entire government for corruption and will include lawmakers.
“The President has directed Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra through a memorandum order to investigate the entire government for alleged corruption. The task force to be created will be effective... until June 30, 2022,” Roque said.
Roque said it was the mandate of the DOJ to “investigate everyone” and that the immunity granted to members of Congress does not cover crimes under the anti-graft laws, which carry heavy penalties, including life imprisonment.
“Under the directive, the DOJ shall have the authority to decide which allegations to investigate, taking into consideration the gravity thereof and the impact on the delivery of government services,” Roque said.
He also said the DOJ may create as many panels as it deems necessary and adequate, and may invite or direct other bodies and agencies of the government to assist or be part of such panel.
“The DOJ shall prosecute and file the appropriate charges against all those involved in the anomalies investigated whether against government or private persons as may be warranted by the evidence gathered subject to applicable laws and rules,” he said.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Wednesday said the Department of Justice-led Task Force mandated to probe corruption in the entire government may initially give priority to the investigation of widespread anomalies in five agencies.
Guevarra said the DOJ team will give priority to investigating corruption in five agencies initially: the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), the Bureau of Customs, the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Land Registration Authority.
Guevarra, who has been given until the end of the President’s term in June 2022 to complete the probe, said an investigation has already started in some of these agencies, while some of them were already called out by President Rodrigo Duterte in his public address about corruption.
The DOJ chief said the task force should consider the magnitude of funds involved and its impact on the delivery of government services in choosing what cases to pursue.
“So we’re talking here about values, magnitude of the funds involved, possible impact on the delivery of government services, to be considered in choosing kung alin ang iimbestigahan ng task force,” he said.
He vowed to bring out results of the task force’s initial investigation in the next two months.
“We are hoping in the next couple of months we’ll be able to produce something as a sign that the task force is actually doing its job,” Guevarra said in an interview.
Guevarra said the DOJ-led Task Force has a twin goal: “One is to prosecute those whom we shall find, after due investigation, to have been involved in corrupt practices.”
“Our output is not just recommendatory. We shall file cases directly with the [Office of the] Ombudsman,” he said.
“Our other objective is preventive in nature; install anti-corruption mechanisms in government agencies, educate the citizenry on the evils of corruption, promote values of integrity and civic-mindedness and the like,” Guevarra added.
Guevarra, who has been tasked by the President to investigate anomalies and corruption in the entire government, said he has activated the “core group” of the inter-agency task force that previously investigated the widespread anomalies at the state-owned Philippine Health Insurance Corp.
Guevarra said he met on Tuesday with the DOJ’s senior officials, including National Prosecution Service head Prosecutor General Benedicto Malcontento and National Bureau of Investigation officer-in-charge Director Eric Distor to discuss the organization of the task force.
In a statement, the DOJ chief said they discussed the methods of securing information regarding incidences of corruptions in government, and possible approaches for the conduct of the investigations, “taking into consideration the gravity of the allegations and its impact on the delivery of government services.”
“It was agreed during the said meeting that the core group constituted for the task force to investigate allegations of corruption in the Philhealth will be the same core group for thetask force to investigate allegations of corruption in the entire government,” the statement said.
Besides NPS and NBI, the core group, headed by the DOJ, is composed of Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC), Office of the Special Assistant to the President (OSAP), and the Anti-Money laundering Council (AMLC).
The DOJ said the task force will invite the Commission on Audit, the Civil Service Commission, and the Office of the Ombudsman to work together with the task force, with due consideration for their independence as constitutional bodies.
The reactivation of the inter-agency task force, which investigated widespread irregularities at the state-owned PhilHealth, was prompted by the new directive from the President to investigate corruption in the entire government.
In a memorandum, the President granted the DOJ the authority to decide which allegations of corruption to investigate.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Wednesday welcomed the investigation into corruption in all government agencies.
At a forum in Manila, Sotto said this was a welcome development, saying not only Congress but the entire government should be investigated.
Sotto also acknowledged that lawmakers are not immune to the country’s anti-graft laws, as Roque said.
Legislative immunity, he said, only applies to crimes where the penalty is six years or less.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon also agreed that no one is above the law.
But Senator Panfilo Lacson said some of the President’s allies seemed to be exempt from the anti-corruption drive, noting that even as Duterte announced the creation of a task force, he absolved Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and Public Works Secretary Mark Villar of any wrongdoing.
He said this got the anti-corruption drive off the wrong foot.
Lacson said he was not insinuating Duque or Villar were involved in corruption, but merely that they should not be shielded from investigation.
Senator Francis Pangilinan, on the other hand, expressed concern that the investigating panel might be used to pursue only members of the opposition.
Speaker Lord Allan Velasco on Wednesday said Congress welcomes the probe of corruption at the Department of Public Works and Highways that might inovlve lawmakers.
“The House of Representatives fully supports President Rodrigo Duterte’s directive for the conduct of a large-scale investigation into allegations of corruption in the entire government,” he said.
“We fully understand that the President is doing this out of his frustration over chronic corruption in government, and the House leadership is one with him in his desire to rid the bureaucracy of corrupt officials and employees in the remainder of his term,” he added.
House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez committed to passing legislation that sought to curb official corruption.
“In an effort to further the President’s advocacy against corruption, the House of Representatives would work harder to fast-track the approval of all pending measures related to the anti-red tape and anti-corruption campaign of the Duterte administration,” Romualdez said.
Romualdez noted that the House is in full agreement with Duterte on the need to end the “deep-rooted, systemic and systematic corruption” in the government.