Public Works Secretary Mark Villar is not exempted from the anti-corruption investigation to be conducted by the Department of Justice-led task force, his wife, Justice Undersecretary Emmeline Aglipay-Villar said Thursday.
“Yes,” she said when asked if her husband would also be investigated during an interview with ANC’s Headstart.
“Because that’s what the President also said in his memo, that all government officials and employees are included and if evidence warrants a case to be filed against them we would do so.”
Aglipay-Villar said the DPWH and other agencies earlier tagged by Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra would be the focus of the task force’s initial efforts.
Earlier, President Rodrigo Duterte said the DPWH chief was “too rich to be corrupt” but Aglipay-Villar, who is also the spokesperson of the DOJ, said the chief executive was merely expressing his trust and confidence in her husband.
Aglipay-Villar, who earlier said she will not be involved in the investigation on the DPWH, said her assignments at the DOJ usually involved the review of contracts and other matters assigned to the legal staff.
“But even in cases involving review of contracts, I will not participate if there is any conflict,” she said.
In an interview with Manila Standard’s online news program Newsroom Titas Thursday night, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he personally would like to prioritize anomalous transactions that are worth at least P1 billion.
“We will investigate as many cases as possible but we have to start somewhere. We will form strike forces – composite teams that will be deployed to investigate transactions, especially those that involve a big amount or have a big impact on public service delivery...P1 billion is a good starting point,” Guevarra said.
The Justice chief said by the task force aims to start filing cases before the end of the year.
“May masasampolan talaga in two month’s time. Of course, we still have to organize and gather materials and reports, but we would like to show that this is not a token task force. This task force is real, and we will uncover a huge corrupt action or wrongdoing and file cases,” he added.
He said the DOJ will meet today (Friday) with the other agencies that are part of the task force, namely the Anti-Money Laundering Council, President Anti-Corruption Commission, National Bureau of Investigation, National Prosecution Service, and the Office of the Special Assistant to the President, as well as representatives from constitutional offices such as the Civil Service Commission, Office of the Ombudsman, and the Commission on Audit.
“We will go where the evidence leads us to. Kahit ano pa ang political color or affiliation, whether you are related to the powers that be, if the evidence shows that cases must be filed, then we will be filing cases,” Guevarra said.
Aside from the DPWH, the other agencies identified by the DOJ chief were the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), the Bureau of Customs (BOC) , the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Land Registration Authority.
“They identified certain agencies that are supposed to be prioritized and investigated first,” she said, adding that the BOC and BIR are “corruption-prone agencies.”
“With respect to the DPWH, it was identified by the President in his recent speech as one of the agencies that should be investigated first. And the LRA was also included as it was identified by the President in one of his state of the nation addresses,” she said.
Malacañang on Thursday said the President’s allies are not exempted from investigations.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Duterte, a former Davao prosecutor, has had many experiences dealing with cases involving violations of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and was simply looking for proof of guilt.
“The President is only looking for evidence. No matter who, no matter how close to him, no matter his past praise, if there is evidence of corruption, our President will punish them,” Roque said.
Roque cited as example the case of former state medical insurer PhilHealth CEO and president Ricardo Morales. Duterte had initially defended Morales before asking him to resign.
The Palace official expressed full support for the task force’s decision to first investigate the “most notorious” agencies, saying that “traditionally, there is extensive and systemic corruption in these agencies.”
Duterte issued a memorandum directing the Justice Department to look into anomalies at state agencies until the end of his term in 2022. It gives the department the power to decide what allegations to investigate and to work with other agencies.
But Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said he did not expect much from the task force.
“Little or nothing will come out of this, especially since President Duterte himself has a penchant for absolving his people even before an investigation has started like what he did to Secretary Francisco Duque III, Secretary Mark Villar, (National Capital Region Police Office) General Debold Sinas and many others before them,” he said.
“Also, there is supposedly the Office of the Ombudsman to go after corrupt government officials? Why create another body under the executive? Now what happens when the Ombudsman and the DOJ reach opposite findings in their investigation of the same agency?
“Is Malacanang saying that the Ombudsman is useless or is this anti-corruption drive just for show?” he said.
Meanwhile, ACT-CIS party-list Rep. Eric Yap on Thursday took a swipe at Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission chief Greco Belgica, who accused several lawmakers of being in cahoots with corrupt officials of the DPWH.
Yap challenged Belgica to identify members of Congress involved in corruption and to present strong evidence of their involvement in corrupt activities.
He took exception to Belgica’s allegation that “DPWH district engineers are bullied by congressmen,” saying his failure to identify them was a sign of disrespect.
“I hope that he releases the names of those congressmen, and if he has concrete evidence, then show it. Because if he does not give the names, it is as if you are saying that all congressmen, all senators are involved in that,” he said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III welcomed the establishment of an anti-corruption task force that could help the Office of the Ombudsman.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, on the other hand, said the DOJ cannot directly file graft charges before the Sandiganbayan and must work through the Ombudsman.
Senator Francis Pangilinan said if the government is sincere about eradicating corruption, even the President’s allies should not be spared.
Also on Thursday, a spokesman for the Supreme Court said Guevarra’s offer to assist the judiciary in investigating corruption in its ranks was welcome.
“Any assistance for the good of the institution and to protect its integrity should not be shunned, but instead welcomed,” said Court spokesman Brian Keith Hosaka.
Guevarra acknowledged that the judiciary has recently put up its own integrity bodies.
“I believe DOJ Secretary Guevarra gave that statement and offer of assistance after acknowledging first that the Judiciary already has its own system and process in investigating corruption within its ranks,” Hosaka said.
“In fact, weeding out misfits in the judiciary is a priority of Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta and is included in his 10-point program for the Judiciary, which he bared a year ago upon his assumption as Chief Justice,” he said. With Rio N. Araja and Macon Ramos-Araneta
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