Lawmakers are not exempt from criminal prosecution for corruption, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Wednesday.
This was after Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) head Greco Belgica said there were fewer than 12 congressmen on his list who were linked to anomalous public-works projects.
Belgica said these lawmakers, who he did not identify, should face formal investigation, but the list has been transmitted to President Rodrigo Duterte.
However, Belgica said the PACC cannot pursue further investigation on the legislators because the commission is only mandated to cover presidential appointees and not elected officials.
Guevarra, who heads the Task Force Against Corruption, offered this assurance after the President said on Monday that he had no jurisdiction over errant lawmakers and would turn their cases over to the Office of the Ombudsman.
His statement followed the PACC revelation that legislators received kickbacks from the government’s public works projects, with some receiving up to 15 percent of the budget for the infrastructure projects.
“When it comes to criminal investigation and prosecution, no one is exempt, except those enjoying immunity from suit during their tenure,” Guevarra said, in a text message to reporters.
“The rule is different in administrative cases. The President has neither supervision nor control over other branches of the government and therefore may not investigate them for misconduct, dishonesty, and the like, as he correctly pointed out,” he added.
The President earlier said that while the PACC reported there were some lawmakers who were using their influence to control the implementation of local projects and are colluding with public works personnel and contractors to commit corruption, he could not investigate these lawmakers because doing so would encroach on a co-equal branch of government.
Duterte, without naming the lawmakers, said he would forward their cases to the Office of the Ombudsman, which has jurisdiction over government officials.
But Guevarra said if during the course of the task force’s investigation, certain government officials outside the executive department are found to be involved, “then these officials will necessarily be included in complaints the task force may file with the Office of the Ombudsman.”
“The President stated that if the involvement of a member of Congress, for instance, is germane to the anomalous transaction, then the latter’s inclusion in criminal charges will have to be endorsed to the OMB through the Secretary of Justice,” he said.
“It’s the corrupt act or transaction that is being investigated. It will not matter if the person involved is from outside of the Executive Department. That is how we should view it,” he said.
The DOJ-led task force has already received more than 60 complaints, most of them involving alleged irregularities in the implementation of public works projects outside Metro Manila.
Justice Undersecretary Emmeline Aglipay-Villar admitted that there was “sudden surge” in the numbers of complaints received this week by the DOJ Action, a lot of them involving alleged anomalies in the construction projects of the Department of Public Works and Highway (DPWH) in the provinces.
Villar said the task force is in the process of consolidating the complaints.
The leader of the minority bloc in the House of Representatives, Abang-Lingkod Rep. Stephen Paduano, said he would have no problem participating in any investigation of congressmen who are on the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission’s list of those involved in alleged anomalies in DPWH projects.
“For us in the minority, we have no problem if a motu proprio investigation were called,” he said.
In an interview with CNN Philippines, Belgica said one lawmaker demanded and received a P10 million bribe on a project worth P10 million. The contractor was told he would not be allowed into the district unless he paid up.