Several of the nine lawmakers tagged by the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) on Tuesday denied receiving kickbacks from public works projects after President Rodrigo Duterte read out their names Monday night.
“I am open to any investigation to establish the truth on this matter and I am sure that my honor will be vindicated. My conscience is clear," said Bataan Rep. Geraldine Roman.
Roman said she was shocked to hear her name mentioned by the President, but “comforted” when he said the list was not based on any verified information.
“Public service has never been a money-making venture for me or my family whose good name is highly esteemed in our district," Roman said.
Reps. Henry Oaminal of Misamis Occidental, Josephine Sato of Occidental Mindoro, Alfred Vargas of Quezon City, and Angelina Tan of Quezon also denied the allegations of corruption and said they would welcome an investigation into their cases.
The President mentioned Oaminal as having owned a construction company named HSO Construction Corp., which he said has several construction projects in Misamis Occidental.
Oaminal, however, said HSO Construction was founded in 1988 even before he entered public service in 2007.
"When I became congressman, I sold all my shares. Upon verification, HSO Construction Corp. does not have any construction projects in all government agencies in Misamis Occidental, including DPWH," he said.
Ominal said he fully supports the President’s anti-corruption drive.
“During my term as congressman, I have instituted… reforms and have strongly supported the President in dismantling the drug and organized crime groups in my province, including Ozamiz City," Oaminal said.
Vargas observed that the President himself stated “there is no solid evidence” and “mentioning of names is not an indictment.”
"I am certain that I will be cleared,” he said.
"I have been a public servant for the last 12 years. My record is unblemished. My conscience is clear. I will not allow my political detractors, who misinformed PACC, to tarnish my name and reputation with wild accusations bereft of the truth,” Vargas said.
Sato also denied any wrongdoing.
"I am devastated. This has no basis and is grossly unfair! I do not have any involvement in any corruption… Apparently, the only basis is a report compiled by the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission headed by Commissioner Greco Belgica. Even the President himself said that there was no evidence,” she said.
Sato also said Belgica is a known ally and party mate of a prominent incumbent official in Occidental Mindoro.
"This politician intends to run against me in the upcoming 2022 local elections. The report made by Commissioner Belgica, which impinges on my credentials as a public servant, is clearly calculated to sow intrigues and disruption in the local politics of Occidental Mindoro.
"As I stand by my solid track record in my more than 30 years of public service, I challenge Commissioner Belgica to prove his allegations against me by observing due process and the rule of law," Sato said.
Tan said the corruption allegation against her "is not only derogatory but also prejudicial as it holds no water due to the lack of evidence—a fact which was also pointed out by the President in the same speech.”
"This baseless accusation stems from an infrastructure project that I had spearheaded in 2016, the Gumaca Bypass Road. This P800-million project was designed primarily to save motorist travel time in Gumaca, Quezon.
"Likewise, it was intended to decongest heavy traffic in the area, stimulate local economic growth, encourage investors that would create jobs in the locality and improve the lives of my constituents.
While the road has yet to be paved, a section of it is already being used by motorists as an alternate route to avoid the heavy traffic in the town of Gumaca, Tan said.
Tan also said she had been diligent in ensuring that the project—from its conception to the release of funds—went through its proper course, making sure that the project would directly benefit her constituents and the neighboring provinces.
She also said she is open to any investigation. "My conscience is clear. I merely performed what my constituents expect of me and to bring into completion this project,” she said.
Former congressman Teodoro Baguilat questioned his inclusion in the PACC list, calling it a politically motivated attack on a member of the opposition.
He said the President’s move to announce the names of the lawmakers without any evidence would have a chilling effect on administration critics.
Baguilat has already denied receiving kickbacks from infrastructure projects in Ifugao, and even offered to present his statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALN) to the public and media.
ACT-CIS party-list Rep. Eric Yap also denied the corruption allegation but defended the President’s decision to make the list public.
"I respect the President's decision. It is his mandate to day something if there are allegations of corruption,” he said. “But I’d like to point out that Commissioner Belgica should have investigated the matter properly.”
Yap also said he is willing to resign as nominee of ACT-CIS party-list group, as chairman of the House appropriations committee and as caretaker of Benguet if Belgica is able to prove his alleged involvement in any corrupt activities.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque denied the President’s release of the names was trial by publicity, saying Duterte made clear that the lawmakers were presumed innocent.
Duterte previously refused to name congressmen allegedly receiving kickbacks from public works projects, but Roque said that he changed his mind in view of the people’s right to information.
Speaker Lord Allan Velasco said Filipinos are entitled to know what was in the report submitted by the PACC.
"However, the President made it clear that there is a presumption of innocence and such an announcement was not an indictment. He assured these officials that reading their names 'does not mean it’s a condemnation or indictment that you are guilty of something' and that the public should 'not take it as gospel truth that it’s true,'" Velasco said.
Velasco, at the same time, said the PACC should file charges before the Office of the Ombudsman if he has solid evidence against the lawmakers.
Based on reports, the House members mentioned in the PACC list said none of the representatives from PACC have invited them for questioning.
Senator Francis Pangilinan strongly objected to the President’s decision to reveal the names of the lawmakers.
"If there's no concrete evidence, what's the motive in disclosing (the names of lawmakers)?" he asked.
He also questioned the Palace's inaction on allies linked to corruption despite clear evidence like overpriced testing kits, and the smuggling of tons of shabu through customs.
"They have remained quiet," he said.
“Is this really anti-corruption or anti-opposition?” he added.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the PACC may file charges directly with the Office of the Ombudsman.
“Otherwise, the President may refer it to the DOJ (Department of Justice)-led Task Force Against Corruption for validation, further investigation, or case build-up,” Guevarra said in a message to reporters.
Guevarra, who heads the DOJ-TFAC, said he has not seen the report of the PACC that reportedly identified some members of the House of Representatives and DPWH district engineers who are allegedly involved in anomalous public works projects.
Guevarra said the DOJ-led task force submitted on Monday to the President an update of its ongoing investigation which has implicated some lawmakers in corruption.
“In some of the complaints or reports being investigated, the names of some members of Congress were likewise mentioned,” Guevarra said, even as he declined to identify the lawmakers.
But he said at least two names are in common between the PACC list and the DOJ-Task Force update report.
“But the task force has a lot more complaints to examine and evaluate. I do not want to mention names until we have found something substantial. We have just begun the process,” Guevarra said.
Belgica said he would issue an official statement after the holiday break.
A member of the PACC staff said Belgica was on holiday break and would report back to work in January.
“Currently, he’s working from home,” his staff member said, adding, “He’s busy right now but would not be reporting at his office today.”
Aside from lawmakers, the PACC also named district engineers from the Department of Public Works and Highways who are allegedly in cahoots with the lawmakers on the list. With Macon Ramos-Araneta and Rey E. Requejo