FOLLOWING the arrest of the “first few” suspects in the pork barrel scam, government investigators are now shifting their focus to the 74 other non-government organizations (NGOs) that were allegedly used to siphon off lawmakers’ priority development assistance fund (PDAF).
Malacañang officials confirmed this, noting that the involvement of the 74 NGOs not owned or controlled by Janet Lim Napoles was far more complex in terms of funds pilfered and number of lawmakers who participated. Because of its complexity, the matter will be handled by the Inter-Agency Anti-Graft Coordinating Council (IAGCC) composed of the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of the Ombudsman and Commission on Audit (COA).
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales is spearheading the investigation by gathering documentary and testimonial evidence nationwide based on COA Special Audits Office Report No. 2012-03 which covered a total of P6.156 billion worth of PDAF.
The PDAF releases were done between 2007 and 2009 through 82 NGOs, of which only eight are linked to Napoles. The DOJ has so far filed two separate batches of cases against those involved in the Napoles phase of the pork scam and a third case is expected to be filed soon.
Already, warrants of arrest have been issued against Napoles, senators Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr., their former subordinates and a number of former and active government officials in connection with the pork-related projects coursed through the eight Napoles NGOs. Another senator, Juan Ponce Enrile, is also likely to be arrested.
“These things have a process of investigation, evaluation and the filing of complaint. We’ve seen the first few. Let us just wait for the process to take its course,” said Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda on the work being done by the IAGCC on the 74 non-Napoles NGOs.
Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said that while the IAGCC probe is far bigger in scope, he was not sure how many more lawmakers and NGOs will be proven to have pilfered public funds.
“[It] depends on evidence gathered. This is not a numbers game. [This is an] evidence-based investigation and, if warranted, prosecution,” Coloma said in a text message to The Manila Times.
Lacierda hinted that it may probably be in this phase of the pork barrel probe that some lawmakers allied with the administration could be linked as he fended off criticisms that the Palace was “selective” in filing charges against those linked in the Napoles-masterminded scam.
“It’s not true that we are only focusing on the people who are [or]who appear to be in opposition against this administration. That is clearly not true . . . Let me also remind the public that we have investigations that are ongoing with the DOJ and this would refer specifically to the Napoles NGOs. With respect to other non-Napoles NGOs —and which will also include other legislators and —which are all found, by the way, incidentally in the COA Special Audit Report on 2007-2009,” the president’s spokesman said.
He cited the filing of graft charges against former Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon, a former lawmaker who is a member of the president’s Liberal Party.
On Monday, Ombudsman Morales fired the opening salvo on non-Napoles NGOs when she announced the filing of charges against former Agriculture Secretary now Bohol Rep. Arthur Yap and former Nueva Ecija Rep. Rodolfo Antonino and former Isabela Rep. Anthony Miranda and other previously charged individuals in connection with the PDAF scam.
“The Office of the Ombudsman is going after non-Napoles NGOs too,” said Morales, adding that a formal complaint for malversation of public funds and violation of Section 3(e) of Republic Act 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act) were filed against the respondent former officials.
Antonino and Yap shall undergo preliminary investigation along with former National Agribusiness Corporation (NABCOR) officials Alan Javellana, Encarnita Cristina Munsod, Rhodora Mendoza and Maria Niñez Guanizo as well as Marilou Antonio, President of Buhay Mo Mahal Ko Foundation, Inc. (BMMKFI, a non-Napoles NGO), and Carmelita Barredo, General Manager of CC Barredo Publishing House (CC Barredo).
On the other hand, Miranda shall undergo preliminary investigation along with Technology Resource Center (TRC) officials Antonio Ortiz, Dennis Cunanan, Marivic Jover, Belina Concepcion, Francisco Figura, Maria Rosalinda Lacsamana, and Consuelo Lilian Reyes Espiritu as well as Domingo Mamauag and Edison Sabio of Aksyon Makamasa Foundation, Inc. (AMFI).
Ortiz was included in the first batch of respondents in the plunder charges involving the arrested senators but he was able to sneak out of the country and evade arrest.
Cunanan, Jover, Concepcion, Lacsamana and Espiritu – Incumbent public officials – also face administrative charges for Grave Misconduct, Serious Dishonesty, and Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Service.
Coloma lauded the Ombudsman for “performing its duty” and said that they “respect its independence.”
“This may also be considered as being done in fulfillment of the Ombudsman’s role as a member of the IAGCC that is tasked with investigating reported graft cases not related to JLN. We reiterate our position that only concrete evidence should drive the direction and determine the outcome of the investigation,” he stressed.