PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino 3rd wants nothing less than a conviction for lawmakers and other individuals who would be proved to have plundered public funds, Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda said on Thursday.
In a press briefing in Malacanang, Lacierda said the President expects the Department of Justice (DOJ) and its prosecutors to gather enough evidence that would ensure the successful prosecution of those involved.
“The role of the prosecution is to gather all evidence that would come up with, not only a situation that would merit a probable cause for filing, but also to ensure a successful prosecution,” Lacierda said.
“That has always been the instruction of the President. It’s not enough that we file a case, it should merit a conviction,” he said.
Besides Ruby Tuason, who turned state witness against Senator Jinggoy Estrada and others who allegedly pocketed huge kickbacks from their pork barrel funds, President Aquino said last Wednesday there will be more witnesses that will surface.
But Lacierda said Justice Secretary Leila de Lima must evaluate whoever would want to testify against the accused in the multibillion peso scheme.
De Lima “is the one—her team are the ones evaluating the evidence, so I would defer to them. If, for instance, Secretary Leila de Lima says ‘it’s a slam dunk evidence’, we would presume that there is basis for her to say that,” he said.
According to Lacierda, the testimonies of Tuason and other whistleblowers such as Benhur Luy will complement the documentary evidence such as Commission on Audit (COA) report gathered by the DOJ.
While Lacierda echoed Aquino’s view that Tuason’s account of how she delivered millions to Estrada may be credible, the Palace spokesman maintained that it still has to be verified and further assessed by the Justice department and the Office of the Ombudsman.
“We can only go so far as how the DOJ has evaluated the situation, and also by the fact that the testimony of Ruby Tuason is one based on personal experience. That is currently being evaluated by the DOJ, and I understand there was some clarifi[catory]—correct me if I’m wrong—there was a clarificatory hearing with the Ombudsman,” he further explained.
“It is up to the Ombudsman to determine the truthfulness of her testimony,” he added.
With regard to President Aquino’s remark that more witnesses will come out soon, Lacierda said he was not in a position to identify who these “new” witnesses could be.
“The President himself has not said anybody with specificity, so we don’t want to preempt kung sakaling meron. But certainly, once they are willing to share information, it will be relayed to the Department of Justice for evaluation,” he emphasized.
On Estrada’s challenge for the Senate leadership to also investigate senators with whom Tuason had dealings in the past, Lacierda said they welcome such proposal.
Maintaining that the government goes by the principle “we go by what evidence is presented,” the official said the appropriate agencies should evaluate and investigate.
“Right now, there is a call from Senator Jinggoy Estrada to do so, but we will leave it with them. Again, we will just evaluate—the DOJ will just evaluate the evidence presented. Kung meron, titingnan.
Other than Estrada, Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Bong Revilla and scores of other former congressmen and government officials have been charged for plunder with the Office of the Ombudsman in connection with the P10 billion priority development assistance fund that was allegedly orchestrated by jailed businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.
JOEL M. SY EGCO