It was the best April Fool’s Day gift ever to the Filipino people last April 1, 2014 from the Office of the Ombudsman. But the three (in)famous senators who are among the respondents of the plunder case are not laughing because it ain’t no joke.
On Tuesday this week, the Office of the Ombudsman held a press conference to announce that Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales has approved the recommendation of the Special Panel that found probable cause in the three joint resolutions to indict for Plunder & Corruption three “celebrated” senators and the alleged mastermind of the multibillion pork barrel scam.
The Ombudsman Special Panel said that there was enough evidence as prove the criminal liability of Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon Revilla, Jr. and Jose “Jinggoy” Ejercito Estrada for Plunder & Graft anent the illegal disbursements of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) by members of Congress.
What is significant in the Ombudsman’s ruling is that it is the first time in history that the senators are indicted for the non-bailable crime of plunder. Thirteen years ago in 2001, former President Joseph “Erap” was also indicted for the crime of plunder and found guilty by the Sandiganbayan six years later in 2007.
Businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles, the alleged mastermind of the P10-billion Pork Barrel Scam was included in the charge sheet. It was her employees who blew the whistle on the obscene embezzlement of public funds by senators and congressmen. Without them, President Benigno S. Aquino III and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad would have brazenly continued with the despicable practice of using PDAF to control Congress.
(The Supreme Court has declared the PDAF as unconstitutional in spite of the confidence of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) that they would win the case.)
I was pleasantly surprised to learn of the news on television that same day. The recent ruling by the Office of the Ombudsman is most welcome because it happened three days after the publication of my column in the Manila Times entitled “Ombudsman Morales & P10 Billion Pork Barrel Scam.” The timing was such a fortuitous event.
I do not claim credit for the Ombudsman’s sudden decision. I am just glad for the “Happy Coincidence” of my published article and the Ombudsman ruling on the subject.
In my column last week, I analyzed what had happened and criticized Ombudsman Morales for not having filed the plunder and malversation cases before the Sandiganbayan. The Department of Justice (DoJ) had filed the said charges with the Office of the Ombudsman more than six months ago! No less than Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago had urged the Ombudsman a week earlier to start filing the cases with the anti-graft court.
Going back to the three resolutions of the Ombudsman Special Panel created to investigate the PDAF scam, the 144-page resolution on the cases against Senator Enrile includes his resigned – and in hiding – chief of staff Jessica Lucille “Gigi” Reyes. Aside from plunder, there is also the 15 counts of graft together with other respondents.
The 140-page resolution involving Senator Revilla includes his aide Richard Cambe for plunder and additional 16 counts of graft. The 120-page resolution involving Senator Estrada includes his aide Pauline Labayen for plunder and additional 11 counts for graft. What is common in the three resolutions among the persons involved are the alleged mastermind Janet Lim Napoles and her driver John Raymond de Asis.
The citizenry lauded the decision of the Office of the Ombudsman to indict Senators Enrile, Revilla and Estrada, businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles and many others. However, there was also concern about the perceived selective filing of charges against the members of Congress who are in the opposition. The DoJ has not filed the third batch to be charged after almost seven months since the first filing on 16 September 2013.
The question is what is taking the NBI and the DoJ too long? There is already the public speculation that senators and congressmen allied with the administration are expected to be included in the third and final batch to be filed with the Ombudsman.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported on Thursday April 3 that the next batch to be charged will include members of the Liberal Party and administration allies. A source of the Inquirer revealed that charges will be filed by the DoJ with the Office of the Ombudsman by the end of April or early May this year.
It now appears that the inclusion of Liberal Party members and allies of the Aquino administration in the third batch is the reason why it took so long for the DoJ to do it. The Did the President perhaps want to delay it and keep their loyalty up to the last minute so that he can use them for his own political agenda?