The Department of Justice hopes to file criminal charges against lawmakers who released part of their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to bogus Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) within two weeks.
However, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) which is investigating the anomalous use of lawmakers “pork barrel” or PDAF said it may take them more than two weeks to finish their probe.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, one of the heads of the Inter-Agency Anti-Graft Coordinating Council (IAAGCC) said she is hopeful that charges will be filed against the erring senators and members of the House of Representatives by early September.
NBI spokesman Cecilio Zamora Jr. said investigators also want to file charges as soon as possible but the bureau wants to gather “infallible” evidence before they can press charges.
“Mahirap kasi magsampa ng kaso na hindi air-tight (We don’t want to file complaints that are not air-tight),” he said.
Zamora said that gathering testimonies and documents and poring over voluminous records take time.
De Lima said that the NBI is in the process of completing documentary evidence that will show the trail of money from the lawmakers.
The NBI is also studying the letters from bogus NGOs, special allotment release orders (SARO), documents from the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) and reports from the Commission on Audit.
Meanwhile, Malacañang on Tuesday said that government officials will hold a dialogue with various groups who want the “pork barrel” system abolished.
Palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte said the dialogue between Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and the anti-pork barrel advocates is being arranged.
“They have to discuss a common schedule because Secretary Abad, today, is at the Senate for the DBCC [Development Budget Coordination Committee] briefing,” Valte said, referring to an inter-agency body composed of the budget Secretary as Chairman and the Bangko Sentral Governor, the Secretary of the Department of Finance, the Director General of the National Economic and Development Authority and a representative of the Office of the President as members.
“Alam ‘yon ni Secretary Abad. Nakikinig naman po talaga ‘yan doon. He does his best to engage ‘yung mga CSOs [civil society groups],” she added.
Valte said that the government encourages “participatory governance” and welcomes inputs from the people on how to improve the system.
She said that citizens may closely scrutinize and monitor the implementation of projects that will be proposed by their lawmakers.
President Aquino earlier announced plans to abolish the PDAF. The President proposed a new budget mechanism starting with the 2014 budget proposal.
At the Senate, Senator Alan Peter Cayetano said lawmakers implicated in the “pork barrel” controversy should allow themselves to be subjected to investigation in the quest for truth.
Although he agrees with the existing Senate rule that prohibits members to be “grilled”, Cayetano said that there is no rule that prevents the Senate to waive such privilege for a senator.
Cayetano said that considering the uniqueness of the situation, it would be better if senators will not hide behind the chamber’s rules.
“This is the challenge to other senators. They should allow themselves to be grilled (during the hearing) and they can easily answer the questions if they are not guilty,” Cayetano told reporters.
The Senate Blue Ribbon committee under Senate Teofisto Guingona 3rd will start its inquiry into the pork barrel controversy tomorrow with Chairman Ma. Grace Pulido-Tan of the Commission on Audit (COA) as its first resource person.
All 24 senators have expressed support to the abolition of the PDAF.
With a report from Jeff Antiporda