A magistrate of the Sandiganbayan on Tuesday dared the Office of the Ombudsman to file the next batch of cases against lawmakers and other officials implicated in the pork barrel scam.
Associate Justice Jose Hernandez, who heads the anti-graft court’s Fourth Division, made the challenge during the bail hearing of former Masbate Representative Rizalina Seachon-Lanete, where state witness Marina Sula testified. Lanete is now the Masbate goåvernor.
“The Ombudsman will hopefully file several cases related to Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and without your testimony . . . the government will not have a case,” Hernandez said.
He then asked her if she is willing to testify for 10 years.
“If they need my services to stand to be a witness, yes sir,” Sula replied.
Hernandez then turned to the prosecution and said: “File the second and third batches, what are you waiting for? You have a very willing witness.”
But the prosecution replied that it’s not their call. This prompted Associate Justice Alex Quiroz to quip “when you appear in this court, you represent the entire Office of the Ombudsman.”
Hernandez told the prosecution that the people “are eagerly waiting the second and third batches.”
“When important things are happening to the country, there are times you have to speak out just like what this witness is doing,” he said, referring to Sula.
In June last year, the Office of the Ombudsman filed separate plunder and graft charges before the Sandiganbayan against senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., and Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada in connection with the pork barrel scam.
Criminal charges were also filed in February against five former lawmakers also for the alleged misuse of their PDAF.
Facing separate plunder and graft charges are Lanete and former and Edgar Valdez of the Association of Philippine Electric Cooperatives (APEC). Former Representatives Samuel Dangwa of Benguet, Rodolfo Plaza of Agusan del Sur, and Constantino Jaraula of Cagayan de Oro were indicted for graft, malversation and direct bribery.
The lawmakers were accused of receiving kickbacks by pouring their PDAF to bogus projects and endorsing non-government organizations (NGOs) allegedly owned or controlled by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, who is also facing plunder and graft charges.
Lanete’s lawyer, Laurence Arroyo, said only members of the opposition are being hailed to court.
“[L]ook at the names of the accused against whom plunder cases have been filed so far and you will see that all of those cases are against opposition leaders,” Arroyo said after the hearing.
Also on Tuesday, Malacañang said the Commission on Audit (COA) has all the right to question or even file cases against lawmakers who allegedly funneled their “pork barrel” funds to bogus NGOs, including 47 allies of the administration.
Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the administration of President Benigno Aquino 3rd remains firm against all forms of abuse involving public funds.
“Hindi natitinag ang paninindigan ng pamahalaan laban sa tiwaling paggamit ng pondo ng bayan. Ayon sa batas, kapag may inilabas na obserbasyon ang COA, tungkulin ng mga tinutukoy na ahensya at mga opisyal na maghain ng paliwanag (The Aquino administration remains steadfast in its campaign against the illegal use of public funds. Under the law, if the COA came out with a report, the agencies or officials named should respond),” Coloma said.
He was reacting to a report by the COA that some P670 million in pork barrel and Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) funds ended up with fake NGOs that were identified by legislators, including Enrile and Sen. Gregorio Honasan.
Aside from the two, 47 allies of the administration were also found to have released their pork funds in the same questionable fashion from 2011 to 2013.
Coloma said COA has the Constitutional mandate to determine if violations were committed.