BECAUSE of the vast power and influence she wielded as the chief of staff of former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Jessica “Gigi” Reyes was able to funnel the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel of senators to non-government organizations (NGOs) owned or controlled by Janet Lim-Napoles, a source at the Senate told The Manila Times on Monday.
Reyes, a lawyer, was touted as the 24th senator because of the powers and privileges she enjoyed as Enrile’s most trusted aide.
The Senate source who spoke on the condition that he would not be named claimed that Reyes “practically went from office to office” to encourage senators to release their pork barrel funds to Napoles’ NGOs.
“Atty. Gigi was going around the Senate building at [the]time for that purpose. Remember that she was very powerful when she was with JPE [Enrile’s initials]. There were times that she was the one who did follow-ups with the DBM [Department of Budget and Management],” the source said.
Reyes, who denied involvement in the P10-billion PDAF scam, was said to be the “agent” who got Sen. Gregorio Honasan’s PDAF into one of Napoles’ NGOs.
“Greg [Honasan’s nickname] did not know how his name was dragged into this. So he ordered a discreet internal investigation and they found out that it was Atty. Gigi who pulled it off,” the source further said.
“Not only [he]but the other senators whose names were included conducted their respective probe[s]and the results all boiled down to one name — Atty. Gigi,” he added.
The Times also on Monday reported that Honasan and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) Director General Joel Villanueva will be the next officials to be charged in connection with the pork barrel scam.
Raji Mendoza, legal counsel of pork barrel scam witness Benhur Luy, said his client and Merlina Sunas, another pork scam witness, implicated the two officials, along with several former and incumbent lawmakers in their signed affidavits that are now being evaluated by the Department of Justice (DOJ).
The respondents face charges of malversation of public funds, not plunder, because the amount involved is less than P50 million.
Honasan allegedly allocated P15 million of his PDAF to the bogus NGO Agri and Economic Program for Farmers Foundation Inc. while Villanueva, former Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption party-list representative, allegedly allocated P4.3 million of his pork barrel to the Masaganang Ani Para sa Magsasaka Foundation Inc., also an NGO controlled by Napoles.
Affidavits of the witnesses are backed by transaction records and audit reports of the Commission on Audit from 2007 to 2009.
The Manila Times tried to get Honasan’s reaction to Mendoza’s statements but he did not respond.
Last month, Enrile’s deputy chief of staff, Jose Antonio Evangelista, filed a motion in court taking full responsibility for processing the disbursement of Enrile’s PDAF, in an apparent effort to save Reyes.
But Justice Secretary Leila De Lima maintained that Reyes was involved in the anomaly.
Evangelista blamed implementing agencies for allocating the PDAF to dubious NGOs.
Reyes, one of those first accused of involvement in the scam, returned to the Philippines on April 19 from abroad to tell the Office of the Ombudsman that she had no participation in the release of her former boss’ pork barrel.
She claimed that her signatures on documents related to the releases of Enrile’s PDAF were forged.
Reyes and Evangelista were slapped with malversation charges.
The Ombudsman also found probable cause to file plunder charges against Reyes, along with Enrile and senators Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr.
Ready for trial
Also on Monday, Enrile said he is not bothered by the statement of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales that there is enough evidence against him, Estrada and Revilla.
The senator maintained that he is ready to face anybody and is even willing to face the court alone and defend himself, if he will be allowed.
“As I’ve said in a fair court, in a fair trial, I’m ready to face anybody. I’ve handled criminal cases, not that I was a criminal lawyer but as a law practitioner. I grew up in the courtroom,” Enrile told reporters.
Revilla’s lawyer Joel Bodegon slammed Morales for displaying her bias against those who she should be investigating with impartiality and fairness.
Bodegon said the Ombudsman acted like a judge and has jumped the gun on the Sandiganbayan, which is yet to receive the case of the three senators.
“She’s making it appear that there is no longer a need for trial. How can we expect fairness? These maneuverings are clear indications that the trumped-up charges are being railroaded because of lack of evidence,” he added.
The Ombudsman is expected to file its case against Enrile, Revilla and Estrada at the Sandiganbayan this month. Once a case is filed, the anti-graft court will then issue an arrest warrant against the three senators and other individuals included in the charge sheet.
Since plunder is a non-bailable offense, the senators will automatically be arrested and jailed in a facility that will be assigned by the Sandiganbayan.
A suspension order will also be issued by the court preventing the lawmakers from performing their duties as legislators.