NINE incumbent and former members of the national legislature as well as several government functionaries were charged on Friday with graft for their alleged involvement in the “pork barrel” scam.
This is the third batch of complaints filed by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) against officials suspected of having links to the multibillion-peso racket reportedly masterminded by Janet Lim- Napoles, who is held at the Correctional Institute for Women after she was convicted of serious illegal detention.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said this is the last set that the NBI will file in connection with the scam and which covers 2007 to 2009.
In a 7-page executive summary, the 40 individuals, including the lawmakers, were accused of converting their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) into kickbacks or commissions through implementation of ghost projects.
The third batch of complaints were filed with the Office of the Ombudsman against Sen. Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan 3rd, Manila Rep. Amado Bagatsing, La Union Rep. Victor Ortega, Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, Abono party-list Rep. Conrado Estrella 3rd, La Union Gov. Manuel Ortega, former Abono party-list Rep. Robert Raymund Estrella, former Zamboanga del Sur Rep. Isidro Real Jr. and former CIBAC party-list Rep. Joel Villanueva.
Villanueva is now the director-general of the Technical Education Skills and Development Authority who is reportedly running for senator under the Liberal Party in next year’s elections while Ortega represented his province in the House of the Representatives at the time the crime was allegedly committed.
Napoles was also impleaded with the lawmakers.
The complaint said the lawmakers violated Section 3 (e) of Republic Act (RA) 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
The NBI said they allegedly allocated their PDAFs, or pork barrel funds, to fake non-government organizations (NGOs) that were linked to Napoles.
The lawmakers were also charged with malversation of public funds under Article 217 of the Revised Penal Code; direct bribery under Article 210 of the Revised Penal Code; and violation of RA 3019, particularly Section 3 [e]for manifesting partiality and bad faith in granting unwarranted benefits and advantage to the injury of the government, Section 3 [b]for requesting a share or percentage from a government contract, Section 3 [g]for entering into a transaction grossly disadvantageous to the government and Section 3 [j]for granting license or privilege to a person not qualified.
The NBI said the lawmakers pocketed millions of pesos in kickbacks from the allegedly anomalous transactions: Honasan (P1.75 million), Bagatsing (P600,000), Conrado Estrella (P45 million); Robert Raymund Estrella ( P22.6 million), Manuel Ortega (P14.3 million) Victor Ortega (P9.5 million), Real (P3.2 million), Rodriguez P2 million and Villanueva (P2.3 million).
The bureau added that Conrado Estrella, Bagatsing, Rodriguez, Victor Ortega and Villanueva had requested the Questioned Documents Division (QDD) to examine their signatures and found that the signatures on the PDAF documents did not match the specimen they provided.
“However, the findings and the QDD are not conclusive and binding upon the results of this investigation. This will still be subject to the scrutiny of the Sandiganbayan in the event the Ombudsman decides to file the criminal cases with said court,” the executive summary of the complaint read.
Individuals whom the NBI said served as the representatives of the lawmakers were also charged.
They were Michael Benjamin, Anthony Dequina, Valentino Limchu and Manuel Jarmin for Honasan; Celia Cuasay for Rep. Bagatsing; Lourd Dexter Manalo, Ronald Casareno and a certain Irma for Rep. Conrado Estrella 3rd; Zenaida Grace Ducut and Jenny Quero for the Ortegas; Ronald Francisco Lim for Rep. Real; Maximo Bautista Rodriguez for Rep. Rodriguez; and Ma. Theresa Defensor-Asuncion for former Rep. Villanueva.
Others named as respondents were Alan Javellana, former president of the National Agribusiness Corp.; Gondelina Amata, president of the National Livelihood Development Corp.; Antonio Ortiz, former director general of the Technology Resource Center; and Dennis Cunanan, former deputy director general of TRC.
Also charged were Mylene Encarnacion and Evelyn Ditchon-de Leon, who were identified as presidents of the Napoles-linked NGOs; and officials and employees of implementing government agencie, namely, Victor Cacal, Romulo Relevo, Ma. Ninez Guanizo, Ma. Julie Villaralvo-Johnson, Rhodora Mendoza, Francisco Figura, Marivic Jover, Gregoria Buenaventura, Emmanuel Alexis Sevidal, Sofia Cruz and Chita Jalandoni
The Department of Justice said the complaint will be examined by the Ombudsman’s Field Investigation Office (FIO) where evidence involving the lawmakers will be assessed for sufficiency.
The FIO will then decide whether to recommend a preliminary investigation and eventual filing in court.
The third batch of complaints stemmed from the September 2013 NBI investigation based on sworn statements executed by whistleblowers Benhur Luy and Merlina Suñas, among others, given in another case involving serious illegal detention that ended in the filing of plunder charges against three senators — Juan Ponce Enrile, Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr. and several congressmen.
The three are currently in jail at Camp Crame in Quezon City.
Plunder is non-bailable.
The charges against the third batch are bailable.
No selective justice
Malacanang said the filing of graft charges against government officials, including administration allies, over the alleged pork barrel scam disproves critics’ claim that there is selective justice under the administration of President Benigno Aquino 3rd.
In a text message, Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the new batch of “pork” charges shows that Aquino’s allies are not immune to prosecution and conviction.
“The larger point here is despite what the naysayers say, the President has always respected the processes of law,” Lacierda noted.
In a separate statement, Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the third batch of charges proves that the administration promotes impartial justice.
“Now that the NBI has filed charges against incumbent and former members of Congress for alleged misuse of [PDAF] allocations, it is the task of the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate and assess the merits of such allegations,” Coloma added.
“Public interest requires that the ends of justice are served while affording due process to the respondents. We reaffirm our commitment to the principles of good governance and impartial justice,” he said.
WITH CATHERINE S. VALENTE