Two former senators and two incumbent ones are among the respondents in the third batch of big personalities who face plunder charges in connection with the pork barrel scam, a highly placed source privy to the case told The Manila Times on Friday.
The source, who declined to be identified, refused to name names, only revealing that they are perceived to be allies of President Benigno Aquino 3rd.
His revelation came as Justice Secretary Leila de Lima also on Friday hinted that plunder charges will be filed against Batch 3 composed of government and private individuals who are accused of pocketing huge kickbacks from the Priority Development Assistance Fund, or pork barrel, coursed through fake non-government organizations (NGOs) owned by now jailed businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.
The Justice chief clarified that there are actually two sets of cases being readied by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
The third batch of cases will be filed before the Office of the Ombudsman anytime this month.
De Lima said lawmakers, officials of the NGOs and officials or employees of implementing agencies, including Napoles, are respondents in the third batch.
She did not give details on the background or identities of the third batch of alleged plunderers. But some respondents are new personalities, who were not included in the first two batches.
De Lima, however, said the officials are in the same level as the three senators—Juan Ponce Enrile, Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr.—who were included in the first batch of plunder cases filed previously. Early this week, the Ombudsman indicted the three senators. Pending resolution of any motion for reconsideration, the Sandiganbayan is expected to issue arrest orders against them before the start of litigation.
Former Customs Commissioner Rufino Rozzano “Ruffy” Biazon led the second batch of pork barrel-related cases with 33 others. This batch was submitted to the Ombudsman in November for resolution.
The NBI is ready to file the two new sets of pork barrel-scam complaints, according to de Lima.
“It is now only a matter of deciding which one to file first,” she told reporters.
Asked how many will be charged in the third batch, de Lima said she was not sure.
In the first batch, plunder cases were filed against Enrile’s chief-of-staff Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes, Revilla’s chief-of-staff Richard Cambe, Enrile and Estrada’s alleged representative Ruby Tuason, Estrada’s staff Pauline Labayen and Technology Resource Center Director General Dennis Cunanan, among others.
Tuason and Cunanan’s applications to the Witness Protection
Program were accepted temporarily.
The decision on whether senators involved in the pork barrel scam should be punished rests solely with the Senate, which is under the leadership of Senate President Franklin Drilon, a staunch Palace ally and partymate of the President.
According to Malacanang spokesman Edwin Lacierda, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s call for the Senate to investigate their other colleagues who were alleged to have dipped their hands into their PDAF is something that is covered by the chamber’s own rules.
“But there are rules and procedures in the Senate as to when a particular senator may be suspended and those rules have been mentioned by [Drilon],” Lacierda told a news briefing on Friday.
“The call for the senators to go on leave is best addressed to their own judgment,” he said.
Lacierda, a lawyer, explained that while he supports the call for due process, there are effective rules in place when it comes to suspension of any legislator from the House or the Senate.
“I think that is something that the senators themselves, as a body, should discuss and… My impression and my belief is that there are already rules in place for the senators and for the Senate as a body to discuss. So, we would rather not discuss that comment in a separate branch of government,” he said.
On Thursday, Santiago said that since the Office of the Ombudsman has found sufficient evidence to file plunder and other criminal charges against Enrile, Estrada and Revilla, the Senate leadership should also initiate an investigation into complaints against other senators who allegedly “misused” their own pork.
Santiago noted that the Ombudsman’s move to indict the three senators should serve as a wake-up call for the Senate to conduct another inquiry, this time focused on several senators who are suspected to have released their pork barrel to organizations controlled by Napoles.
The yet to be convened Senate committee on ethics should pursue the inquiry, she said.
Other senators whose names cropped up in the course of the probe of the pork barrel controversy are Gregorio Honasan 2nd, Loren Legarda, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Vicente Sotto 3rd.
The four have issued denials.
Santiago suggested that Enrile, Estrada and Revilla should be detained in an ordinary jail together with other ordinary detainees once they are charged with plunder and ordered arrested by the Sandiganbayan.
Since plunder is a non-bailable offense, she said, her colleagues should be sent straight to jail.
With Joel M. Sy Egco