• Now, they’re looking for a ‘body of crime’

    21

    In a column published February 15 (“Like probing a murder without a corpse,” Manila Times, February 15), I commented that the blue ribbon committee hearing called by its chair Sen. Teofisto Guingona was like a police investigation of a murder without a corpse.

    Now that the sensational multi-billion pork barrel scam has landed in the nation’s anti-graft court, the Sandiganbayan, we have found out to our shock that government prosecutors still cannot establish “a body of crime” in order to charge Senators Jinggoy Estrada, Bong Revilla and Juan Ponce Enrile with plunder.

    I wrote in February: “After nine hearings, six months and 16 days, Guingona still cannot say that specific crimes have been committed, how much money has been stolen, and who are the culprits that must be held to account and charged.”

    The committee was going nowhere because Guingona “totally refused to subpoena Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and other DBM officials to shed light on how PDAF funds were disbursed and to whom, or how much money had been stolen. Not a single question has been thrown to the DBM by the blue Ribbon Committee.”

    I also expressed my opinion that the Senate had no business conducting a criminal investigation. Since Sen. Joe McCarthy and the communist witchhunts, Senates worthy of the name limited their hearings to probes in aid of legislation. Investigations into crimes committed by government officials are to be to left, in our case, to the mercies of the Department of Justice and its agencies, and the constitutionally created Ombudsman.

    For its overt partiality and grandstanding, the humpty dumpty committee was rechristened by the media and the public as “the yellow ribbon committee,” and it has since gone into hiding.

    A no-nonsense, get-the crooks inquiry
    You would think that the restoration of responsibility to the Justice department and the Ombudsman would establish order in our political universe and turn the pork barrel investigation into a non-nonsense, get-the-crooks inquiry.

    We all presumed that we would finally get to the meat of Secretary Leila de Lima’s claimed “truckloads of evidence” and “slam-dunk evidence.”

    When De Lima finally filed the charges against various officials with the Ombudsman, we all believed that the charges would hold water, and that the Ombudsman would promptly and eventually submit the indictments to the Sandiganbayan for trial.

    We prayed that the investigative process had spared no one and would prosecute all those who took part in whatever conspiracy to plunder the pork barrel allocations of senators and representatives.

    The realist in me did not expect all of these reasonable expectations to be fulfilled. I gave allowance for some lapses of judgment and probity in the process.

    So when the Ombudsman finally sent the complaints to the Sandiganbayan, and the graft court promptly issued warrants of arrest for the high-profile senators, I thought that the tide was really moving on the side of ethical and good government.

    And when Senators Bong Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada willingly surrendered and spent a day or two at the Camp Crame custodial Center, I joined the public in believing that their arrest and surrender must mean the government has a strong case against them.

    The script goes out of whack
    But then came Thursday, and the whole scenario went completely out of whack.

    It turned out that after submitting the cases to the graft court, the Ombudsman was not ready to go to trial. At the last minute, she, through the special prosecutor, sought to amend the charge sheet already filed with the court.

    The decision on this highly unusual maneuver was swift and crushing.

    The Sandiganbayan junked the Ombudsman’s revision of the complaint. One Sandiganbayan justice said Thursday that prosecutors have yet to establish “the body of crime” in their plunder complaint, as the First Division of the anti-graft court denied a bid by the Ombudsman to amend the charge sheet to show that Senator Ramon Revilla Jr., and not Janet Lim Napoles, was the mastermind behind the pork barrel scam.

    The complaint was rushed
    The comment of one justice, who requested anonymity, could not be more dismissive. He said:

    “Minadali (it was rushed). The 9,560-page complaint was hastily done. It is filled with inconsistencies, defects and loopholes. The amendment even made it worse.”

    The justice gave his comments to the Manila Standard. In what follows, I quote freely from the fine reporting of Christine F. Herrera, Joyce Pangco Pañares and Rio N. Araja.

    The justice continued: “The amendment made it worse because to establish conspiracy, the prosecution has to have evidence to prove that Revilla was in cahoots with Napoles from the start, such as in setting up the bogus NGOs and carrying out the scam. But based on the evidence submitted that was made the basis of the three separate 10,000-page complaints, conspiracy was not established with Revilla’s camp even claiming that the senator’s signature was forged in pertinent documents.”

    Not surprisingly, Senator Revilla refused to enter a plea at his arraignment on Thursday. His defense pounced on the denied amendment, declaring that they would use it against the prosecution as proof that the plunder case against Revilla was “defective and void from the start.”

    The special prosecutor tried his utmost to explain away the questions raised by the amended case information. He told the court: “We amended the case information to emphasize that the senator was the one who amassed, accumulated and acquired ill-gotten wealth in connivance or in conspiracy with his co-accused public officer and private individuals.”

    “The prosecutors deemed it wise to amend them to minimize, if not obviate, objections therein by certain accused which may cause undue delay in the proceedings,” he added.

    The amended complaint sought to emphasize that Napoles and her cohorts were private individuals who collaborated with the senators in amassing ill-gotten wealth.

    Under Philippine law, only government officials can be charged with plunder. The prosecutor also tried to delete the phrase that said “enabling Napoles to misappropriate the Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF) proceeds for her personal gain.” Revilla’s lawyer, Joel Bodegon, said the move was aimed at taking the heat off Napoles and making the senator the mastermind of the scam.

    Bodegon explained: “It was done to justify that Napoles was not the most guilty so she can be made a state witness,” Bodegon added. At his arraignment, Revilla refused to enter a plea, so the court entered a “not guilty” plea for him.

    “The prosecution’s move is a judicial admission that they have no case against Revilla,” Bodegon said.

    An amateurish featherweight
    In indicting Revilla, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales charged that the senator collected some P224.512 million in kickbacks from 2006 to 2010 from the alleged illegal disbursement of his PDAF allocations.

    The Sandiganbayan justice who spoke to the Standard described Morales as an “amateurish featherweight” who allowed the defective complaint to reach the anti-graft court.

    The justice said he could not understand why Morales, a retired Supreme Court associate justice, allowed loopholes in the complaint, making it vulnerable to attack from the defense. The Justice explained that the affidavit of Napoles employee-turned whistleblower Benhur Luy was made the basis of all three complaints against the senators.

    “In Benhur Luy’s affidavit, he said John Raymond de Asis, Napoles’ driver, ‘helped’ in the preparation of the money. But in the complaint, the prosecution stated that De Asis ‘delivered’ the money.

    “That’s a serious overlook (sic), if indeed it was overlooked,” the justice said. The justice added that there was no paper or money trail leading to Enrile.

    In the case of Estrada, Tuason claimed to have delivered the money to the senator but said she did not know how much money was delivered, the justice said. Asked why the Sandiganbayan found probable cause to issue arrest warrants against the senators, the justice said: “Finding probable cause is far different from finding the accused guilty and sentencing them.”

    “With all the hype about truckloads of evidence, the prosecution has yet to establish the body of crime,” the justice concluded. “The justices will rule based only on evidence at hand, and presented.”

    The Palace remains confident
    In the face of this clear blow to the plunder cases, Palace propagandists tried to keep a straight and brave face.

    Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma told the media that the President is confident that the plunder cases against the three opposition senators are strong, despite the Ombudsman’s failure to have the charge sheet amended.

    “We believe the concerned agency of the government has already done what it should do. The DoJ has done its homework. They have spent enough time to examine the merit(sic) of the case that they have filed,” Coloma said.

    He continued: “We are confident that sufficient work has been done to build a credible and convincing case. The Ombudsman’s special prosecutor was acting “well within the rules of court” in seeking to amend the charge sheet.”

    Despite its failure with the Revilla case, the Ombudsman’s prosecutors sought to file similar amendments in the plunder cases against Estrada and Enrile.

    The prosecutors are also seeking to alter portions of the original information sheet against Estrada to highlight his role in directing the pork barrel scam.

    “By exerting undue pressure on the implementing agencies to favorable (sic) act on his endorsements of the NGO’s of Napoles to ensure that his PDAF be in the possession and control of Napoles and her cohorts which undue pressure and endorsements were made in exchange for kickbacks, percentage or commissions, thereby unjustly enriching himself at the expense and to the damage and prejudice, of the Filipino people and the Republic of the Philippines,” the amended information said.

    Estrada’s arraignment is set on Monday, June 30.

    From truckloads to 10,000-page complaints
    It’s to be expected and logical that, under the Aquino administration, the truckloads of evidence would become 10,000-page complaints. That’s apparently how the justice machinery of this government works. The hyperbolic volume and count must be sustained.

    But this only makes the government look puny and incompetent. The Ombudsman, despite her haughty air, could be facing some humbling days in the trials ahead.

    The demand of President Aquino that only strong and air-tight cases should be filed against the accused sounds like a mission impossible for the government’s prosecution team.

    Trying Revilla, Estrada and Enrile in the court of the media and public opinion was relatively easy. Trying them at the Sandiganbayan is a totally different game.

    yenmakabenta@yahoo.com

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    21 Comments

    1. Mas magaling pala na prosecutors ang grupo ni Dennis Villa-Ignacio…….minadali kasi ng ombudsman at DOJ ang mga kaso,baka akala nila impeachment trial ito na pwede gamitin ang DAP….LOL calling Congressman Umali to threaten Sandiganbayan Justices..LOL

    2. I have really the feeling, even at the rate PNoy’s “yellow mobs” moved heaven and earth to indict the opposition, this whole exercise is just nothing but a lot of a SHOW – ZARZUELA. The case against the 3 three opposition Senators are doomed to fail. They rushed the filing of the complaints against PNoy’s perceived political enemies just so he can proudly recite the litany of his accomplishments (?) %%$$$@@## when he deliver his SONA next month. It is a shame that this “yellow mobs” allowed themselves to be used as pawn of the President. Why is PNoy protecting Sec. Butch Abad and Sec. Alcala to the hilt? How much these guys know about the degree and extent of corruption in the Aquino administration? Who are involved? Why is PNoy selective in pinning down the “kawatan” or “magnanakaw” in his administration. What happened to Pnoy’s PDAF when he was a Congressman and Senator for 12 years? Why does COA not conduct the audit for all Congressmen and Senators from Pres. Cory’s administration up to the incumbent President?

    3. Bernardo Carpio on

      Hindi ba ninyo alam ang nasa harap ninyo?

      It is all for show !!! The intention of the aquino regime is to put to trial only the three stooges. Wala silang balak na tumagal sa preso ang mga iyan. Sinadya talaga nilang palpak ang kaso nila. The only reason they did this was to justify their manipulation of the 2016 Presidential Election. They will again use the PCOS machine. They will again use the SWS and the other survey companies to “show” that they are leading in the manufactured surveys.

      Eh bakit ganuon?

      Dahil if everyone digs deeper they will find the real Pork Barrel king is no less than President Aquino himself and his prince Abad as his No. Desciple. Sila ang pasimuno nitong mga Bribery, Corruption in their Twisted Daang Matuwid bullshit.

    4. Basta government cases TALO! And who are these people in the government? They are just appointees.

    5. victor m. hernandez on

      COA has done its job on the use or misuse of PDAF. These transactions are well audited, in fact, specially audited. PDAF issue has been blown into a humungous political issue. It is too much to digest it. A wag says that to eat an elephant, you have to bite it bit by bit. This applies with PDAF use or misuse. It is the Executive branch via the implementing agencies that PDAF are disbursed. The wrong or mal-disbursement of such fund is the responsibility, accountability, and culpability of the implementing agencies. Whoever disbursed, and benefited wrongly are supposed to return the money, which COA have imposed “Disallowance”, or not an allowed dibursement. That is the first thing that has to be done. The return of the money or of funds that are not allowed to be disbursed. If these were disbursed maliciously and fraudulently, then a criminal case may be filed. In the end, the primary culpable persons are the Executive or Agency people.

      • Bernardo Carpio on

        Aquino can not do anything about this COA reports. He can not hide which was his original intention. Kaya iyan sinupress nila ang report. Becaus eit will ultimately implicate almost all the politicians including his Liberal partymates and supporters.

    6. With this development, there are no more arguments to negate the impression about the incompetence of Sec. De Lima, Ombudsman Carpio-Morales and COA Chair Pulido-Tan. In fact they might have already foreseen the writings on the wall. Pulido-Tan is working feverishly to be appointed as SC justice; De Lima has been maneuvering for her possible run for the Senate. Ombudsman Morales might be contemplating for an early exit from her office and as PNoy’s main attack dog. Persecuting a public official has a price to pay if there is failure and glory and political benefits if successful. It is the main element of Game Theory. For lowly citizens, it is called Karma. Ultimately, the person to hold the empty bag and face the torrents of counter-suits will be PNoy due to principle of command responsibility.

    7. jesus nazario on

      Thanks Yen ! Exactly what I feared from the beginning of this saga. That government will make “sabog” in the end and the real culprits ending up laughing while caressing their loot. Eh ni di pa nga nasa end but nasa unang balsada pa lang nag-implode na. Everything was a showbiz-driven exercise in futility and therefore lacking the brains needed to prosecute such complex crime. Somebody called “Double Jeopardy” is already standing by to welcome these three cases into its fold.

    8. Everything is scripted kasi. Everything is about the spin because this showbiz administration has no genuine accomplishment to speak of especially in the coming Sona. Besides, the three stooges are just a small part of the big conspiracy. You bring them down, you bring down the whole administration with them. Sino ba ang nagpanakaw nang pera natin in broad daylight? Who signed the release papers? Pati ba SARO forged ang signature? Pati DBM papers, forged din ang signature. Aba, aba, Abad naman!

    9. If all what you say its true this country & people in charge in every department are a laughing stock. It seems they dont understand even the basics of anything. Im struggling for words here at the utter incompetence of these so called officials. I thought they were all educated but it seems it was true when i said they couldnt organise a booze up in a brewery. Why do they all get paid so well when they are totally incompetent. It baffles me. Now you say they didnt have the evidence, so if they didnt have the evidence then when the 2nd level checked it to see if there was enough evidence & then finally the 3rd level checked it how did they all come to the conclusion there was enough evidence to proceed with the case. Its just a complete joke. Is anyone else confused by all this like i am.

    10. Jose A. Oliveros on

      The reported comment of one Sandiganbayan Justice that the prosecutor has yet to establish “the body of the crime” leads me to ask how did the Sandiganbayan Justices find probable cause against Revilla and promptly issued a warrant of arrest against him if on its face the information filed against Revilla is defective?

    11. Jun Adan says:
      June 28, 2014 at 5:11 am

      It is indeed shocking that the government prosecution teams ( DoJ, headed by De Lima and theO,buds man headed by Conchita Morales) seems to have bungled the preparations of the Plunder Complaints and Charge/Information Sheets against Revilla, Estrada and Enrile by filing Amendments to the Complaints! Why amendments? Are they not sufficient in form and substance such that they failed to give enough notice to accused of what crime they are being charged, enough to comply with Constitutional requirement of notice and nature crime so accused can prepare his defense! Complaints need only to state the laws violated by accused in conspiracy with other co-accused and the actions of engaging in unlawful actions of supposedly funding via PDAF fictitious beneficiaries by diverting the funds illegally to co-conspirator Napoles, who in turn, directly or indirectly gave the bulk ( say 232 millions or 50 millions or more) of the funds to accused as bribe, in form of kickback or commission! These are the elements of the crime that constitute plunder. It suffices these elements are stated in the Complaint! Proof and evidence need not be narrated in the complaint but has to be presented during the trial proper, and evaluated by the Court for its. Verdict or Judgment!
      It is shameful for Aquino and his team if these PDAF scam cases against the high profile senators are dismissed by Court for filing a defective complaints due to its substantive errors or defects. If dismissal is after arraignment of accused, the cases can not be refilled on ground of “Double Jeopardy”. Revilla,Estrada and Enrile will be free as birds and can spend and enjoy their stolen money of the people the way as they please! What a national tragedy for the Nation!

    12. It is highly suspicious that Sen. Guingona III is part of a grand plan to commit only 3 Senathieves, considering he has been so protective of Abad and Pulido-Tan. This Senator, son of a former Vice-President and self confessed clean ex-Senator should be ashamed of himself if he does have a little shame left in his person. Ex Vice-President must also be ashamed of his son if he believes he and his son have a little decency left in them. The only way for them to do so the public will retain a little respect in their person is send to court all those in the Napoles list without exception, not finger only a few oppositionists most important is to dig all accounting and auditing records of all PDAF-Saro releases as well as how much each Congressman and Senator received from the DAP. If Abad and Pulido-Tan/Heidi Mendoza tandem will not reveal everything the Sandiganbayan apparently will not accept any partial or incomplete and doctored data from the partisan Ombudswoman, Carpio-Morales.

    13. This is most amusing! So R. Kapunan of the MST is right after all. He posited (in his article “Pnoy can be the most guilty” ) that there can be no successful prosecution of the 3 senators and the other beneficiaries of the PDAF scam if the Aquino and Abad were not persecuted first, because the latter were the source of the PDAF maneuverings first and foremost. And so, as things are happening now at the Sandiganbayan, it seems that the persecution of the 3 senators by selective justice is backfiring on Aquino and his implementers. What a glorious day for the wrongly prosecuted!

    14. Andres R. Samson on

      In criminal law and in civil law it is “corpus delecti” that matters, and in this arraignment before the the Ombudsman, it is in defining the “body of the crime.” It may be recalled as these were published in PH media that an accessory purported made 10 separate actions to hand over the “kickback” to the principal, now indicted, but only one could be substantiated as to place, time, mode of delivery and amount. The catch-all charge now appear spurious as the bulk of the PhP 10 million brought to the basement of the Senate certainly raises eyebrows, as the puny arms of the complicit woman could not possibly lug that bulk of money as each note weighs about 1 gram. Do your own math and assume that the money delivered were in 2,000 peso notes. 5000 grams is 500 kilos. I like to go to that gym where this woman built her muscles. One Justice has already pointed out more loop holes and inconsistencies in “defining the body of crime.” Not guilty.

      • jesus nazario on

        Wrong math my friend. 5,000 grams is only 5 kilograms. Let’s redo it. 10 million in 1,000-peso notes is equiv to 10,000 pieces. At 1 gram each, that is 10,000 grams or 10 kilograms.

      • Andres, the computation of your equivalents is grossly mistaken. One Php1,000.00 or 2,000.00 bill is not even 1 gram. Go ahead a weigh it yourself. Therefore, considering that one bill is 1 gram even a total amount 50 million will weigh the same as 10, 20, 30 million. Is my calculation correct? If so, even a small lady as Heidi Mendoza can carry millions of pesos with ease.

    15. i won’t be surprised if the charges are dimissed against the 3 senators or that the prosecution loses its case at the sandiganbayan. if the prosecution loses its case against the senators, it is because they came in unprepared. plain and simple. it seemed to me that they were not sure of the charges or even maybe trying to pin the senators down by putting the most guilt on them and use napoles as as state witness so us to help them get rid of the three senators to benefit the administration come 2016. what the sandiganbayan justice told the state prosecutor when they tried to revise the charges against the senators must have been like watching then senate president juan ponce enrile telling the prosecution during the impeachment trial of chief justice renato corona on how to prosecute the latter. no wonder, up to now, the present ombudsman have yet to win a case at the sandiganbayan. or have they?

    16. From the very beginning of this PDAF ‘saga’, I will be more surprised to find in the end that the three senators accused will be found guilty, than exonerated assuming that there is a fair trial in the legal sense of the word. The voluminous records (truckloads?!), the inconsistencies in these records and previous testimonies and inconsistencies, the pitting of well-motivated, well-paid legal eagles against relatively younger prosecutors, etc., will unlikely result in a guilty verdict. As indicated also in some government cases, some mistakes on the part of prosecutors seem to have been intentionally done which resulted in technical and fatal mistakes justifying the eventual dismissal of cases. The tedious process can also be a factor. At worst, these accused senators will just be ‘history’ or, in the local parlance, “mga basang sisiw”!

    17. gabriela silang on

      it seems so demeaning for the ombudsman to be called an amateurish featherweight. what with all her credentials and a former magistrate to boot…unfortunately, her morals flew when she kissed pnoy’s ass. now she’ll break her head to undo what’s been done. as we ilocanos say it – MANGIBABAIN KA MANANG!