After a thorough investigation, the Office of the Ombudsman found sufficient evidence against Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. and Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, along with Janet Lim Napoles, to indict them for plunder involving the government’s Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
Napoles is the alleged mastermind of the multibillion so-called pork barrel scam.
Reading a statement at a press briefing on Tuesday, Ombudsman spokesman Asryman Rafanan said Enrile received up to P172 million, Revilla, P242 million and Estrada, P183 million in kickbacks from awarded PDAF projects.
The Senate blue ribbon committee also on Tuesday recommended that plunder charges be filed against other parties involved in the PDAF scam.
“The three joint resolutions concluded that the three senators took undue advantage of their official position to illegally divert, in connivance with certain respondents, the respective PDAF allocations to the Napoles NGOs [non-government organizations] in exchange for kickbacks or commissions,” Rafanan said.
Plunder is punishable under Republic Act (RA) 7080 by reclusion perpetua and forfeiture of the ill-gotten wealth. It is a non-bailable offense.
The joint resolutions on the two criminal cases found probable cause that along with Enrile, Revilla, Estrada and Napoles, Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes, Ruby Tuason, Ronald John Lim, John Raymond de Asis, and Pauline Therese Mary Labayen also committed plunder.
“The sets of respondents conspired in causing undue injury to the government in the amounts of P345 million [Enrile], P517 million [Revilla] and P278 million [Estrada] from their PDAF, by receiving, in evident bad faith, kickbacks or portions of the diverted amount,” Rafanan said.
Enrile et al. also face 15 counts of violation of Section 3(e) of RA 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, Revilla et al. for 16 counts and Estrada et al., 11 counts.
The Ombudsman will file the case at the Sandiganbayan when the respondents submit their motion for reconsideration, if any, within five days upon receipt of the resolutions.
Rafanan said in cases where the respondent is currently out of the country or cannot be located, the government will serve the resolutions through registered mail.
Revilla is presently visiting Israel.
There is no hold-departure order for the respondents, meaning, they are free to travel.
Estrada criticized the Ombudsman and the blue ribbon panel for their hasty move against him and his fellow senators.
Speaking from the United States via a phone patch interview with reporters, Estrada denied any involvement in the PDAF scam and reiterated that he is ready to defend himself in the proper court.
Estrada insisted having no knowledge or participation in the transfer of his PDAF, or “pork barrel,” to anyone other than to legally intended beneficiaries.
“I did not receive or pocket amounts from [Napoles], [Tuason] or any other person associated with her [Napoles] or any [NGOs],” he said.
Revilla’s camp also on Tuesday said it will avail of the five-day period for the filing of a motion for reconsideration.
His lawyer, Joel Bodegon, said it was obvious that the Ombudsman was in a hurry in issuing its recommendation, noting that it did not even take into account a pending petition that Revilla had filed before the Supreme Court (SC).
Bodegon said the SC is scheduled to hold oral arguments on their petition seeking to stop the preliminary investigation by the Office of the Ombudsman into the plunder complaint against Revilla.
He also insisted that his client never committed plunder in relation to the PDAF scam because no less than the whistleblowers, led by Benhur Luy, admitted that they had forged several PDAF documents for senators.
Enrile did not issue any statement.
The Ombudsman said the respondents conducted their work under modus operandi that took place over a number of years.
The senators were found to be “manifestly impartial in the selection of the Napoles NGOs and the conduit implementing agencies (IA), resulting in unwarranted benefit, preference or advantage to the NGOS.”
The NGOs, which turned out to be fake and implemented “ghost projects,” were also chosen without the required public bidding.
This is punishable by imprisonment of not less than six years and a month, perpetual disqualification from public office and confiscation or forfeiture of any prohibited interest or unexplained wealth.
A special panel based its conclusions on the paper trail arising from either the Special Allotment Release Order (Saro), or each IA/NGO tandem, if one Saro was split and coursed through different agencies, regardless of the number of projects.
On Monday, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales approved the recommendations of the special panel, which conducted the preliminary investigation of the separate complaints filed by the National Bureau of Investigation, lawyer Levito Baligod and the Field Investigation Office.
The panel cited the sworn statements of Luy and his co-witnesses Marina Sula and Merlina Sunas detailing the sequence of events, the 2007-2009 Commission on Audit report on the PDAF disbursement, and the reports of field verification with sworn statements of local government officials and purported beneficiaries of the supposed projects that turned out to be non-existent.
“Pieces of evidence either remained uncontroverted by mere denials or dovetailed with the affidavits of some respondents,” the executive summary of the Ombudsman read.
Other government employees and non-government organization officials are also to be charged with plunder.
Involved IAs include the National Agribusiness Corp. (Nabcor), National Livelihood Development Corp. (NLDC) and Technology Resource Center (TRC).
The NGOs involved are Agrikultura Para sa Magbubukid Foundation, Countrywide Agri and Rural Economic Development Foundation Inc., Agri and Economic Program for Farmers Foundation Inc., Masaganang Ani Para Sa Magsasaka Foundation Inc., People’s Organization for Progress and Development Foundation Inc. and Special Development Program for Farmer’s Foundation Inc.
Earlier on Tuesday, Sen. Teofisto Guingona 3rd, chairman of the Senate Committee on Accountability of Public Officers and Investigations (blue ribbon), announced to the media the supposed findings of the committee on the pork barrel scam probe.
In a draft committee report on its investigation of the scam, the panel recommended the filing of plunder, direct bribery, fraud and violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act against Enrile, Revilla and Estrada and their staff.
Based on the blue panel’s report that is yet to be signed and approved in plenary, Enrile designated Reyes, his former chief of staff, and his deputy chief of staff Jose Evangelista to act on his behalf.
“Under Enrile’s authority, the agents prepared and signed official PDAF documents and dealt with Napoles and her agents,” the draft report read.
It said Enrile received kickbacks of at least P363,275,000.
Estrada, the report said, authorized his secretary, Pauline Labayen, to act on his behalf including the signing of PDAF documents and dealing with Napoles and her employees.
Estrada, according to the report, received at least P375,750,000 in kickbacks.
The committee also gave weight to the testimony of potential witness Tuason that she brokered deals between Napoles and Estrada and personally delivered money from Napoles to the senator.
The unofficial committee report also made similar recommendation for Revilla and his “agent” Richard Cambe.
“Revilla and his agents did business with Napoles and received kickbacks of at least P326,000,000 for allowing her to access the PDAF,” the report stated.
Apart from the three senators, the committee also recommended the filing of plunder and other graft and corruption-related raps against Napoles.
Also included in the recommendation are some of her employees who were designated as presidents of the bogus NGOs responsible for entering into the PDAF-funded government contracts involved in this investigation, the report said.
Allan Javellana of Nabcor and Antonio Ortiz, former TRC director general, were also among those recommended to be indicted with plunder, direct bribery and violation of the government procurement reform act, among others.
The committee also recommended further investigation of former members of the House of Representatives namely Rizalina Seachon-Lanete and her agent Jose Sumalpong, Edgar Valdez, Rodolfo Plaza, Samuel Dangwa and Constantino Jaraula.
Members of the House of Representatives said the Ombudsman’s recommendation to file criminal charges against the three senators and several others is a vindication for the Senate blue ribbon panel.
“Through this recommendation, the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee has performed its role, to inquire, not in aid of grandstanding and reelection, but in aid of legislation,” House Deputy Majority Leader Sherwin Tugna said.
Rep. Oscar Rodriguez said the Senate inquiry was not wasted.
But for Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. the fight for justice and accountability is just getting started.
“The focus now is on the charges filed by the Ombudsman. It will still be a long process with the accused using all ways to delay or quash the charges,” Belmonte said.
With Llanesca T. Panti