THE Ombudsman’s resolution that found sufficient evidence to indict the persons implicated in the pork barrel scam is the first step in the “roadmap” leading to the arrest and prosecution of lawmakers and other personalities linked to the wrongful use of public funds.
“It is important that our people know and understand the processes in connection with the PDAF [Priority Development Assistance Fund] case. Here is a roadmap of the next steps following the release of the Ombudsman’s resolution yesterday [Tuesday]: One, under the law, each and every one of the respondents is given five days from receipt of the Ombudsman’s resolution to file a Motion for Reconsideration; two, the Ombudsman will evaluate and resolve such motions up to a maximum of 60 days; three, the Ombudsman will file the information with the Sandiganbayan; four, the case will then be raffled off to one of the five divisions of the Sandigandayan [each division has three justices]; [and]upon evaluation of the information and the records of the case, the court will issue warrants of arrest,” the Palace official said.
He added that the issuance of the arrest warrants ensures that the court acquires jurisdiction over the person of the accused.
“[Then] trial will commence,” Coloma said.
When asked if the inclusion of the issuance of warrants in the same “roadmap” means the respondents in the PDAF scam case would be arrested anytime soon, the official replied that it would be up to the judiciary.
“What is important is our understanding of the process. I made it clear that all these steps are within the scope of the Ombudsman, the court and the Sandiganbayan. The participation of the executive branch is through the prosecutors of the Department of Justice, and if [need]be, the Office of the Solicitor General,” Coloma explained.
However, the “roadmap” notably does not include the possibility of dismissal or acquittal, something that could indicate the Palace’s strong faith in the evidence against those accused.
When asked if the Palace is certain that the respondents will be arrested, Coloma remarked: “Upon evaluation of the information and the records of the case, the court will issue warrants of arrest.”
“That statement did not come from me. That is according to the law,” he pointed out.
“I will not also be judge. Let’s follow the law.”
On Tuesday, the Ombudsman said it found sufficient evidence to indict Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. and Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada and Janet Lim Napoles, the alleged mastermind of the multibillion pork barrel scam.
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 recommended the filing of plunder charges against the senators and the other personalities 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, a non-bailable offense, is punishable under Republic Act (RA) 7080 by reclusion perpetua and forfeiture of the ill-gotten wealth.
Meanwhile, Coloma maintained that Malacanang and President Benigno Aquino 3rd still abide by the principle of “letting the evidence direct the course of the inquiry.”
He belied allegations that the filing of the Ombudsman resolution was meant only to pin down members of the opposition.
“Everything the Department of Justice, the NBI [National Bureau of Investigation] have done pertains to the gathering of evidence. It is within their mandate and like I stated yesterday [Tuesday], the separate findings of the NBI and the field investigation office of the Office of the Ombudsman were the grounds for the promulgation of the resolution of this case,” the Palace official said.
But Coloma’s presentation of the supposed roadmap failed to dispel speculation that the timing of the issuance of the resolution and the announcement of the blue ribbon panel report were the handiwork of Malacanang. He denied this vehemently.
“What is important is the principle we follow about respect for the independence of a separate office of the Ombudsman and the [judiciary]as provided by law. The executive [branch]cannot intervene in [their]powers. It is clearly defined by law,” he stressed.
Also on Wednesday, Vice President Jejomar Binay cautioned government agencies not to be selective in filing charges against those who are involved in the pork barrel scam and other irregularities.
According to Binay, plunder charges should also be filed against officials linked to irregularities even if they are aligned with the administration.
“If it stops with the filing of the plunder cases against three senators who are not political allies and confines itself to the [Janet] Napoles case, it will create the impression of being selective, and that political partisanship—not justice—is the sole motivation behind these charges,” he said in a statement.
The Vice President added that the decision of the Ombudsman to file plunder charges against Enrile, Estrada and Revilla is a test of the “fairness and trustworthiness” of the country’s legal system.
Enrile and Estrada are Binay’s political allies.
Binay expressed confidence that the senators will be accorded their right to a fair trial.
He said he is also hopeful that criminal complaints will also be filed against other officials mentioned in a Commission on Audit (COA) report released last year.
“We hope that the concerned government agencies will act on these findings with the same determination and focus displayed in the Napoles case. The public would want no less than full accountability from its public officials. The rule of law must prevail regardless of stature or political affiliations,” the Vice President added.
Among those who were mentioned in the COA report was former Customs chief Rufino Rozzano “Ruffy” Biazon, an administration ally. The Ombudsman is yet to act on plunder complaints filed against him.
Catholic bishops echoed Binay’s call, saying senators and congressmen who are allies of President Benigno Aquino 3rd should not be spared.
Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes lauded the quick action taken by the Ombudsman on the pork barrel case.
“I’m very glad that finally action is taken. I pray that justice is quickly achieved,” Bastes said.
Marbel Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez agreed with Bastes.
“It was a very good [decision]. It takes time to prepare strong cases. May justice reign [and]let us pray justice may triumph,” he said.
Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo said those accused of wrongdoing will have the chance to prove their innocence before the court.
Meanwhile, Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles said the Ombudsman should be fair.
“The Ombudsman should not be selective. [There are] many administration senators and congressmen [who]are equally guilty. They too must be investigated and charged,” he said.
Cubao (Quezon City) Bishop Honesto Ongtioco said the Ombudsman, by going after all officials and personalities involved in the anomaly, will prove that no one is above the law.
With Robertzon F. Ramirez and Ritchie A. Horario