LAWMAKERS implicated in the controversy involving the alleged misuse of their priority development assistance fund (PDAF) said on Wednesday they are ready to face whatever legal action the Department of Justice will take.
Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile, whose PDAF or pork barrel was reportedly given to a fake organization, welcomed Justice Secretary Leila De Lima’s pronouncement that her department is readying charges against lawmakers.
“My records are complete,” Enrile said when asked if he is bothered with the DOJ’s planned filing of charges.
Enrile has said before he is willing to submit to a full investigation and even called on the Commission on Audit (COA) to release the full report of its Special Audit of the PDAF to help the DOJ and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in their probe.
The scam was allegedly masterminded by businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles.
According to reports, Enrile allocated a total of P641.65 million from 2006 to 2009 for various ghost projects channeled to bogus nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) formed by Napoles.
But Enrile denied ever knowing Napoles, or having any personal or business transactions with her or her company.
He also denied receiving any bribe or any financial benefit from the use of his PDAF.
Sen. Gregorio Honasan said he will welcome any move of the DOJ as long as due process and the rule of law are observed.
“This serialized, sustained trial by publicity before investigations by the NBI and Ombudsman has to stop by enforcing the appropriate regulatory laws,” Honasan told reporters.
Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. declined to comment on the issue, preferring to wait for the results of the DOJ investigation.
“I cannot react to nothing. They [DOJ] have to say something, show something,” Marcos said.
Sen. Jinggoy Estrada said he was never contacted by the NBI regarding an investigation.
“I supposed they [NBI] should hear both sides,” Estrada said, adding that he is open to any investigation and he sees it as a chance to clear his name.
Marcos said Malacañang may have a hand in the issue because all those being implicated in the controversy are lawmakers who are perceived to be in the opposition.
He said there are instances that strengthen his suspicion that the DOJ probe is politically motivated.
He said De Lima hastily cleared Senators Loren Legarda, Aquilino Pimentel 3rd and Antonio Trillanes 4th of involvement in the scandal.
Enrile on the other hand believes that President Benigno Aquino 3rd has nothing to do with it.
“I don’t think the President has anything to do with this,” he said.
Apart from Enrile, Honasan, Estrada and Marcos, Senators Ramon Revilla Jr. and Lito Lapid were also dragged into the controversy.
Parliamentary immunity won’t cover the lawmakers who will be charged in connection with the P10 billion Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scandal, a party-list lawmaker said on Wednesday.
1-BAP Rep. Silvestre Bello, a former Justice secretary, said parliamentary immunity “can only be invoked if the penalty for the crime is prision correcional or six years and below. In this [PDAF] case, this is plunder so they will not be covered.”
Parliamentary immunity protects legislators from being charged in court.
A public official can be charged with plunder if he acquires ill-gotten wealth of at least P50 million.
Plunder is a non-bailable offense.
“We could see each other in the Veterans Hospital,” Bello added in jest, referring to former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who has been under hospital detention in Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City since February 2012 on plunder charges.
Bello, who was in the Arroyo Cabinet, is now allied with the United Nationalist Alliance led by staunch Arroyo critic, Vice President Jejomar Binay.
Two incumbent congressmen linked to the PDAF scandal are unfazed by the possibility of being charged with plunder.
Representatives Isidro Ungab of Davao City and Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro said they have documents to prove their innocence.
“My conscience is clear. Since I kept the records of all my projects, I don’t have problems. I can compare my records with their records. When NBI asks for proof, I am willing to give mine. I don’t know her [Napoles],” Ungab told reporters.
”When you’re telling the truth, why would you fear anything? My family knows me well,” he added.
The Davao City lawmaker said he made sure that the beneficiaries of his PDAF are real and state-accredited.
“I’m very sure that they are all accredited by the Department of Agriculture because you cannot implement a project if they are not accredited. All my PDAF transactions were implemented. I can face my constituents and show them the projects for them,” Ungab said.
Rodriguez denied any connection with Napoles and maintained that it was the state-run Technical and Livelihood Center which was remiss in granting P3 million of his PDAF to what turned out to be bogus organizations.
“My P3 million was given to the Technical and Livelihood Center which for the past 30 years has been engaged in livelihood programs. We did not know that it went to the fake NGOs,” Rodriguez said.
He insisted that it was only in October 2012 that he learned from COA that his signatures and the signatures of his PDAF beneficiaries were forged by the NGOs chosen by the implementing agency where he entrusted his PDAF.
At least 23 lawmakers are implicated in the alleged irregularity but only four of them are incumbents—Ungab, Rodriguez, Representatives Victor Ortega of La Union and Conrado Estrella 3rd of Abono party-list.