'Lawmakers colluded with Napoles'
MANILA - The fact-finding probe of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has pointed to what appeared to be a collusion between Janet Lim-Napoles and several lawmakers in skimming billions of pesos in pork barrel funds.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima confirmed yesterday that the NBI has found evidence to file plunder charges against Napoles and her alleged cohorts, including several lawmakers and officials in the executive branch.
“The inclusion of lawmakers in the case to be filed with the (Office of the) Ombudsman is among the recommendations of the NBI team,” De Lima said in an interview.
She said that in a plunder case, participation of public officials is a necessary element.
“Plunder is the target, and it cannot involve just a private individual. There should be public officers. That’s one of the elements of plunder,” De Lima explained.
“Whether or not there are private individuals who are co-conspirators or co-principals, a private individual can be charged with plunder. But it cannot be by his or her lone self,” she added.
De Lima said the NBI would file criminal charges apart from plunder raps.
"That's what we're finalizing now. As I said, plunder has several elements like the amount involved should be at least P50 million. So for cases with amount below that threshold, there will be other charges," she said.
Charges like malversation of public funds, graft and falsification of public documents have earlier cropped up as possible cases to be filed against those found involved in the scam.
De Lima, however, would not reveal how many would be charged and when the case would be filed.
"We don't want to give specifics... because we might be questioned if we don't meet those targets," she said.
But one thing sure, according to De Lima, is that there is no present need for Napoles' testimony to initiate the preliminary investigation on the charges.
"I am not saying that these are very solid cases that can already convict anyone beyond reasonable doubt at this point. But of course we are building a strong case, that is why it is talking a little time. Our target is to convince the ombudsman that when we refer the cases to them, it is already ripe for preliminary investigation," she said.
Earlier, De Lima said she has not closed the door on the possibility of Napoles turning state witness in the next cases to be investigated by the Inter-Agency Anti-Graft and Corruption Council.
Meanwhile, Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee, yesterday said senators who got dragged in the pork barrel controversy cannot be compelled to appear before the Senate inquiry on the issue.
“It’s up to them. If they do not want to join (the investigation), we cannot force them. They have the right not to join. But whatever happens, the investigation must go on,” Guingona told radio dzBB.
He said while some senators have declined to participate in the inquiry, others have expressed willingness to do so.
Senators tagged in the scam, however, will be given the chance to present their side so these could be reflected in the committee report.
“At some point in the future, when we reach that point wherein we need to ask them questions, we will ask them if they wish to make a statement,” Guingona said.
Among those who have announced that they would skip the inquiry were Senators Ramon Revilla Jr. and Gringo Honasan.
Guingona said members of the House of Representatives who are being linked to the pork scam are welcome to attend the hearing.
“If they are there, they are welcome and we will listen to them in the spirit of fairness to everybody,” he said.
Guingona, however, said no member of the House has expressed intent to testify before the committee.
During last week’s Senate hearing on the pork issue, it was revealed that some lawmakers had signed liquidation reports for projects funded by pork barrel, officially known as Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
Resource persons said state agencies including the Zamboanga del Norte Rubber Estate Corp. (ZREC) and National Agribusiness Corp. (NABCOR) had received the pork barrel, which were then channeled to non-government organizations (NGOs) linked to Napoles, the alleged brains behind the multibillion-peso scam.
Agriculture Assistant Secretary Salvador Salacup, former head of ZREC and Allan Javellana, former president of NABCOR, said the NGOs were the ones who implemented the projects.
They confirmed the Commission on Audit’s statement that the state-run firms had received letters from lawmakers directing the transfer of their pork barrel to specific NGOs. The letters were issued either by the lawmakers themselves or their authorized representatives.
Salacup claimed that Sen. Jinggoy Estrada assigned a certain Mr. Dinglasan as his authorized representative while Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile was represented by a certain Mr. Evangelista.
Sen. Revilla, APEC party-list Rep. Edgar Valdez and Buhay party-list Rep. Rene Velarde Jr. reportedly signed the documents themselves.
The letters were not questioned by the state agencies since these contained the necessary documents. Salacup noted that the NGOs are registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission and had the necessary documents from the Bureau of Internal Revenue.
Salacup and Javellana stressed that the NGOs were picked based on the endorsements from legislators.
Guingona said it has been established that the NGOs that received the fund were fake. He, however, said they have yet to determine whether the funds were returned to the lawmakers.
Guingona said they would soon ask the whistle-blowers to testify but stressed that they should first have affidavits.
“We are coordinating with the Department of Justice. I understand the affidavits of the whistle-blowers are still being completed,” he said.
Guingona, however, said he cannot make any conclusions until the hearings are finished. – With Alexis Romero