Ombudsman to study NBI report on 'pork' scam
MANILA, Philippines - The Office of the Ombudsman has formed three teams with 15 members each to examine the voluminous data and other information gathered by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in its probe into the pork barrel scam.
This was revealed by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales yesterday on the sidelines of an integrity lecture organized by her office.
The NBI is set to release a report containing its findings next week.
“The Office of the Ombudsman will analyze and will assess this (NBI) report. We will do it vis-a-vis our own data gathering investigation report,” Morales said. She said she expects the report to be “exhaustive.”
Morales said the teams’ “varied tasks” would include analysis of data as well as validation of information gathered by the NBI.
A team would also handle the writing of recommendations based on the analysis of the NBI report.
Morales said people might be called for clarification if the complaint is subjected to preliminary investigation.
She said main whistle-blower Benhur Luy had already given his statement to her office, which, together with the Department of Justice and several other government agencies, is engaged in a more comprehensive investigation into the pork barrel scam.
But Luy may be invited again in a preliminary investigation if necessary, she said.
She said no deadline has been set for the completion of the investigation.
“It’s going to be a very exhaustive fact-finding,” Morales said. “We’re not aware yet of the magnitude of the project and it’s difficult to give a timeline.”
Earlier, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said plunder charges would be filed next week against alleged pork scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles and some politicians.
De Lima also said the chances of Napoles becoming a state witness were slim, considering the amount of evidence and testimony gathered against her.
She voiced her observation during the Senate Blue Ribbon committee hearing on the pork barrel scam on Thursday.
While the prospect of Napoles being tapped as state witness is “always within the realm of possibility,” the issue is not yet being seriously discussed, she said.
“Insofar as DOJ and NBI are concerned, there are no discussions yet,” De Lima said in response to a question raised by Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano.
Some quarters have suggested that making Napoles a state witness may prod her into revealing more and squealing on more higher officials.
But in the same hearing, Luy insisted Napoles was the mastermind of the scam and rejected proposals that she be made a state witness.
Cayetano noted the fact that the DOJ and NBI would be filing cases on Monday should indicate that they have a strong case against Napoles and the others.
“I assume that you will be consistent with your track record and you would not file the case if you think it will be thrown out by the court,” Cayetano said addressing De Lima.
“If there are testimonies of the other people involved in the issue, then the testimony or cooperation of Ms. Napoles is no longer necessary.”
Even as the DOJ was preparing to file plunder charges against Napoles and some of her politician cohorts next week, a civic organization called Citizens Crime Watch (CCW) filed its own case with the Office of the Ombudsman yesterday.
Respondents in the case, aside from Napoles, were Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon Revilla Jr. Jinggoy Estrada, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., and Gregorio Honasan as well as 23 congressmen.
CCW was represented by founding chairman Jose Malvar Villegas Jr. and secretary-general Carlo Batalla.
In filing the case, CCW said the politicians named in the complaint “caused undue injury not only to the government but to the Filipino people who had elected them and had given them mandate to serve the public by betraying the people’s trust and pocketing billions of pesos in taxpayers’ money.”
The group also sought preventive suspension for the respondents “for the entire duration of the investigation.”
Manila Rep. Amado Bagatsing, one of those named in the complaint, said he welcomed the filing of the case.
“I’m okay with that because this would be the venue for me to clear my name,” Bagatsing told The STAR.
“I don’t know why I’m included because I’m just at the tail-end of this list with only P1 million allegedly put into the NGO of Napoles. Is P1 million – that I had nothing to do with – plunder?” he said.
He also said he had never done business with Napoles.
He said based on what he saw on television, his signature was forged.
“I don’t know why I’m included. This seems to be malicious and for character assassination,” he said.
Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. said the government should get to the bottom of the pork barrel scam even if it would mean hurting political allies.
“Government must now see to it that appropriate charges are filed as soon as possible against all persons involved in the alleged pork barrel scam, including lawmakers,” Barzaga, a former prosecutor, said.
“The people are now waiting for charges to be lodged not only against Janet Lim-Napoles but against congressmen and senators involved in the scandal,” he said.
Barzaga also said the temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by the Supreme Court on PDAF releases for this year “is unlimited as to its duration” unless lifted by the high court.
He said there is a great possibility that no decision would be rendered by the SC on the merits of the petition for the abolition of PDAF at the end of the year.
Meanwhile, Makati Regional Trial Court Judge Elmo Alameda ruled there is basis for the filing of serious illegal detention case against Napoles and her brother Reynald Lim. The case was filed by Luy.
DENR clears Loren
At the Senate, Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon Paje said there was no record of Sen. Loren Legarda’s PDAF ending up in Philippine Forest Corp. (Philforest).
“On the record, I have seen the list and there is no Sen. Loren Legarda. There is no Sen. Loren Legarda in the list,” Paje told the Senate appropriations committee at a hearing on the DENR budget.
The list he was referring to contained the names of lawmakers with PDAF allocation for Philforest.
In the same hearing, Legarda manifested that none of her PDAF went to Philforest.
Commission on Audit Chairman Grace Pulido-Tan said at a recent Senate Blue Ribbon committee hearing on the pork barrel scam that while Legarda and Marcos were not mentioned in the agency’s special audit report on PDAF for 2007 to 2009, their names were in the audit report of Philforest.
“I’m not prejudging any PDAF issue on the Philforest but all I can say is it’s the first time I heard about it when it was in the papers,” Legarda said.
Amid the raging controversy over embezzlement of billions in pork barrel funds, OFW Family party-list Rep. Roy Señeres said Congress should not be considered the “epicenter of corruption” despite public perception.
In a privilege speech Wednesday night, Señeres said the annual PDAF of P25 billion is less than three percent of the estimated P500 billion the country loses to corruption every year, mostly in the executive branch.
He said the PDAF is just one percent of the proposed P2.268-trillion national budget for 2014 and the bulk of it is poured into effective projects for constituents.
“Assuming that the allegations of irregularities are true, it only, may I repeat, constitutes three percent of the amount being pompously announced, time and again, by the World Bank,” he said.
He was referring to the World Bank assertion that 30 percent of the annual national budget goes to corruption. He said he is also harboring doubts on the World Bank’s estimates.
“Notwithstanding the fact that, comparatively speaking, ours is just a minuscule amount when we talk of the scale of corruption in the country, we, especially in the House of Representatives, heeded the call to eradicate the PDAF,” Señeres said.
He also urged his colleagues to continue listening to public opinion, saying Congress cannot just ignore the developments unfolding. – With Paolo Romero, Raymund Catindig, Michelle Zoleta, Marvin Sy, Mike Frialde, Rhodina Villanueva