Belmonte: 'Pork' probe won't spare PNoy allies
MANILA, Philippines - The pork barrel scam investigation being conducted by the Department of Justice (DOJ) will not spare administration allies, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said Monday.
Belmonte said the fear of opposition Sen. Jinggoy Estrada that President Aquino’s supporters who have been linked to the scam might be treated as sacred cows is premature.
“Justice Secretary (Leila) de Lima has made statements several times that there will be a second and even a third wave of filing (of charges). It is premature for him to even assume that allies of the President would be spared,” he said.
“The President has made a strong position that those who have been implicated, regardless of political affiliation, would be made to answer and be held accountable for their actions,” he added.
Estrada and Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr. are reportedly planning to deliver privilege speeches this week to claim that the DOJ is targeting opposition senators in its pork barrel scam investigation.
Estrada is expected to name some of his own Senate colleagues and possibly some congressmen who were mentioned in the special Commission on Audit (COA) report on the use of Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocations from 2007 to 2009, but were not included in the first batch of criminal charges filed with the Office of the Ombudsman last week.
Charged with plunder were Estrada, Revilla and Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile.
According to the complaint, the three received P581 million in kickbacks from bogus non-government organizations (NGOs) associated with alleged pork barrel scam brains Janet Lim-Napoles.
Charged with them was Napoles.
The senators’ chiefs of staff are also facing criminal cases for allegedly receiving commissions and facilitating the flow of funds to the Napoles NGOs.
Belmonte said he would give senators and members of the House of Representatives mentioned in the COA report as having given funds to NGOs only once or twice the benefit of good faith.
They could claim that they did not know the questionable activities of the NGOs or that they were victimized, he said.
But if they repeatedly gave their funds to bogus foundations, it would be hard for these lawmakers to claim good faith, he said.
“I’m really concerned about people who repeatedly do it because they cannot claim good faith. One of the persons involved put virtually all of his disposable PDAF on it. If they do it repeatedly, you come to a different conclusion,” he said.
Other House leaders have urged Estrada and Revilla to just prepare to defend themselves before the Ombudsman instead of resorting to mud throwing.
As this developed, the DOJ has passed to the Office of the Ombudsman the decision on whether to allow whistle-blowers in the pork barrel scam to appear before the Senate Blue Ribbon committee hearing today.
“I am inclined to reserve my consent to the appearance of all the whistle-blowers in the next scheduled hearing of the committee, in deference to the primary role the ombudsman now plays on the matter of publicizing the testimonies of the whistle-blowers in a public hearing after the complaints have already been filed with her office,” De Lima said in a two-page letter to committee chairman Sen. Teofisto Guingona III.
De Lima said the Ombudsman should decide whether “a public exposition of the testimonies of all the whistle-blowers would be detrimental to a just and fair evaluation of the evidence before it.”
She said the ombudsman has already assumed jurisdiction over the plunder cases filed against 38 individuals, including three senators.
Thus, she said anything related to the complaints filed against the accused is within the power and authority of the ombudsman, including the release of information gathered from the evidence submitted.
However, De Lima assured the committee that the DOJ would provide “support and assistance” to the Senate investigation to the extent of their mandate and authority.
Senate President Franklin Drilon also tossed to the ombudsman the issue whether the Senate should issue a subpoena to force the appearance of Napoles on Thursday.
Drilon declined to sign the subpoena for Napoles and referred the issue to Senate secretary Oscar Yabes, who in turn recommended that the Office of the Senate President request comment from the ombudsman.
“We sought the advice of the ombudsman given the fact that under their law, publicity is to be avoided or prohibited where, in her judgment, it can prejudice the case,“ he said.
When asked if the Senate had historically subpoenaed resource persons with complaints before the ombudsman, Drilon said “the law is there and the rules are there.”
“I don’t express my opinion. She is supreme in interpreting her Charter, the Ombudsman Law,” he added, reiterating that the ombudsman has primary jurisdiction over Napoles.
Drilon and his wife, Mila, were shown in photographs partying with Napoles and her husband at a mausoleum in Heritage Park. Reports also revealed that Napoles gave the senator an expensive sign pen but he denied this.
Earlier in the day, the Blue Ribbon committee forwarded to Drilon’s office a copy of the draft subpoena addressed to PNP-SAF commander Carmelo Valmoria.
“The appearance of Ms. Napoles in the Blue Ribbon hearing is important to our investigation as the Filipinos are looking for answers that may shed light to some issues at hand,” Guingona said.
The Senate Blue Ribbon committee will resume its hearing today.
Meanwhile, Sen. Bam Aquino believes that Napoles should be called to the Senate to reveal what she knows about the pork barrel scam. – With Edu Punay, Christina Mendez