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Noy wants exhaustive probe on pork scam

MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino gave clear instructions to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima that he wanted an exhaustive investigation on the alleged P10-billion pork barrel fund scam, a Palace official said yesterday.

“The instruction, I believe, given to Secretary De Lima is to ensure that it is exhaustively investigated,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.

De Lima supervises the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), which is under the Department of Justice (DOJ).

The DOJ chief had assured “all parties concerned that this will be an exhaustive, impartial, and fair investigation.”

In behalf of the government, Lacierda vowed to extend assistance to concerned agencies whenever needed, particularly because the NBI has started investigating the allegations of a scandal that spanned 10 years.

“We will investigate the allegations. Of course, if there is evidence, then we will have to study the evidence. If the cooperation of any government official or employee is needed, then we will give it to them,” he said.

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Lacierda, however, could not confirm whether Aquino indeed received the letter businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles reportedly sent him since the Office of the President receives thousands of letters.

Napoles, a stockbroker and owner of JLN Corp., has been accused by her distant relative and former employee Benhur Luy – the whistleblower in the scandal – as the brains behind the racket allegedly involving billions of pesos from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel of several senators and congressmen.

The businesswoman has been linked to the alleged diversion of pork barrel funds of several lawmakers into dummy non-government organizations (NGOs), purportedly for ghost projects worth over P10 billion.

She complained in her April 17 letter to Aquino the alleged attempt of her former personal assistant Luy – now a purported star witness in the scandal – to extort at least P300 million from her.

“It’s not a big thing that somebody writes to the Office of the President. It’s a normal process where a lot of people, citizens, would write letters to government and this is not a special issue,” he explained.

In the two-page letter of Napoles, she related the demand of Luy – through his lawyer Levito Baligod – to pay the amount, apart from several other demands, in exchange for dropping the illegal detention case against the businesswoman.

“On March 27 (2013), I met Atty. Baligod and this time he demanded a higher amount (P250 million to P300 million), excluding their other demands such as issuance of Canadian visas for all of the Luy family members, including himself (Benhur),” she said.

This was made aside from the initial P38 million they allegedly tried to extort from her.

There was also the demand for $1.5 million “pocket money” and the “opening of a legitimate pharmaceutical business to be given to Luy’s youngest sister who will be left behind in the Philippines.”

“We reiterate that the charges against us are all false, fabricated and a mere product of lies, perpetrated by our business competitors, with the ulterior purpose of besmirching our reputation and destroying our name,” a portion of the letter read.

Napoles sought Aquino’s help particularly because some 15 NBI agents, led by Rolando Argabioso and Rodante Berou, raided last March 22 their condominium unit in Pacific Plaza towers in Bonifacio Global City without any warrant.

Napoles hits whistleblower

In a statement issued yesterday, Napoles assailed the credibility of whistleblower Luy, whom she claimed was a self-confessed drug addict.

She said Luy “by his own admission is a habitual user of the illegal drug ecstacy” and also has “gender confusion and sexual indiscretions.”

In a press conference in Manila, Napoles’ lawyer and spokesman Bruce Rivera said Luy had posted a photograph of ecstacy tablets on his social media network account and even invited friends to “party” – meaning take the illegal drugs with him.

He claimed that Luy’s alleged drug addiction and gender orientation would raise questions on his credibility as a witness.

Napoles confirmed she wrote a letter to President Aquino last April about the attempt of Luy’s camp through lawyer Baligod to extort P300 million from her.

“It is clear that the extortion and blackmail are the motive behind the series of articles, which appeared in (a newspaper) and was no doubt fed by unidentified NBI agents who are wittingly being used by Atty. Baligod and the Luy family for their own selfish motives,” Napoles claimed.

Napoles also alleged that Luy stole P300,000 from her and used her firm in securing P5.5 million in loans without her approval.

Rivera said the NBI and De Lima were just “misled” into rescuing Luy and taking him into custody during a “fake rescue” last March at the condominium unit of Napoles’ brother Reynald Lim.

He said this was pointed out in the Department of Justice (DOJ) resolution dismissing the serious illegal detention charges filed by parents of Luy against Napoles and Lim.

With the NBI standing by Luy despite the DOJ resolution, Rivera believes the bureau might not be the best agency to investigate the alleged pork barrel scam.

He said his client is willing to face the probe “but at the proper forum,” citing the Office of the Ombudsman and the Senate as more appropriate venues.

Napoles has vehemently denied the charges that she facilitated the scheme by putting up fake NGOs.

Rivera also pointed out there are no documentary records or evidence to support the statements of Luy, as he hinted they would come up soon with witnesses to disprove the charges.

Napoles, her lawyer added, had no idea why five senators and 23 members of the House of Representatives were dragged into the controversy.

Now that the feud with Luy has been blown out of proportion – even triggering political angles – Napoles admitted she’s scared for her life.

“I now fear for the security of myself and my family since Benhur has divulged in public our known residential address as well as location of our offices. Several family-owned vehicles with plate numbers were also exposed by Benhur and we now fear that kidnappers would now be targeting us, thinking that the amount of money being attributed to us is true,” she lamented.

Rivera refused to say where Napoles is currently staying, citing security concerns. But he insisted that his client was not in hiding and does not intend to leave the country.

Ombudsman probe

Administration lawmakers backed the move of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales to create a special panel to investigate the pork barrel scam. Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption (CIBAC) party-list Rep. Sherwin Tugna said the fact-finding committee from the Office of the Ombudsman has more expertise in investigating such cases compared to the DOJ.

Marikina City Rep. Romero Quimbo expressed strong support for the move.

Meanwhile, militant lawmakers filed a bill seeking to abolish the pork barrel of congressmen and senators even as they called on the DOJ to ensure there would be no sacred cows in its investigation.

House Bill 1535 was filed by Reps. Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate (Bayan Muna), Antonio Tinio (ACT Teachers); Luzviminda Ilagan and Emmerenciana de Jesus (Gabriela), Fernando Hicap (AnakPawis), and Terry Ridon (Kabataan).

The bill shall prohibit the President from providing a budgetary item or including in the proposed budget submitted to Congress every fiscal year lump sum allocations to the PDAF and other lump sum discretionary amounts.

Senators Francis Escudero and Vicente Sotto III supported calls for the abolition of the pork barrel funds in light of allegations of its misuse over the years.

Escudero said that he has no problem with having no PDAF at his disposal since he experienced this during the Arroyo administration.

“I’m used to not having pork during the time of GMA. I can live without it,” Escudero said.

However, if the proposals to abolish do not materialize, then he said that stricter guidelines and monitoring on its disbursement and utilization must be imposed by the appropriate government agencies.

Escudero has also filed a resolution calling for an inquiry into the alleged P10-billion PDAF scam involving Napoles and several NGOs.

Sotto, for his part, said that he personally has no problem with the abolition of the PDAF.

He said that the volume of requests for funding that his office receives from the various cities and municipalities across the country every year is so high that finding ways to accommodate them all has become a problem for him.

“The only concern is the problem that will arise when Congress, in the absence of a legitimate PDAF, will start inserting their projects in the GAA (General Appropriations Act). That will be difficult to monitor and will surely be messy,” Sotto said.

Sen. Franklin Drilon has also admitted that abolishing the PDAF would be difficult, especially with the opposition he expects from members of the House of Representatives.

The Commission on Audit (COA) still refused to issue any statement on the alleged pork barrel fund anomalies involving senators and congressmen.

Commissioner Heidi Mendoza, as officer-in-charge, has yet to respond to a formal inquiry on the status of any audit being conducted with regard to the PDAF of certain lawmakers.

COA chaiperson Ma. Grace Pulido-Tan, who is on leave and could not be reached for comment, earlier told The STAR that an audit of Senate financial records was being conducted following reports of the alleged misuse of Senate funds after former Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile gave away additional funds to fellow senators last Christmas.

Two incumbent mayors and a former mayor of Bataan denied yesterday any involvement in the pork barrel scam.

Balanga City Mayor Jose Enrique Garcia III said that there was no fund that came from the PDAF to finance any agricultural project for farmers in his area. With Edu Punay, Marvin Sy, Paolo Romero, Michael Punongbayan, Raffy Viray, Michelle Zoleta

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