MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Justice (DOJ) is set to expand its investigation on the pork barrel scam following the release of the Commission on Audit (COA) report on alleged misuse of over P6 billion in controversial funds.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima revealed this yesterday as she proposed for either a joint or parallel probe of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and Office of the Ombudsman into the scam where some 200 lawmakers were linked by the COA.
“With the release of such COA report, NBI’s probe will now be full blown. Having said that, NBI remains open to a joint probe with both Ombudsman and COA, or at least a parallel, coordinated probe with both offices, which anyway is being undertaken now de facto,” she said.
COA’s report covered only the period of 2007 to 2009. Witnesses of the NBI, however, claimed the racket has been perpetrated by businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles for the past 10 years.
De Lima admitted COA’s findings covered “a much wider web of anomalies surrounding the pork barrel releases,” which calls for expansion of the NBI probe.
She said the NBI would take one step at a time in the probe.
“For now, the focus is on Napoles and Napoles-related transactions and NGOs, as well as the lawmakers, executive officials and personnel and other individuals implicated by the whistleblowers,” De Lima explained.
De Lima believes the COA report will support the case against Napoles and several lawmakers who have been found liable by the NBI.
She revealed it “supports and enhances NBI’s findings thus far.”
“Certainly, the COA report will be utilized as a major reference for the needed evidentiary support to buttress and complete NBI’s ongoing probe. Documents in COA’s possession (such as) lawmakers’ letters designating implementing agencies and NGOs, requests for release of funds and SAROs (special allotment release order), will corroborate and strengthen the whistleblowers’ statements and NBI’s own documentary evidence,” she said.
The DOJ investigation on the issue is currently in its fact-finding stage at the NBI. De Lima said it would soon start the preliminary investigation once the NBI files formal charges against Napoles and several lawmakers involved “in the next few days.”
Senate President Franklin Drilon, on the other hand, has called on COA, the Office of the Ombudsman, and the DOJ to coordinate closely in its probe on pork barrel issue to ensure the filing of charges against erring lawmakers and private individuals involved.
Drilon said the COA audit report provided the evidence that the DOJ and the Ombudsman will have to carefully study in order to determine if they warrant the filing of charges.
“Because of the audit report, we are all under cloud of doubt. Even if our names were not in the report, the people have the tendency to generalize and suspect us to be doing illegal in the use of our pork barrel,” Drilon said.
“I call on government investigating bodies to speed up the probe into this pork barrel scam and ensure as well the speedy judicial process,” he added.
Drilon said the government must show resolve in addressing the issue so that the public will realize that appropriate and swift actions are taken to get to the bottom of the controversy.
In the end, Drilon said the government must be able to observe and apply justice and the rule of law.
He said the resolution of the pork barrel scam would help restore the people’s trust in the justice system.
“We need to finish the investigation so that those who are allegedly involved will be presented the opportunities to defend themselves and clear their names before an impartial and credible investigative body and appropriate judicial forum,” he added.
Hard time locating
In its report released last Friday, the COA bared at least 12 senators and around 180 congressmen, through the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), funneled P6.156 billion of Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to 82 questionable NGOs from 2007 to 2009.
It said 10 of the dubious NGOs had links to Napoles, while six had links to sponsoring lawmakers through relatives.
There were only 12 senators linked to the controversy, but the 135-page COA report mentioned 15.
This developed as Napoles and her brother Reynald Lim have remained elusive to authorities four days after a Makati City regional trial court ordered their arrest.
The siblings were charged for alleged serious illegal detention of scam whistleblower Benhur Luy from December last year until he was taken into custody by the NBI last March.
De Lima yesterday warned of criminal charges against those who would aid Napoles and her brother in hiding from authorities.
“Those who will be found coddling Janet Napoles and Reynald Lim will also face the long arm of justice. They will face possible obstruction of justice charges,” she warned.
Despite a freeze on her 107 bank accounts, cancellation of passport and a countrywide manhunt by the NBI, Napoles and Lim have remained at large.
De Lima admitted authorities are having a hard time locating the siblings after a quick search in Napoles’ 28 known addresses and an alert on her 30 vehicles.
Asked if they already received information on politicians involved in the scam possibly aiding Napoles, De Lima replied they have not.
The photos of Napoles and Lim have already been posted in airports and tollgates in expressways.
The public has also been urged to help in the hunt as De Lima said citizens’ arrest could be applied in this case.
Malacañang yesterday assured there would be no VIP treatment on Napoles and her brother once they are captured.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said Napoles and her brother would be treated the same as others facing criminal charges.
“Certainly. We treat them the same way,” Valte said in response to queries if there will be VIP treatment for Napoles, in light of reports of her extensive connections in high places of government.
De Lima also said she is unfazed by reported threats to her life and that of NBI Director Nonnatus Rojas reportedly in connection to the probe.
“We’re still validating that. In any case, such reported assassination plot, if true, cannot and will not deter us from doing our job,” she said.
Levi Baligod, the lawyer of witness Luy, had revealed Friday a plot to assassinate De Lima, Rojas, and his client.
Baligod claimed two groups have been recruited to kill the three, with one of the groups led by a former Marine as the hit man and another composed of a five-man team from Basilan.
According to Baligod, the contract price was P25 million.
“On the contrary, it can only embolden us to finish thru the ongoing probe to its logical conclusion, i.e., the filing of charges,” De Lima said.
On the other hand, Pasig City assistant city prosecutor Rey Camilo Dumlao recommended the filing of “qualified theft” charges against Luy.
This was based on the complaint Napoles filed against Luy in connection with the P300,000 that he allegedly misappropriated and the total P5.5-million loan he separately obtained in August and December 2012 without Napoles’ knowledge and consent. – With Christina Mendez, Delon Porcalla