MANILA, Philippines - Plunder charges were filed yesterday with the Office of the Ombudsman against Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr., and several other politicians for allegedly pocketing hundreds of millions in taxpayers’ money through ghost or overpriced projects in collusion with businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.
According to the criminal complaints filed by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), Enrile, Revilla and Estrada received P172.8 million, P224.5 million and P183.7 million, respectively, in commissions, rebates, or kickbacks from fake or dubious non-government organizations (NGO) linked to Napoles.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales personally received the criminal charge sheets along with volumes of documentary evidence.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who spearheaded the filing of the complaints, said a total of 38 individuals were named in the criminal complaints, with 22 of them facing plunder.
Accompanying her were NBI officials and 16 whistle-blowers led by Benhur Luy.
The DOJ has jurisdiction over the NBI.
Also facing plunder charges were former congresswoman and now Masbate Gov. Rizalina Seachon-Lanete and former PEC party-list representative Edgar Valdez.
The two were accused of stealing P108.4 million and P56 million, respectively, from government coffers by using questionable NGOs and foundations as project conduits.
Three other former congressmen – Rodolfo Plaza of Agusan del Sur, Samuel Dangwa of Benguet, and Constantino Jaraula of Cagayan de Oro – were charged only with malversation of public funds, direct bribery, and graft since the amount of commissions, rebates, or kickbacks they had allegedly received did not go beyond the P50-million threshold for plunder.
De Lima said among those facing plunder, graft, malversation of public funds, or direct bribery were eight chiefs-of-staff of lawmakers.
She identified them as Enrile chief-of-staff Jessica Lucila Reyes, Revilla’s employee Richard Cambe, Enrile’s and Estrada’s representative Ruby Tuason, Estrada’s staff Pauline Labayen, Lanete’s employee Jose Sumalpong, Lanete’s district staff Jeanette de la Cruz, Dangwa’s chief of staff Erwin Dangwa, and employee Carlos Lozada.
Also facing the same charges were six presidents of Napoles NGOs identified as Jocelyn Piorato of APMFI, Nemesio Pablo of AEPFFI, Mylene Encarnacion of CARED, John Raymund de Asis of KPMFI, Evelyn de Leon of PSDFI, and Ronald John Lim of GAMFI.
She added that 10 officials or employees of the National Agribusiness Corp., the National Livelihood Development Corp., and the Technology Resource Center have also been criminally charged.
They were identified as Victor Cacal, Romulo Revelo, Ma. Ninez Guanizo, Julie Johnson, Rodhora Mendoza, Alexis Sevidal, Sofia Cruz, Chila Jalandoni, Francisco Figura, and Marivic Jover.
The plunder complaints were based on a fact-finding investigation conducted by the NBI. Documentary evidence included Commission on Audit (COA) reports showing how questionable NGOs were able to get share from lawmakers’ Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), commonly known as pork barrel.
De Lima said the lawmakers charged by the NBI unjustly enriched themselves by receiving 40 percent to 60 percent of the cash value of various PDAF-funded projects.
Two of the senators’ staff members implicated in the pork barrel scam have filed their respective resignations and/or prolonged leave of absence.
Labayen, Estrada’s appointments secretary, resigned effective Sept. 15 after exhausting her two-month leave credits.
According to Estrada’s chief of staff, lawyer Raquel Mejia, Labayen filed her resignation letter last July 15.
Estrada’s political adviser, Rene Dinglasan, had also filed a leave of absence and gone to the United States to be with his family. Dinglasan was not among those charged.
Sought for comment after the filing of plunder complaints against three of his colleagues, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV said the filing only shows that there are no sacred cows under the Aquino administration.
For security and confidentiality reasons, the Office of the Ombudsman refused to provide copies of the actual plunder complaints to the media or talk about the merits of the case.
“It finds it prudent not to discuss the merits of the case at this stage, to avoid any appearance of partiality or pre-judgment and in keeping with the confidentiality of proceedings,” the anti-graft agency said in a statement.
“Statements or information that may be prematurely disclosed could unduly prejudice the proceedings insofar as alerting the custodians of vital documents and undermining the security of possible witnesses,” it said.
The Office of the Ombudsman said the criminal complaints would be evaluated to determine whether it would undergo preliminary investigation or be subjected to further case buildup.
In case further investigation is deemed necessary, the anti-graft agency said the Inter-Agency Anti-Graft Coordinating Council (IAAGCC) task force may be tapped to assist in evidence gathering.
Earlier yesterday, De Lima called the filing of the case against influential lawmakers “historical,” even as she admitted having “mixed emotions” about the development.
“At first we thought we would not be able to do it. And now here we are – God has shown us the way. We thought documentary evidence would be hard to establish, but now we have enough, including testimonies from witnesses,” she said in Filipino after a Mass held for the whistle-blowers at the NBI headquarters.
De Lima recalled how the investigation into the issue had taken its toll on the probers and whistle-blowers alike.
She said they had to struggle with fear and anxiety.
“They are the heroes,” she said, referring to the whistle-blowers.
Teary-eyed, Luy, his mother Gertrudes, and other whistle-blowers listened intently during the homily of Fr. Jude Thadeus Bisanga.
Bisanga reminded the whistle-blowers that theirs is a “lonely road” to travel.
“Evil thrives because the good ones do nothing,” Bisanga said, adding the Mass should remind them that the nation is praying for them.
Meanwhile, the Bureau of Immigration said it is awaiting official instructions from the DOJ whether it should place the 38 respondents in its Immigration Lookout Bulletin Order (ILBO).
BI spokesperson Ma. Angelica Pedro said that as of 6 p.m. yesterday she and officer-in-charge Siegfred Mison were still awaiting word from De Lima.
The BI is an attached agency of the DOJ.
“If an ILBO would be issued against them then we would immediately submit their names to the airport,” Pedro said.
An individual in the ILBO is required to seek clearance first from the DOJ for travel outside the country.
“They would not be allowed to leave unless they secure an allowed departure order from the court,” the BI official added.
A hold-departure order is issued by the courts or the Office of the Ombudsman.
Once the BI gets hold of the list of those charged with plunder, it would immediately check their travel records.
“It would help if we could get hold of their date of birth so that our checking would be more accurate, because there is a possibility that some of them might have namesakes,” she added.
While welcoming the filing of the cases, militant workers’ group Partido ng Manggagawa (PM) said the government should do more than abolish PDAF for 2014.
“Funds that were realigned to national government agencies remain ‘discretionary’ in character therefore vulnerable to abuse,” PM said in a statement. With Aie Balagtas See, Christina Mendez, Mayen Jaymalin, Evelyn Macairan