Palace ready to defend some officials in pork scam

Aurea Calica - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang said yesterday it is ready to defend its officials from pork barrel scam allegations but it would be selective in standing by other members of the administration.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said unfounded allegations against members of the Aquino administration jibe with “the theory that everybody is trying to burn the house down.”

“The Palace stands ready to defend itself. We in the Palace have committed ourselves to the straight path,” he said.

Asked if defending the Palace would include all others in the administration, Lacierda said: “We will defend those we truly believe in.”

He said there are other personalities in government they are “not very well aware of.”

“In any case, we will look into the evidence. It is easy for someone to say this or that, but, again, let’s see the evidence.”

Lacierda cited Budget Secretary Florencio Abad as an example, saying he has been performing an important job but was portrayed in a negative way.

“If you outline all the reforms that he has undertaken together with the President, you will not believe that Butch Abad is involved in any way in the scam,” Lacierda said.

He also dismissed a newspaper report linking a high-ranking Malacañang official and three employees to the multibillion-peso pork barrel scam.

The three female employees were identified as Rochelle Ahoro, reportedly a Malacañang official’s personal secretary; Odette Ong, assistant secretary of administration and finance; and Mary Antoinette Lucile Ortile, assistant to the executive secretary.

In a statement, Ong decried insinuations that she was involved in unlawful and dishonest activities.

“I strongly refute these baseless and unfounded claims. I would like to clarify that I do not head the Finance and Administration Department of the Office of the President, and my function is limited to being head of the Office of the Special Assistant to the President with a mandate to directly supervise the Internal House Affairs Office,” Ong said.

She said her responsibility involves direct supervision of day-to-day operations related to official functions and uses of the presidential residences and offices.

In the case of Ortile, Lacierda said she has not been working for the Palace or under the executive secretary for a long time now.

“We have a saying in law: Falsus in unus, falsus omnibus. False in one, false in all. The fact that you have identified someone who is no longer in government as a bag lady shows the quality of the source,” he said.

He also denied that the “Sexy” being alluded to in the pork barrel scam investigation referred to Ahoro and not to Sen. Jinggoy Estrada.

“Certainly, I can tell you (that) our ‘Sexy’ is a very honest individual who goes to her work daily and who does not have any contact at all other than the environment where she is working,” Lacierda said.

Citing an anonymous “very reliable source,” the report said the unidentified Palace official had benefited from the scam and other alleged questionable dealings of the administration and that the three female Palace employees were allegedly “calling the shots” on the high official’s “fund-raising activities.“

“The article is not correct because the extended affidavit has not been submitted… We will wait for the evaluation of the justice secretary who has been tasked by the President to look into it.”

Lacierda said a recommendation, if any, would be passed on to the ombudsman who would make the necessary evaluation, apart from the Department of Justice, on whether certain persons would be examined, after which the case would be submitted to the Sandiganbayan for final resolution,” Lacierda said.

Due process

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the President had made it clear that members of his official family must be given due process.

In an interview, Aquino said “one of the key tenets in our laws (from the Bill of Rights in the Constitution) is the right to be presumed innocent unless proven guilty.”

“It is my obligation to the people to ensure that when the government files a case, the evidence is strong so that the guilty will be punished. If we apply the opposite principle, filing weak cases based on speculation or unsupported by concrete proof will give the guilty a perpetual ‘get-out-of-jail’ card.”

“It is wrong to criticize and say, ‘we must immediately remove Cabinet secretaries’ whose names have been or are being mentioned in connection with the alleged pork barrel scam.’ What is most important is: Is there concrete evidence?” Aquino said.

Aside from Abad, those being implicated in the pork barrel scam are Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority director-general Joel Villanueva.











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