Plunder raps filed over ‘pork barrel’ scam

Posted on September 17, 2013

THREE SENATORS, five former lawmakers and 30 others were charged with plunder and other graft cases before the Ombudsman over the alleged rechanneling of their priority development assistance funds (PDAF) or pork barrel funds to bogus nongovernment organizations (NGO).

Charged with plunder are Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon “Bong” B. Revilla, Jr., and Jose “Jinggoy” E. Estrada. Also charged are former congressmen Rizalina Seachon-Lanete (now governor of Masbate) and Edgar L. Valdez of APEC party-list.

Justice Secretary Leila M. de Lima said in a press briefing at the Office of the Ombudsman that the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) served as public complainant while lawyer Levito D. Baligod was the private complainant.

Ms. de Lima added three other former representatives were sued for malversation, direct bribery and violations of the anti-graft and corrupt practices act. They were former congressmen Rodolfo G. Plaza of Agusan del Sur, Samuel M. Dangwa of Benguet, and Constantino G. Jaraula of Cagayan de Oro City.

“Finally, also included in the complainants for plunder, malversation, and corruption of public officials is the owner of the JLN Group of Companies and mastermind of the PDAF Scam Operations: Janet Lim-Napoles,” read the executive summary of the PDAF complaints.

Under Republic Act 7080, plunder is committed when a public official, by himself or in connivance with associates, acquires ill-gotten wealth worth at least P50 million.

Sought for comment, Mr. Estrada said in a press briefing: “I am not guilty of any wrongdoing connected to the PDAF allocation fund in the Senate.”

For his part, Mr. Revilla’s lawyer, Joel L. Bodegon, said in a statement: “It is our fervent hope that the Ombudsman will be objective and fair in resolving the case so that truth and justice will be served.”

Mr. Enrile’s spokesperson, lawyer Enrique V. Dela Cruz, Jr., released a statement quoting the senator as saying: “Let me make clear that I am innocent of the charges filed against me.”

The rest of the 29 included in the charge sheet are chiefs-of-staff or representatives of the implicated lawmakers, heads of government-owned and -controlled corporations (GOCCs) which allegedly took part in the scam, and presidents of Ms. Napoles’ NGOs.

The alleged pork barrel scam first surfaced when principal whistle-blower Benhur K. Luy was “rescued” in March by NBI agents. Mr. Luy, a former JLN Corp. employee, was allegedly detained against his will in a Taguig condominium for four months.

Ms. de Lima said they will file the succeeding batch of cases in the coming weeks, adding they “don’t know yet” the total batches of cases the NBI will file before the Ombudsman.

In a statement, Malacañang said: “The filing of charges continues a process prescribed by the Constitution and is proof that our democratic system and our legal processes are working. All the accused will be given their day in court under a fair and impartial trial.”

A total of 10 out of the 16 whistle-blowers subscribed to their affidavits before the Ombudsman yesterday. The Ombudsman will then determine whether the case is strong enough to proceed to preliminary investigation or if the anti-graft body still needs to hold further fact-finding probes.

According to the NBI, the alleged scheme starts with Ms. Napoles and the lawmaker agreeing to allocate the PDAF to an NGO associated with the businesswoman.

The lawmaker then submits a list of projects to the Budget Department for the issuance of a special allotment release order (SARO) to the agency which will implement the project without any public bidding. -- Mikhail Franz E. Flores