Dep’t of Justice to reinvestigate pork barrel scam

Lian Buan
Dep’t of Justice to reinvestigate pork barrel scam
(UPDATED) Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II warns the allies of the previous administration as he reopens the investigation into the pork barrel scam

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Department of Justice (DOJ) will reopen the investigation into the pork barrel scam and might use alleged mastermind Janet Lim Napoles as state witness.

With this pronouncement, Aguirre also hit Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales who handles the prosecution of the pork barrel cases.

“This case sa (in the) Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), this has been filed before the Ombudsman, two or 3 years ago, but nothing has come out of it. It is better to be filed before the Department of Justice kasi masyadong mabagal daw ang takbo ng imbestigasyon sa Ombudsman (investigation is too slow at the Ombudsman),” Aguirre said in a press conference on Wednesday, May 10.

It was not clear how Aguirre plans to proceed in prosecuting the cases because it’s the Sandiganbayan, and therefore the Ombudsman, who has jurisdiction over corruption cases.

This time, Aguirre said they will cover everyone involved in the scam, including allies of the previous administration.

“Malacañang ang pinuntahan nito. Highest officials of the land, kasama mga Cabinet secretary. Kaya matataas ang involved dito,” Aguirre said while taking a swipe at former president Benigno Aquino III, who received her in Malacañang when she surrendered in August 2013, and the high-ranking officials who supposedly took Napoles to Camp Crame when she was first detained there.

(She went to Malacañang. Highest officials of the land, Cabinet Secretaries were with her. High-ranking officials are involved here.)

Aguirre added: “Kasi alam natin sa nakaraan, especially the number of people who were accused of this PDAF, tatlo lang, pero alam natin na marami yan. Talagang nagkaroon dito ng miscarriage of justice, dapat noon pa nakasuhan ang mga yan. There was selective justice.”

(In the past administration, only three were charged with this PDAF, but we know there are more. There really was a miscarriage of justice, these people should have been charged before. There was selective justice.)

Aguirre also said they will not be bound by what was called the “Napolist” or the handwritten names of public officials whom Napoles swore she transacted with.

“Kung totoo ang list, we could go by it. But di naman kailangan yung list as long as you could prove your accusations,” Aguirre said. (If the list is accurate, we could go by it. But we don’t need a list as long as you could prove your accusations.) (READ: Tracking Sandiganbayan: Who’s who in PH’s biggest corruption cases?)

SURRENDER. Janet Lim Napoles surrenders to former president Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III on August 28, 2013. Malacañang photo

Who else?

Two of the biggest names on the ‘Napolist’ are former budget secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad and former agriculture secretary Proceso Alcala.

In an affidavit, Napoles even said it was Abad who taught her how to use nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to transact with lawmakers using their PDAF. Abad has no pork scam-related charges.

Alcala is being investigated for the garlic cartel scam though an earlier report of the Commission on Audit (COA) said Alcala is accountable for the misuse of P759.1 million worth of lawmakers’ PDAF.

Administration allies involved in the scam who have pending cases are: Senator Joel Villanueva whose case is pending before the Ombudsman and Muntinlupa Representative Ruffy Biazon who has been arraigned before the Sandiganbayan.

Senator Gringo Honasan’s case linked to pork misallocation is also pending before the Ombudsman.

To this day, the Ombudsman continues to file pork scam charges before the anti-graft court.

Morales said they have so far filed 50 charges out of 240. She also said she is confident they can finish all of them within the year.

“We are in our penultimate race,” Morales said in a press conference on April 25.

Napoles as state witness?

For Aguirre, Napoles doesn’t have to be the least guilty to qualify as state witness.

“You should not be the most guilty, hindi the least guilty. As long as you can show that you’re not the most guilty,” Aguirre said.

Aguirre added that there is a Supreme Court ruling that says, in a corruption case, it is the government official who’s considered the most guilty. (READ: After CA acquittal: What’s next for Janet Napoles?)

“It will be the government official who will be considered as the most guilty, because he is taking advantage of his public position. Kung merong equal liability si Janet, then ‘yung public official yung most guilty (If there is equal liability, then the public official is the most guilty),” Aguirre said.

Press Secretary Ernesto Abella has already said that President Rodrigo Duterte does not intend to turn Napoles into a state witness.

In a news conference prior to a trip to Cambodia on Wednesday, May 10, Duterte cited the law requiring candidates to be “the least guilty” in the commission of a crime, when asked about Napoles as a state witness.

“As to the question of whether or not she could be utilized as a state witness, there’s a law which says – that one of the requirements  is ‘at least she appears to be the least guilty.’ If you are a major player, I don’t know if you can do it,” Duterte said.

Asked whether he saw Napoles as the “least guilty” in the pork barrel scam, the President said he could not comment as the cases against her are pending in court.

The current state witness in the pork barrel scam case is Napoles’ former employee, Benhur Luy. But his fate is now uncertain, following Napoles’ acquittal in the serious illegal detention case. This is seen by lawyers as having a serious effect on the credibility of Luy as state witness.

Asked whether Luy could proceed as state witness, Aguirre said: “I don’t know. These are complications I have to study.” – Rappler.com

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.