MANILA, Philippines – Lawmakers tagged in the multi-billion pork barrel scam could face plunder charges, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said Tuesday, August 27, as investigators continue to gather evidence.
“Just wait for it, but that’s, of course, the target [to file plunder charges],” De Lima said.
Plunder is a non-bailable offence. Any person found guilty of committing plunder may face life imprisonment.
The Inter-Agency Anti-Graft Coordinating Council (IAAGC) formally commenced its probe on the misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and the Malampaya Fund on Tuesday. The IAAGC is composed of Commission on Audit (COA) chairperson Grace Pulido-Tan, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.
The National Bureau of Investigation is expected to recommend the filing of the first batch of charges over the pork barrel scam reportedly operated by fugitive Janet Lim-Napoles in one to two weeks. De Lima and Morales declined to provide the names nor the number of lawmakers involved.
A special Commission on Audit report on PDAF tagged 192 solons for misusing at least P6.1 billion worth of funds.
But De Lima stressed the report “by itself and in itself” cannot stand as evidence. It will only serve as a “reference” document to make it easier for investigators to gather evidence against those involved, De Lima said.
Investigators are still in the process of sifting through a “roomful” of evidence pertaining to transactions made by nongovernment organizations operated by Janet Lim-Napoles to beef up the cases to be filed.
“It will always depend on evidence. The real benchmark is evidence or sufficient evidence,” De Lima said.
De Lima said the IAAGC will benefit from the combined efforts of COA, DOJ and the Ombudsman in preventing “clerical errors” such as those in the COA report.
“Since it’s a collaborative effort, a pulling of expertise, best efforts, we will come up with the right kind of evidence,” De Lima said.
At least two “clerical errors” have been identified against the COA report. A P3 billion release to former Compostela Valley representative Manuel “Way Kurat” Zamora was supposed to be for a Department of Public Works and Highways project in Compostela Valley. Meanwhile, a “Luis Abalos” in the report turned out to be former Mandaluyong representative and now mayor Benhur Abalos. COA has stood by its report.
Will lawmakers involved in the scam be summoned by the IAAGC? De Lima said they are not compelled to do so.
“Fact-finding investigators are not compelled or are not obliged to summon the lawmakers,” De Lima said. “It remains to be the discretion of the fact-finders.” – Rappler.com