MANILA, Philippines – First salvo not later than Monday.
President Benigno Aquino III said the government will file “the first [set of] charges” in relation to the pork barrel scam “not later than Monday next week,” after he has been given a briefing.
“There is a possibility it can be filed by Friday,” the President told reporters on Tuesday, September 10.
The President declined to name the lawmakers and government officials who would possibly be included in the case. He said he will know the names once he gets a briefing from investigators any day now.
Aquino is expecting a briefing on “what transpired…the evidence that this thing happened…as well as analyses and possible defenses that can be brought to the court.”
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said a month ago that lawmakers will definitely be among those who will be charged for the misuse of their Priority Development Assistance Fund.
Reports by state auditors and the media show that dubious NGOs – including, but not limited to, groups linked to alleged scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles – siphoned off lawmakers’ PDAF for ghost projects.
There appears to be a pattern of:
- senators and congressmen endorsing the NGOs for alleged kickbacks;
- implementing agencies continuously releasing funds to these NGOs despite adverse findings by state auditors;
- lawmakers’ signatures on endorsement letters and memorandum of agreements being forged.
Aquino reiterated that “there’s an ongoing parallel investigation by the Department of Justice” into the operations of syndicates similar to Napoles.
Rappler’s special reports in July showed at least 4 other individuals operating several NGOs that misused lawmakers’ PDAF: Godofredo Roque, Marilou Antonio, Marilou Ferrer, and Carlos Soriano.
Napoles is currently detained in Fort Sto Domingo in Laguna on charges of serious illegal detention filed by pork barrel scam whistleblower Benhur Luy. Luy said he was held against his will after Napoles found out that he intended to put up his own pork barrel syndicate.
The President also said he doesn’t remember having met Napoles when he was a lawmaker, considering that he’s good at remembering faces.
“When I saw her when she came to the Palace [to surrender], I was trying to look at her and I don’t remember her. I am normally very good with faces [but] she doesn’t look familiar whatsoever,” he said.
“Now, did I ever meet her…to the level that I shool her hand or we said ‘hi’? I can’t even say I ever said ‘hi, to her,” the President said in a mix of English and Filipino.
He said that in his last years in the Senate, his PDAF was withheld by the Arroyo administration, so Napoles probably thought its “useless to talk to me.”
The President refused to comment on findings in a 2012 Commission on Audit report that his allies were also involved in the scam through appropriations coursed through the Philippine Forest Corp (PhilForest).
He said they are looking into the possibility the the misused funds were from a two-year continuing allocation placed in the budget under the Arroyo administration.
“The budget for 2010 was already operational at that point in time…. Now, is it connected to Napoles? I cannot say categorically at this point in time.”
The President said government “might be talking less and less” of the scam “because we will be filing more and more cases about this particular issue.”
On Monday, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said the Aquino admininstration had stricken out the National Resources Development Corporation (NRDC) as an implementing agency for PDAF projects since 2011. This was precisely because of COA’s findings that PhilForest, which was supported by NRDC, had been involved in irregularities.
However, lawmakers inserted their appropriations “under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), which then directs funds to these agencies under the condition that the funds are used in accordance to budget guidelines.”
The budgetary support for PhilForest was added during deliberations in Congress and later appeared in the 2011 GAA under the name NRDC-PFC, which was under the Special Provisions under the PDAF budget.
Because of this, the DBM was “constrained” to follow the law.
Abad said the PDAF menu submitted to Congress two years ago was limited to education, health, social protection, and public infrastructure. In the budget approved by Congress, the list of projects was expanded to 8 items: education, health, social protection, financial assistance, public infrastructure, peace and order, forest management and development, and historical/arts/culture. – Rappler.com