MANILA, Philippines – Senators’ staff members who face charges over the pork barrel scam have either resigned or gone on leave.
Four staff members of senators Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr, Juan Ponce Enrile, and Jinggoy Estrada were among 38 individuals facing charges of either plunder, malversation of funds, bribery, and graft and corruption in a complaint the justice department filed before the Ombudsman on Monday, September 16.
The 3 senators face plunder charges for allegedly allowing their development funds to be channeled to fake non-governmental organizations in exchange for hefty kickbacks. Janet Lim Napoles is the alleged mastermind of the scam.
Principal whistleblower Benhur Luy, Napoles’ second cousin and former aide, told the Senate last week that the senators or chiefs of staff actively coordinated with Napoles’ employees for the release of their pork barrel.
He said the chiefs of staff even picked up millions of pesos in cash from her office representing their principals’ kickbacks from the scam. Luy said Napoles would give the senators’ aides commission.
Lawyer Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes, Enrile’s former chief of staff, irrevocably resigned back in January at the height of the Senate fund controversy. Yet she was still seen with Enrile in various events in past months.
Enrile’s media relations officer Lizette Nepomuceno said his office has no communication with Reyes and no update on her whereabouts.
In a press briefing on Monday, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said Reyes flew to Macau on August 31. De Lima said Bureau of Immigration records show that Reyes’ return ticket was for September 3, but there is no record of her return.
Another staff member who resigned is Pauline Labayen, Estrada’s former appointments secretary. Estrada’s media officer Fred Aure said Labayen resigned mid-July and her resignation was effective this week.
In an ambush interview, Estrada was asked whether or not he is extending legal assistance to Labayen. The senator said, “If she asks any assistance, why not?”
Revilla’s aide, lawyer Richard Cambe, went on leave. The senator’s staff was unsure when Cambe filed his leave of absence.
The fourth staff member facing charges is Ruby Tuason, who was listed as a liaison officer for Enrile and Estrada. Yet the two senators’ staff told Rappler that Tuason was not employed with their offices. Nepomuceno of Enrile’s office said Tuason frequented the senator’s office but was not listed in the payroll nor was she a consultant.
Besides the 4 who were charged, other staff members have been named in the scam.
In hearings of the Senate blue ribbon committee, former ZNAC Rubber Estate Corp (ZREC) head Salvador Salacup said a certain Mr Dinglasan signed endorsement letters on behalf of Estrada and a certain Mr Evangelista did the same for Enrile.
Aure said that Rene Dinglasan is on leave and has not been seen in the office since last week. He is a director and political affairs adviser in Estrada’s office.
Jose Antonio Evangelista, Enrile’s deputy chief of staff for political affairs, is still reporting for work, said Nepomuceno.
Chiz: Senate probe must go on
The filing of the case at the Ombudsman raised questions on whether or not the Senate blue ribbon committee will continue its probe into the issue.
Last week, Chairman Teofisto “TG” Guingona III said he would assess the status of the probe after the filing of the case. Guingona is currently on leave.
For Sen Francis Escudero, the Senate should continue with its probe. The senator was one of those who filed a resolution calling for a Senate probe into the scam.
In a statement Tuesday, Escudero cited the Senate probe into the case of former military comptroller Maj Gen Carlos Garcia, which went on even when it was already in the plea bargaining stage.
“The Senate remains to be the only venue where the citizens can very much acquaint themselves with the goings-on of this case from the witnesses and key players themselves. This has become equally important to the people because they now become more vigilant to demand to know where and how the government utilize the taxes they pay,” Escudero said.
Escudero said the Senate has yet to unearth information like the operation of the 74 non-governmental organizations not linked to Napoles. “The amount involved is more staggering than what is being looked at now.”
The senator said other personalities including Napoles and bank branch managers have yet to testify before the Senate. He said those mentioned in Luy’s narration must appear.
“I have asked the committee to invite Napoles. I also spoke with Chairman TG Guingona about it. The court has the jurisdiction over her. Whether it grants our request or not is totally up to the court. But let it not be said that the Senate did not pursue it.”
Napoles is detained at a police camp in Laguna for serious illegal detention charges that Luy filed against her.
The Senate investigation has led witnesses to name Enrile, Estrada, and Revilla as having endorsed the Napoles NGOs. Senate President Franklin Drilon revealed that Enrile’s minority bloc had requested that names not be mentioned in the Senate probe. – Rappler.com