MANILA, Philippines – Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile formally responded to the plunder complaint against him, calling it “absolutely baseless,” and an “urban legend.”
The man Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago accused of masterminding the multi-billion peso pork barrel scam filed his counter-affidavit before the Office of the Ombudsman last December 20.
In his response, Enrile categorically denied allegations he got P172,834,500 in kickbacks in the worst corruption scandal in recent Philippine history. Enrile’s office released a summary of the counter-affidavit on Monday, January 6.
“[Senator Enrile] emphasized that contrary to news reports and to the urban legend being spread by his political critics, the government’s own evidence shows he never personally endorsed any NGOs involved in the reported scam, whether connected to Janet Lim Napoles or not, to any implementing agency,” his office said.
Enrile, his close ally Senator Jinggoy Estrada, and Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr are accused of siphoning off their pork barrel funds intended for pet projects to fake non-governmental organizations of Janet Lim-Napoles in exchange for kickbacks. (VISIT: Pork Tales: Cast of Characters)
The exposure of the scam led to a landmark Supreme Court ruling striking down the congressional pork barrel or the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). (VISIT: Pork Tales: A story of corruption)
Enrile dismissed the documents that the whistleblowers and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) presented against him.
“[Enrile] noted that the documents appearing to establish his alleged involvement or that of his staff were, as admitted by the government’s own witnesses, the whistleblowers Merlina Sunas and Benhur Luy, all forged and fabricated.”
Enrile’s office was referring to the statement of principal whistleblower Benhur Luy during a Senate hearing in September 2013. Luy said then that he and other former Napoles employees would forge signatures of lawmakers upon the orders of Napoles, who supposedly got authorization from the legislators.
The former Senate President said that there is “not a piece of evidence, much less proof to establish even the suspicion of conspiracy in a fair mind.”
Enrile cited the statements of the whistleblowers admitting that they never saw him receive money from Napoles.
“There is no testimonial or documentary evidence showing that he received any commissions or kickbacks. He categorically denied receiving ‘a centavo of ill-gotten wealth,’” Enrile’s office said.
Enrile said that by Luy’s own admission, he only recorded financial transactions based on Napoles instruction and “has no personal knowledge of these alleged transactions.” Luy was Napoles’ finance officer who kept his own record of the alleged kickbacks.
“Moreover, the source documents of any alleged payoffs to anyone were shredded and destroyed by Luy’s group, as Luy himself admitted previously,” Enrile’s office said.
Luy and other former Napoles aides have said that Enrile got the kickbacks through cash deliveries to the house of his resigned chief of staff, lawyer Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes. Reyes denied the charge.
Enrile submitted a counter-affidavit in response to an Ombudsman order. The agency is conducting a preliminary investigation into the scam, after the NBI filed the first batch of pork barrel scam complaints last September.
In the results of its investigation submitted to the Ombudsman, the NBI accused Enrile of accumulating ill-gotten wealth amounting to P172,834,500 “in connivance with his subordinate and authorized representative, [Reyes] and his co-conspirator Napoles, and the indispensable participation of the officials of the implementing agencies.” (See INFOGRAPHIC: Pork barrel trail – how gov’t funds end with Napoles)
The NBI said the following were the means by which Enrile was part of the alleged conspiracy:
- Misappropriation, conversion, misuse, or malversation of the project cost allocated from his PDAF
- By receiving commissions, rebates or kickbacks representing his share in the project cost allocated from his PDAF from Napoles or her employees
- By taking advantage and abuse of his position or authority as senator to “unjustly enrich himself at the expense and to the damage” of the Filipino people
Implementing agency’s fault
Enrile said that the only role he and his office played in the PDAF process was to identify projects to be funded under his PDAF, based on the request of local government officials.
The minority leader reiterated his bloc’s stand that it is the implementing agency, not lawmakers, that bears responsibility for how the project is executed. This is the same argument Estrada used to respond to the allegations.
Enrile quoted the statement of the Commission on Audit (COA) that implementing agencies cannot “relegate this duty to the legislator.”
“Citing the Supreme Court, Enrile noted that ‘from the regulation of fund releases, the implementation of payment schedules and up to the actual spending of the funds…’ the Executive [branch] takes full control of the system, and, according to Sen. Enrile, ‘Should not that power also come with full responsibility and accountability?”
Enrile again denied ever meeting Napoles, “socially or otherwise.” He said neither he nor his staff ever went to her office.
But he authenticated signatures to COA
While Enrile said “he never personally endorsed” any Napoles NGOs, he wrote the COA confirming that he authorized Reyes and his deputy chief of staff Jose Antonio Evangelista to sign PDAF documents on his behalf.
Documents from the NBI show that Evangelista wrote the National Agribusiness Corporation endorsing a supposed Napoles-linked NGO.
Citing documents obtained from COA, the NBI also said that Enrile coursed his PDAF through 6 Napoles NGOs from 2007 to 2009. See the documents from NBI below:
In response, Enrile’s lawyer told Rappler in a previous interview that the senator never authorized his staff to allot his PDAF to NGOs, and that “there is no command responsibility in plunder.”
Enrile quoted the “old adage” saying that his critics are entitled to their own opinions but not to their own facts.
“Senator Enrile has been wildly accused and prejudged by several quarters and he simply asks that every fair minded person judge the case solely on its merits, and not on their personal likes or dislikes of him.” – Rappler.com