MANILA, Philippines – Regardless of party affiliation, individuals guilty of pocketing government funds will be prosecuted, vowed President Benigno Aquino III, even as he defended a Cabinet member who has been constantly linked to irregularities.
On Wednesday, March 19, Aquino made a promise that justice would be served.
“Perhaps I should just not speak and instead show it through action. I promise the people, we will follow the evidence wherever it takes us,” he said in media interview at the Landbank Plaza building in Malate after he keynoted the Pinoy Music Summit.
Aquino also cited those who have been put in jail “like Mrs. Napoles” – the alleged mastermind of a multi-million pork barrel scam – as evidence that even the “most powerful people in our society” will face charges if necessary.
Under Aquino’s administration, former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, accused of plunder, has also been jailed. No ally of Aquino has yet been put in prison, although former Customs Chief Ruffy Biazon had been charged with malversation for allegedly pocketing P1.95 million of his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
Biazon is the first partymate of Aquino to formally face a complaint in relation to alleged PDAF misuse, although a number of administration allies have been implicated in the special state audit of the fund. (READ: Admin solons linked to pork barrel)
In prosecuting the guilty, the President said the government is making sure it will file cases of substance to ensure prosecution.
“We will ensure that the cases we submit have strong evidence and that the appropriate sentence will be served,” he said.
Recently, critics have hit the administration for allegedly sparing their allies from charges related to the pork barrel scam. Under the scheme, Napoles reportedly worked with lawmakers to funnel their PDAF to bogus non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in exchange for hefty kickbacks.
Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla face plunder charges for alleged involvement in the scam, along with congressmen and heads of government agencies.
Even with this promise, Aquino staunchly defended Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala who has yet to face charges despite being linked to the pork barrel scam. (READ: Aquino defends agri chief Alcala over pork barrel links)
Aquino acknowledged Alcala is being implicated but said he is “balancing” the negative reports with the official’s accomplishments thus far, including the stable prices of rice, and the steps the Department of Agriculture (DA) is taking toward rice self-sufficiency.
“So the balance here is he has done positive things, there are accusations now, but like anyone else, I think he has the right to presumption of innocence until proven guilty,” he said.
Rappler reports based on state audits of one government corporation under the DA shows misuse of P1.35 billion in pork barrel, but this was over 5 years spanning both the Arroyo and Aquino administrations, from 2007 to 2011.
Reports and exposés in the past years have mostly identified the DA and agencies or corporations under it as channels of misused pork barrel.
Alcala has denied accusations that he has anything to do with the scam although a whistleblower had linked Alcala to the scam, saying he facilitated funding for 2 dummy NGOs created by Napoles. During the Senate hearing on the pork barrel scam on August 7, Alcala also admitted that Napoles received P39 million worth of funds intended for the DA in 2012.
Meanwhile, Aquino shunned the plunder case filed against him, Budget Secretary Butch Abad, Alcala and 10 others by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), for their alleged involvement in the pork barrel scam.
KMP said the President was included in the complaint by virtue of the “Doctrine of Qualified Political Agency,” wherein acts committed by department secretaries under the executive department are deemed acts of the President.
The President said he, Abad and Alcala had no personal gain. He dismissed the case as “part of the democratic process,” which entertains even the most extreme of views. – Rappler.com