MANILA, Philippines – “It is a very, very well synchronized April Fools’ Day operation.”
A defiant Senator Jinggoy Estrada dismissed the nearly simultaneous Ombudsman decision and Senate recommendation to file plunder charges against him over the multi-billion peso pork barrel scam.
Estrada and his co-accused Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr criticized the announcement of the two bodies that they should face the non-bailable charge for allegedly pocketing millions of pesos in taxpayers’ money.
Speaking via phonepatch from the United States, Estrada questioned the timing of the two bodies’ decision announced on Tuesday, April 1. He lashed back at Senate blue ribbon committee chairman Teofisto “TG” Guingona III’s allegation of conspiracy.
“Clearly, kami ang pinagplanuhan, kami ang pinagkaisahan at naging biktima ng sabwatan dito para lang mapapogi ang imahen ng ilan naming kasamahan sa Senado.” (Clearly, we are the ones who were the subject of planning, we were ganged up on, and we became victims of a conspiracy just to improve the image of some of our colleagues in the Senate.)
“First, the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee came out with a committee report recommending the filing of plunder charges against me and two of my colleagues and several others. Second, not to be outdone, the Office of the Ombudsman held a press conference also recommending the filing of plunder charges against the 3 senators,” Estrada added.
Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile refused to comment, with his staff saying he has yet to read the Ombudsman’s resolution and the Senate report.
The Ombudsman announced Tuesday that it found probable cause to file plunder charges against Estrada, Revilla and Enrile for allegedly funneling their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to fake non-governmental organizations of Janet Lim Napoles in exchange for kickbacks.
Shortly before the Ombudsman’s press conference, Guingona announced that his committee also recommended the filing of plunder cases against the 3.
Estrada said that the finding of the Senate committee did not surprise him, reiterating his complaint that Guingona prejudged the probe.
“I was not expecting a fair treatment from the Senate blue ribbon committee,” he said. “Some of the members as well have shown their blatant bias and partiality to their own beleaguered colleagues in pursuit of their own political ambitions and political agenda.”
Estrada again said that the Senate was selective in investigating and recommending the prosecution of opposition lawmakers.
“Why concentrate on just the 3 of us? What happened to the other legislators mentioned by Benhur Luy in his testimonies? Didn’t the chair also consider the findings of the COA, which found irregularities in the release of PDAF of hundreds of lawmakers, including the allies of the administration,” he said.
“Why did the committee just concentrate on the NGOs connected to Mrs Napoles when resolutions were also filed directing the body to also look into the other NGOs which received even bigger funds from the PDAF?”
Estrada said that he will face the charges against him in court, calling it the proper forum to prove his innocence.
“I have no knowledge or participation in the transfer of funds of my PDAF to anyone other than to the legally intended beneficiaries thereof. I did not receive or pocket amounts from Mrs Napoles, Mrs Tuason, or any person associated with her or any NGO.”
‘No plunder vs Revilla, docs all fake’
Like Estrada, Revilla left for abroad, going on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. His lawyer, Joel Bodegon, told GMA News TV that there was no basis for the Ombudsman and Senate finding.
“There is really no plunder case against Senator Bong Revilla because the whistleblowers admitted that they faked the PDAF documents. Now if they faked and forged the signature of Senator Bong Revilla, the PDAF documents are not binding on Senator Revilla. It means they just used the fake documents so they can steal the PDAF money for themselves,” Bodegon said in Filipino.
Revilla’s lawyer added that his camp will file a motion for reconsideration before the Ombudsman. Bodegon also questioned why the Ombudsman did not wait for the resolution of an application for temporary restraining order Revilla filed before the Supreme Court.
The senator wanted the Court to stop the Ombudsman from investigating the scam pending the resolution of a civil case he filed against the whistleblowers.
“The Ombudsman really fast-tracked the filing of cases and did not even consider the oral arguments the Supreme Court scheduled on April 22 in Baguio City.”
Bodegon reiterated Revilla’s claim that his political staff Richard Cambe was abroad on two or 3 occasions when whistleblower Benhur Luy said he got kickbacks on Revilla’s behalf. He said this showed the whistleblowers had no credibility.
Calls for speedy trial
Senate leaders welcomed the Ombudsman announcement. Senate President Franklin Drilon said the accused will now be given their day in court.
“With due respect, I call on the Sandiganbayan to set the case for speedy trial so that the innocent would be cleared of the charges and set free, and the guilty punished and jailed. The search for truth is sometimes painful, but this is the kind of process that would strengthen our government institutions and reinforce the trust and confidence of our people in the justice system,” Drilon said.
Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano said that the accused should respond to the charges, not just in court, but also in public.
“Definitely, the charge to be filed against them should be the highest in terms of crime and penalty. You can’t set an example if you will baby your colleagues. It should be heavy because they did not explain the use of those huge funds reaching ghost beneficiaries. How can they explain they did not guard this?” – Rappler.com