Lanete, Napoles plead not guilty to plunder charges

MANILA, Philippines – Masbate Governor Rizalina Seachon Lanete on Wednesday, April 8, pleaded not guilty to plunder and graft charges over the multi-billion peso pork barrel scam.

Her co-accused, alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles, also entered a not guilty plea before the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan's Fourth Division. Napoles has pleaded not guilty to similar charges involving other former and incumbent lawmakers over the same scam. 

Lanete was charged with plunder and 11 counts of graft for allegedly misusing a total of P108.405 million in discretionary funds when she was still Masbate representative, illegally diverted to a Napoles-run non-governmental organization.

In an interview with reporters, Lanete's lawyer, Laurence Arroyo, said the former Masbate representative's main defense in her case would be to prove that the signatures on "many of the documents" were forged. 

"Also, the second argument is that it is the implementing agencies [that] should be implementing the projects and that the only role of the lawmaker in the use of her PDAF is to identify the projects based on the project menu provided by the DBM," he said. 

At Wednesday's arraignment, officials of government-owned or controlled corporations (GOCCs) – National Agri-Business Corporation (Nabcor), National Livelihood and Development Corporation (NLDC), and Technology Resource Center (TRC) – also entered not guilty pleas.

Budget Undersecretary Mario Relampagos, chief budget and management specialist Rosario Nuñez and administrative assistants Lalaine Paule and Marilou Bare also pleaded not guilty. 

Meanwhile, two other individuals facing charges over the scam – Lanete's former chief of staff Jose Sumalpong and Napoles' employee, John Raymond de Asis – remain at large.

Three incumbent senators and 5 former House members are also facing plunder and graft charges over the scam.

Dubbed as the biggest corruption scandal to hit the Philippines in recent years, the pork barrel scam sparked public outrage and forced Congress to abolish lawmakers' PDAF. The Supreme Court later declared the lawmakers' discretionary funds as unconstitutional.