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Napoles, 3 senators indicted for plunder

FIRST BATCH. After 6 months of investigation, the Ombudsman is filing plunder charges against the first set of people involved in the multi-billion-peso pork barrel scam.

Photo by Inoue Jaena/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Six months after it received the plunder complaint against a first batch of 38 lawmakers, government officials, and private individuals involved in the pork barrel scam, the Office of the Ombudsman announced on Tuesday, April 1, the filing of charges against 10 of them before the Sandiganbayan.

Assistant Ombudsman Asryman Rafanan said they found probable cause to file 3 separate plunder indictments against Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr, Juan Ponce Enrile, and Jinggoy Estrada, alleged scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles, and 6 others.

They are being charged for allegedly pocketing a total of P597 million in kickbacks and commissions from the Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF) of senators and congressmen from 2007 to 2009.

Rafanan said Revilla got the biggest kickback worth P242 million, followed by Estrada with P183 million, and Enrile with P172 million.

The 3 senators clearly "took undue advantage of their positions," Rafanan said in a press briefing, about an hour after the Senate blue ribbon committee also recommended the filing of plunder charges against the 3 senators for having "planned, conspired, and benefitted from public money."

The multi-billion-peso scam is the biggest corruption scandal in recent Philippine history. The lawmakers are accused of siphoning off their pork barrel funds, coursed through government agencies, to Napoles’ fake non-governmental organizations in exchange for kickbacks. (READ: Pork tales and Navigating the PDAF scam affidavits)

Napoles is named co-defendant in each of the cases against the 3 senators. 

Watch this report below.

Others charged with plunder are: 

All 10 defendants are given 5 days upon receipt of the Ombudsman's resolution to file their motion for reconsideration, said Rafanan.

He said the Office of the Ombudsman may ask the Sandiganbayan to issue a writ of preliminary attachment and immediately freeze the assets of all defendants. They are also seeking the issuance of hold departure orders against them. 

Plunder is a non-bailable offense. 

Rafanan also said Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales is considering the creation of a special panel of prosecutors to handle PDAF trials.

Based on the number of Special Allotment Release Orders issued by the budget department to certain NGOs and in the name of the senators, the following counts of graft charges have also been approved for filing with the Sandiganbayan:

According to Rafanan, the strongest evidence against the defendants were provided by the testimonies and sworn affidavits of whistleblowers Benhur Luy, Marina Sula, and Merlina Sunas.

Their testimonies bolstered the findings of the Commission on Audit’s special report on irregularities in the PDAF releases for the years 2007 to 2009.

Earlier, Enrile told the Ombudsman that the PDAF-related allegations against him were baseless and were mere urban legend. Estrada, for his part, said opposition senators like them were being singled out, and the charges against them were meant to demolish their chances in the 2016 elections. Revilla, meanwhile, had asked the Ombudsman to suspend its probe, but the Ombudsman rejected the plea

"Matapos ang masusi at patas na pagsusuri ng mga ebidensya, nakita ng Ombudsman na hindi sapat ang kanilang pagsagot sa mga akusasyon," the assistant ombudsman said. (After thorough and fair assessment of evidence, the Ombudsman found their replies to accusation insufficient.)

The charges announced on Tuesday were only for those named in the first batch of PDAF-related complaints. A second batch, with 34 respondents, was filed by the justice department with the Ombudsman in November 2013. 

Rafanan said the other complaints are being investigated, and charges may be filed against other lawmakers and other private persons in relation to the multi-billion-peso PDAF scam. – Rappler.com