MANILA, Philippines – Senate public works committee chairman Manny Pacquiao said he would invite former President Benigno Aquino III’s brother-in-law and two members of his Cabinet to an investigation into an alleged right-of-way scam.
Pacquiao, an ally of President Rodrigo Duterte, has scheduled a hearing on Monday, December 11 following the Department of Justice’s claim of a scam. Former Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, former Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson, and Aquino relative Eldon Cruz were named in the alleged release of P8.7 billion as right-of-way payment to fake beneciaries under a Deparment of Public Works and Highways project in General Santos City, Pacquiao's home city.
Cruz is the husband of Ballsy Aquino-Cruz, the former president’s eldest sister.
Pacquiao said he would immediately send invitations to the 3, as well as to the supposed witness named Roberto Catapang Jr.
He also claimed he has “studied” official government documents detailing how the corruption works.
"They will be invited. The invitations will be sent today. They will be invited because we are talking here of P8.7 billion. We are not just talking about hundreds of millions but billions. This is no laughing matter. I saw the documents," Pacquiao told reporters in Filipino on Tuesday, December 5.
"Someboday has to answer for this. They are many. As for me, this is not about getting personal. This is part of my job as legislator, as government official, to end corruption," Pacquiao said.
Despite this, the neophyte senator said it is too early to give judgment, as the investigation is yet to start: "We can't make any conclusion now because we are still going to investigate, to hold a hearing in aid of legislation. Somebody has to be liable for the huge amount of money."
Pacquiao said he checked the names of the beneficiaries of compensation for right of way in General Santos City and claimed he does not know any of them even if he is from there.
"The names of the beneficiaries I saw of the P8.7 billion, I do not know them. GenSan is just small, but I don't know them. If you see the documents, you'll see the same information," Pacquiao said in Filipino. “I'll give you one example: all 20 owners of lands, they have the exact same size of 713 [square meters]? That's just one example."
Pacquiao’s assertions are similar to the allegations of witness Catapang, who said those involved used names of non-existent persons to claim compensation for lands used in the construction of a national highway in the city.
Pacquiao alleged the scheme was also implemented in other provinces.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II earlier put Abad and Singson on the immigration lookout list in relations to an investigation into the issue.
Abad earlier denied the accusation while Singson refused to give comment.
Cruz’s son, Jiggy, denied the allegation against his father, and said the letter presented by the DOJ to link his father to the scam was forged.
"That's not his signature. It is not even remotely close to it. We live in a time of lies and fake news and I can't believe it's reached this point. It's just totally ridiculous," Jiggy earlier said. – Rappler.com
Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email firstname.lastname@example.org