Ombud okays plunder raps vs Napoles, 3 senators-A A +A
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
MANILA (4th Update) -- The Office of the Ombudsman on Tuesday recommended the filing of 11 counts of plunder and graft charges against detained businesswoman Janet Napoles and three senators in connection with the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales has approved the recommendation of a five-man panel that investigated the complaints against Napoles and Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr.
In a press briefing, Assistant Ombudsman Asyrman Rafanan said Enrile took kickbacks amounting to more than P172 million, P242 million for Revilla and P183 million for Estrada.
Rafanan said the three senators took advantage of their positions to siphon off PDAF allocated to Napoles' fake non-government organizations (NGOs).
The recommendation cited the sworn statements of whistleblower Benhur Luy and fellow witnesses Marina Sula and Merlina Suñas who detailed the sequence of events in relation to the pork barrel scam.
Also considered were the 2007-2009 Commission on Audit (COA) Report documenting the results of the special audit undertaken on PDAF disbursements, and the reports on the field verification, which secured sworn statements of local government officials and the purported beneficiaries of the supposed projects, which turned out to be inexistent, which pieces of evidence either remained uncontroverted by mere denials or dovetailed with the affidavits of some respondents.
Rafanan said the senators involved or through their authorized representatives like in the person of his chief-of-staff or deputy by express or implied authority of the senator agrees to transact his PDAF with Napoles who, in the case of Senators Enrile and Estrada, acted through Ruby Tuason.
"Once a PDAF allocation becomes available to the Senator, his staff would inform Napoles or her staff directly (or indirectly through Tuason). Napoles or Luy would then prepare a listing of the available projects and the corresponding indication of the specific implementing agencies," Rafanan said.
He noted that the number of counts (showing commonality of criminal design per set of conspirators) was determined from the common paper trail arising from either (i) each Special Allotment Release Order (SARO) or (ii) every IA/NGO tandem, if one SARO was split and coursed through different IAs and NGOs, regardless of the number of projects.
Rafanan said that money was paid and delivered to the senators even before the SARO and/or NCA is released.
"Napoles would advance the down payment from her own pockets upon the mere release by the Senator's Office of the listing of projects to the DBM, with the remainder of the amount payable after the SARO is released by the DBM and a copy of the SARO forwarded to Napoles," Rafanan said.
It is also stated that after the DBM issues the SARO, the Senator, through his staff, would then write another letter addressed to the implementing agencies. Upon receipt of the SARO, Napoles would beforehand direct her staff including witnesses Luy, Sula and Suñas to prepare the PDAF documents, including project proposals by the NGO and endorsement letters, for the signature of the legislator and/or his staff, which reflect the preferred NGO to implement the undertaking.
Along with the earlier PDAF documents, the endorsement letter of the Senator is transmitted to the IA which, in turn, would carry out the Senator's preferred Napoles NGO and undertake the execution of the MOA (on the project) to be entered into by the Senator’s Office, the implementing agency and the Napoles NGO, the Ombudsman said.
Meanwhile, the Ombudsman dismissed the criminal charges against Mark Oliveros, Editha Talaboc, Delfin Agcaoili Jr., Daniel Balanoba, Lucila Lawas-Yutok, Antonio Santos, Lucita Solomon, Susan Victorino, Shyr Ann Montuya in the Enrile cases, and Mylene Encarnacion in the Revilla and Estrada cases, for insufficiency of evidence.
Respondents Napoles and the three senators are given five days to file motion for reconsideration before the Ombudsman. These will be resolved before cases will be filed with the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan.
Speaking to ANC, Estrada maintained his willingness to face the charges in court. He also reiterated that he has no knowledge or participation in the transfer of his PDAF to Napoles NGOs.
He called the release of the Ombudsman resolution and the report of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee indicting him for misuse of public funds a "synchronized April Fool’s Day operation."
"This is the first step, a major one, towards making those involved accountable for their plunder and misuse of the people's money," said Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, lauding the resolution favoring the complaints filed last September by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
Whatever the outcome of the case, Senate President Franklin Drilon said the legal system now has the opportunity to show "that we have a functioning system that can render fair, speedy and impartial justice."
He was certain that the finding of probable cause against the respondents was determined after a careful and thorough evaluation of the case.
Blue Ribbon report
The announcement came more than an hour after the Senate committee investigating the scam asked the Ombudsman to press plunder and other charges against the three senators, Napoles, former National Agribusiness Corp. president Alan Javellana, former Technology Resource Center (TRC) head Antonio Ortiz and other individuals.
"Against the general denials of Janet Lim-Napoles and the other government officials questioned, the whistleblowers gave specific and categorical details, with conviction, about their racketeering activities, and how Janet Lim-Napoles worked closely with legislators and their agents, in order to overcome, if not contravene, the procedural requirements for successful fund releases," the committee report read.
The committee chaired by Senator Teofisto Guingona III also recommended for the filing of similar charges against lawyer Jessica Lucila "Gigi" Reyes, who is the former chief of staff of Enrile; Pauline Labayen, the former appointments secretary of Estrada; and Richard Cambe, a senior staffer of Revilla.
In a press briefing, Guingona said the Blue Ribbon Committee found sufficient basis to recommend the filing of criminal charges against the senators along with Napoles and their alleged agents.
According to Guingona, the committee found out that the said senators and other lawmakers from the House of Representatives and officials from government agencies involved in the scam connived, conspired and committed a crime to pocket the moneys of the Filipino people.
He presented the committee report to the media but refused to answer any queries as he explained that the said report had yet to be signed by the members of the panel.
"The report will be submitted to individual senators for their perusal and signatures," Guingona said.
"Maliwanag po ang natuklasan natin sa pagdinig. Ang pera ng bayan ay pinagbalakan, pinagkaisahan, pinagpasasaan."Guingona stressed.
The committee gave particular credence to the testimonies of whistleblowers Luy and Suñas in concluding that the three senators and their respective associates took kickbacks from Napoles' linked NGOs.
Luy's and Suñas' accounting records suggested that Enrile, through Reyes and lawyer Jose Antonio Evangelista, had laundered, via bogus Napoles NGOs and for their own pocketing, at least P363,275,000 of the senator's PDAF.
Following the same scheme, Estrada and Labayen allegedly received kickbacks of at least P375,750,000.
On the part of Revilla, it was said that his transactions with Napoles were supposedly coursed through Cambe, the kickbacks were said to be worth at least P326,000,000.
The committee report also recommended that Reyes, Labayen, and Cambe should be included in any cases of plunder or malversation, direct bribery, fraud against the public treasury, graft, and violation of the code of conduct and ethical standards for public officials.
The recommendation also suggests that Nabcor chief Javellana and Ortiz of TRC should be given the same charges as it explained that they served as facilitators of the PDAF scam.
In support of the findings of other investigative bodies, the Blue Ribbon committee found merit in the evidence presented and found sufficient basis for the filing of appropriate criminal cases with the proper court.
Guingona further recommended the investigation of Enrile's deputy chief of staff Jose Antonio Evangelista, former ZNAC Rubber Estate Corporation (ZREC) President Salvador Salacup, former ZREC treasurer and board director Ophelia Agawin, NAtional Livelihood Development Corporation employee Gig Buenaventura and accounts servicing head Alexis Sevidal as well as Napoles friend and former Metrobank manager Winnie Villanueva.
The Committee left to the Ombudsman to decide the case of Ruby Tuason and Dennis Cunanan (former Technology Resource Centre director), who both testified before the Senate blue ribbon.
Guingona said 80 percent of PDAF was lost due to rampant corruption.
"Approximately 80 percent of the PDAF has been lost probably due to corruption," the report said, apparently recalling testimonies made by Commission on Audit Chairperson Grace Pulido-Tan and Director Susan Garcia, during the first congressional hearings into the PDAF scam on August 29, 2013.
"If this manner of using PDAF is descriptive of how other government funds are disbursed, then corruption is an endemic cancer insidiously spreading, and leading our government to absolute ruin," Guingona said.
Filipinos at home and abroad, he added, "are thoroughly fed up and disgusted beyond endurance over the brazen, depraved, and routinary pillaging of our national coffers."
Guingona's committee will refer its report to the ethics committee, which hears complaints seeking to reprimand or kick out senators for putting the integrity and reputation of the Senate in a bad light.
"To restore the integrity of the Senate and the trust and confidence of the public, an institutional purging is needed once and for all," the panel said.
The camp of Senator Revilla, meanwhile, called the Blue Ribbon report as a piece of scrap paper.
Lawyer Joel Bodegon, Revilla's counsel, described the report as a hurried piece considering a pending temporary restraining order with the Supreme Court on the said case.
Bodegon said his client will answer all the charges at the proper time as he said that Revilla will file a motion for reconsideration.
Estrada, for his part, said Guingona has shown prejudgment of the case since the start of the hearing on the pork barrel scam.
"Sarswela yan. simula pa lamang ay bias na ang blue ribbon. What else is new?" said Estrada in an interview.
"I am saddened that the committee made such recommendation. Maliwanag na maliwanag na kami ang pinagplanuhan at nagsabwatan sila laban sa amin. How about those legislators na kakampi nila. Bakit kami lang ang diniin nila." Estrada said.
But Estrada maintained he will defend himself in court insisting that it is the proper place to defend himself and to prove his innocence.
Aside from the Napoles and the senators, the committee also recommended the filing of charges against the personalities running the foundations on behalf of the detained businesswoman and the relatives of Napoles, including her husband Jaime Garcia Napoles, other relatives like, Reynaldo "Jojo" Lim, Ronaldo Francisco Lim, James Christopher Lim Napoles, Jeane Catherine Lim Napoles, Jane Catherine Lim Napoles, John Christian Lim Napoles, Rosita Kawson Co, and Ronald John Lim.
"The dubious nature and purpose of these organizations is further highlighted by the following strategy utilized by the cohorts of Janet Lim-Napoles, whenever a government inspection is conducted at the respective registered places of business of these foundations," the report further stated.
"These foundations do not really conduct business in their registered place of business. When the foundation applied for accreditation and the concerned government agency conducts inspection, we simply furnish the registered foundation with a computer, office tables and chairs, and some documents. After the inspection, that office is again abandoned and the operation of the foundation is resumed or carried-on in the office of JLN Corporation at the 25th floor of Discovery Center Suites, Ortigas Center, Pasig City.
Apart from blacklisting errant NGOs, foundations receiving state funds should also be subjected to "real-time" audit, where government auditors will be given the opportunity "to detect and investigate fraud and all sorts of irregularities in a timely fashion."
The Senate said the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) should boost its manpower to monitor NGOs following an admission by SEC Chairperson Teresita Herbosa that they only have eight processors that handle a total of 20,000 foundations, half of which are active.
NGOs, which have been in operation for less than three years, must be blocked by the Commission on Audit (COA) from receiving public funds and require NGOs to prove their capacities in terms of track record, developmental milestones, evidence of socio-economic accomplishments and financial, technical and legal capabilities.
A mandatory seminar on good governance for board of directors or management of government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs) was recommended while Congress was asked to pass the Freedom of Information bill and laws on NGO accreditation for government contracts and mandating COA to audit foundations handling state funds. (With Camille P. Balagtas/Sunnex)