Prosecutor ‘also botched’ lampposts case-A A +A
Monday, June 30, 2014
THE most recent development in the prosecution of the plunder cases filed against Sens. Juan Ponce Enrile, Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada and Bong Revilla together with Janet Lim-Napoles and a few other respondents with the Sandiganbayan proves that gathering evidence is not enough to get a conviction.
Interpretation and presentation of the evidence is crucial. For that, prosecutors need to possess adequate to superior skill and integrity.
Some sectors now fear that the Office of the Ombudsman would botch the cases pending before the Sandiganbayan in relation to the P10-billion Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam after its prosecution team sought to amend the cases it filed before the anti-graft court. It wants to shift the main blame for the scam from Napoles to the lawmakers.
The Sandiganbayan division handling Revilla’s plunder case promptly rejected the move, warning that the amendment could weaken the prosecution case against the respondents.
The same amendments are being sought in the plunder cases filed against Enrile and Estrada.
The prosecution team led by acting Ombudsman Director Danilo Lopez sought the amendment of the information after Napoles’s lawyer Stephen David noted that his client is not a public official and should therefore not have been accused with plunder.
The information lodged with the Sandiganbayan tended to show that Napoles was the central figure in the scam instead of the lawmakers. The prosecution team wanted to clarify that it is the other way around.
Interestingly, what the Ombudsman panel is saying was exactly my stance when details of the scam surfaced early on. I said that the “original sin” was committed by the lawmakers because they were the ones who had access to the pork barrel allocations and not Napoles. Without the lawmakers, how could Napoles have illegally amassed her wealth?
The Sandiganbayan rebuff of the prosecution team’s move had people questioning the capability of its members to see the case through.
High-profile legal practitioner Harry Roque, who styles himself as a lawyer activist, is seeking a revamp of the team’s membership even as he cited the questionable record of some of the prosecutors.
What caught my attention was his mention of Lopez as having botched one of the corruption cases close to the Cebuanos’ heart: the overpricing of the decorative lamp posts purchased in time for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit in Cebu in 2007.
“The Ombudsman has to replace Lopez. He can’t lose the PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) cases the same way he lost the Cebu lamppost case,” Roque said in a text message to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Roque was referring to the dismissal in 2009 of the graft charges against Isabelo Braza, owner of Fabmik Construction and Equipment Supply Co., Inc. that supplied the lampposts installed in Mandaue City in time for the summit. Before that, Lopez and then acting deputy special prosecutor Jesus Micael sought to withdraw the information against Braza and another lamppost supplier and virtually admitted that the case filed by the Office of the Ombudsman in the Visayas was weak.
To be fair, Lopez and Micael may have indeed inherited a weak case. They noted that their Visayas counterparts failed to prove the overpricing because additional data like labor costs, transportation costs and other expenses were not supplied. Lopez, upon questioning by the Sandiganbayan, even theorized that “there was much pressure from the press (for the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas) to file the information.”
Still, Lopez and the other prosecutors now handling the PDAF case cannot escape the criticisms and the recollection of their handling of cases past because they fumbled in their initial run now.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on July 01, 2014.