Two individuals in the eye of the brewing storm over the multibillion-peso ghost government projects allegedly funded by legislators’ public funds will be taken in as state witnesses, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima yesterday said.
Benhur Luy and Merlina Sunas will be placed under the government’s witness protection program (WPP), De Lima confirmed to reporters.
Luy earlier had exposed the alleged P10-billion pork barrel scam allegedly perpetrated by Janet Lim Napoles and her brother of the JLN Group of Companies where he was previously connected.
Luy identified five senators and 23 members of the House of Representatives in the alleged pork barrel scam.
The Justice chief said she made a previous offer to Luy to be covered by WPP after he was rescued by agents of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) from the camp of Napoles last March when the whistle-blower filed serious illegal detention charges against the Napoles, but Luy decided then not to be givent government protection.
According to De Lima, when she reiterated recently the offer to Baligod, the latter was able to convince his client this time.
“I’ve talked to them already before. I interviewed Benhur before, that’s why we initiated the investigation and I created a very small team of trusted investigators to look into the allegations of Benhur and his companions,” she added.
De Lima, however, stressed it was too early for her to assess the “strength” of the case, saying she has yet to review all the documents and other pieces of evidence currently with the NBI.
These individuals – just like Sunas – were allegedly named as presidents and officers of Napoles’ ghost foundations without their knowledge, Baligod said.
But Napoles’ lawyer Bruce Rivera said the NBI and De Lima were just “misled” into rescuing Luy and taking him into custody during a “fake rescue” last March at the condominium unit of Napoles’ brother, Reynaldo Lim.
According to him, this was pointed out in the DoJ resolution dismissing the serious illegal detention charges filed by the parents of Luy against Napoles and Lim.
With the NBI standing by Luy despite the DoJ resolution, Rivera said he believes the agency might not be the best venue anymore for the investigation on the alleged scam.
But De Lima warned Napoles’ camp against its accusation.
“We won’t take seriously this kind of move or strategy because at the end of the day, this may be part of their smear campaign against the NBI,” she said.
The Partido Lakas ng Masa, meanwhile, urged De Lima to make sure Napoles cannot leave the country following the controversy surrounding the P10-billion pork barrel scam where Napoles was accused of being the “mastermind.”
During a protest rally at the Department of Justice, PLM chairman Sonny Melencio said Napoles should be held liable for allegedly dipping her hands into the government coffers.
The group also called for an investigation on allegations Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., whose law firm has allegedly represented Napoles and the Liberal Party, received P100 million from her.
“Ochoa and the Liberal Party have to disclose the kind of connections they have with Napoles…A disclosure is relevant in order to allay the public’s fear of possible whitewash in the investigation by Malacañang or the ruling party,” Melencio said.
The activist fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) has also dared President Aquino to certify as urgent a proposed bill abolishing the pork barrel of senators and congressmen, including the audit-free pork barrel allotted to the Office of the President.
In a press statement, Pamalakaya vice chairman Salvador France said Malacañang should certify House Bill (HB) 1535 recalling the pork barrel to all lawmakers and the President.
HB 1535 was filed the other day by militant congressmen belonging to Bayan Muna, Anakpawis, Gabriela, Alliance of Concerned Teachers and Kabataan Partylist — collectively known as the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives.
The bill shall prohibit the President from providing a budgetary item or including in the proposed budget submitted to Congress every fiscal year lump sum allocations to the priority development assistance fund (PDAF) and other lump sum discretionary amounts.
Aside from the legislators’ pork barrel, the bill shall also abolish the Presidential pork barrel, such as the President’s Social Fund sourced from revenue-generating agencies like the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., Philippine Charity Sweepstake Office and the Malampaya Fund.
“We compel the highest office in the land to certify as urgent HB 1535 to frustrate the large-scale resource grabbing and plunder of taxpayers’ money in aid of legislation. Instead, the pork barrel should be re-channeled to basic social services such as housing, education, health and other forms of services beneficial to the people and the taxpaying public,” France said.
But Malacañang said it is leaving to Congress the decision on the proposed scrapping of PDAF.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda added the President has not said anything on the calls by some groups to abolish the pork barrel.
“We have not discussed it with the President, so I am not in a position to say what the position is. However, my understanding yesterday in the press briefing of (Budget) Secretary (Florencio) Butch Abad, (is) that they have made some policy recommendations. I am not aware what those policy recommendations are to the President,” he added.
By Benjamin B. Pulta
and Paul Atienza