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Tuesday, 27 June 2017 00:00 Published in page one

DoJ starts new pork barrel case, eyes yellows

Tuesday, 27 June 2017 00:00 Published in Headlines

By Julius N. Leonen

Former legislators and Aquino officials who were never investigated on their pork barrel may have escaped public scrutiny and the Commission on Audit (CoA) special audit over their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) projects, but they are not yet off the hook, not with a reinvestigation of the pork barrel probe.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II yesterday said a reinvestigation into the controversial PDAF, commonly known as pork barrel, is now underway following the creation of a special task force to look into the anomalous multi-billion-peso pork barrel funds. “I have already ordered the reorganization of the Task Force on PDAF cases for the purpose of reinvestigation. I designated Undersecretary Antonio “Richie” Kho as head of the task force,” Aguirre said in a text message yesterday.

Aguirre, who bared that several former Cabinet officials close to former President Noynoy Aquino would be among those to be investigated, vowed that the new task force will rectify the “miscarriage of justice” in the earlier probe conducted by the previous administration.
“Just as it was in the previous investigation, the statements and evidence will be validated through records from relevant implementing agencies and the Commission on Audit,” Aguirre said.
“But this time, we can assure the public that there will be no selective justice - unlike what happened in the previous administration,” the Justice chief vowed.
The Justice chief earlier said a new probe into the pork barrel scam was necessary as a result of the “selective justice” applied during the earlier probe, where the investigation centered on only three opposition lawmakers, namely former senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr.
No other senator had been charged with plunder.
While a handful of congressional allies of the previous administration were charged, they were charged merely for graft, which is a bailable offense.
Not so in the case of the three opposition senators, who have been chared with plunder and denied bail.
Kho’s team is composed of prosecutors and agents from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), according to the Justice chief.
DAP to be probed too
In addition, Aguirre said the new task force will handle the fact-finding probe into the alleged anomalies in the unconstitutional Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), the unlawfully implemented and controversial budget program of the Aquino administration.
In the case of the DAP filed against Aquino and former budget chief Florencio “Butch” Abad, the Ombudsman, known to protect the former president and his officials, quickly absolved Aquino while merely giving Abad a slap in the wrist.
The Ombudsman was even quoted by media as saying that Aquino is “corrupt free”even before cases of plunder and corruption against him were investigated.
Aguirre said the panel would also meet with Napoles’ lawyer Stephen David and anti-pork advocate Greco Belgica for gathering of evidence.
Napoles provides affidavit
The new task force will kick off the probe with the affidavit and documentary evidence to be submitted by detained businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, the alleged pork barrel scam queen, Aguirre said.
The Justice chief said that the new task force replaced the NBI task force created by former Justice chief and current Senator de Lima, who is now detained on drug trafficking charges.
De Lima’s task force that launched the fact-finding probe on the PDAF scam during the Aquino administration only led to the plunder indictment of opposition personalities.
Last month, Aguirre bared during a press briefing that allies of former President Aquino—Senators de Lima, Antonio Trillanes IV, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and former Budget Secretary Abad—were implicated by Napoles in the PDAF scam.
Aguirre said lawyer Stephen David, Napoles’ counsel, informed him that Napoles revealed that de Lima, Trillanes, Drilon and Abad were allegedly involved in the anomalous budget program.
Napoles was recently acquitted by the Court of Appeals (CA) from illegal detention charges after it found that the prosecution failed to show whistleblower Benhur Luy was deprived of his liberty during his alleged detention.
To recall, Aquino allies were spared in the P10-billion PDAF cases that started with the CoA special report on the legislators’ pork barrel covering 2007 to 2009.
The CoA report was branded by opposition personalities as a selective audit aimed at pinning key political opponents of President Aquino.
Aguirre said that Napoles, as told by David, will include Drilon, Trillanes and de Lima and several other government officials in the affidavit to be submitted, where she will explain their alleged involvement.
The Justice chief also said that Napoles is willing to identify more high-ranking officials, among them allies of the previous administration, who are allegedly involved in the pork scam.
“I think this is already documented and not denied. When the name of Janet Napoles was exposed, the first thing she did was go to Malacañang,” Aguirre said in a forum last May 11.
Asked if former Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas, who lost as Aquino’s anointed for president in the national elections last May, and Budget Secretary Abad, will be probed, Aguirre merely pointed to the person who accompanied Napoles when she went to Malacañang when the scam was exposed.
“I’m not saying those who accompanied her that time are all guilty. What I’m saying is, Napoles immediately went straight to Malacañang (to meet) the highest officials of the land, together with some Cabinet secretaries,” Aguirre said during the forum.
Moreover, Aguirre said Napoles had tagged Abad as her mentor or instigator of the anomaly and that she will explain this in her affidavit.
Aguirre also said that the DoJ, once Napoles files an application for the Witness Protection Program (WPP), will look into the possibility of turning the alleged pork barrel scam queen into a state witness.
The Justice chief said that in the case of plunder, only government officials involved in the anomalous budget program can be held as the “most guilty,” citing jurisprudence of the Supreme Court (SC).
The reinvestigation into PDAF scam was bared by Aguirre after the CA cleared Napoles of detention charges filed by pork scam whistleblower Benhur Luy before the Makati Regional Trial Court (RTC).
But Napoles remains in detention since she is still facing plunder, graft and malversation charges before the Sandiganbayan, along with former senators Estrada, Revilla and Enrile.

By Julius N. Leonen

The controversial six Ilocos Norte provincial officials who are currently detained at the House of Representatives for contempt have asked the Court of Appeals (CA) to declare their continued detention as “illegal” and “a form of torture.”
In an 18-page motion filed before the appellate court last Friday, the six officials, Josephine Calajate, Encarnacion Gaor, Genedine Jambaro, Evangeline Tabulog, Pedro Agcaoili Jr. and Eden Battulayan, asked the CA’s Special Fourth Division to resolve their habeas corpus case immediately.

The petitioners, through their lawyer, former Solicitor General Estelito Mendoza, called on the appellate court to “issue an order directing that petitioners be restored of their liberty and forthwith discharged from confinement.”
“The detainees are undergoing torture, which is barred by international conventions and barred explicitly under our laws as well,” Mendoza stressed.
The officials were cited in contempt and detained last May 29 by the House committee on good government and public accountability, which is looking into the alleged misuse of P66.45 million worth of provincial tobacco funds to purchase motor vehicles.
“Four weeks later, with a pending habeas corpus petition and a court order for their release, the petitioners still find themselves without any right to liberty, with no reprieve in sight, and with no recourse to justice,” they stated.
“The four weeks that the petitioners have spent in detention is time lost which petitioners could never recover. The Honorable Court, by exercising its power to issue the extraordinary writ of habeas corpus, may still relieve petitioners of the protracted and arbitrary deprivation of their liberty,” they added.
Ilocos Norte First District Rep. Rudy Fariñas, chairman of the House committee on good government and accountability, deemed that the six officials were “refusing to answer questions” and were being “evasive” during the House inquiry and even threatened the six that they may be held in detention until June 2019, or until the House committee’s members are satisfied with their answers.
But the petitioners insisted that there was no attempt on their part to refuse the panel’s questions.
For instance, the petitioners, in their motion, insisted that Calajate only asked for more time to look into the original documents in relation to the inquiry.
The petitioners also added Gaor and Jambaro admitted not remembering the transactions in question.
They argued that Tabulog told the House panel she was “not so sure” if she signed the documents as the logbooks and registry being referred to have already been destroyed.
In addition, the petitioners stated that Agcaoili had said he does not remember all the transactions as he has handled thousands of procurements, while Battulayan said she does not remember signing a voucher for the cash advance.
Following their detention, the six officials filed a plea with the CA and sought for the issuance of the writ of habeas corpus, invoking their right against self-incrimination.
The CA, acting on the petition filed by the six officials who invoked, issued three orders to the House for the writ of habeas corpus as well as their temporary release.
Last June 1, the appellate court asked the House leadership to submit its reply to the six officials’ plea. The day after, the CA issued the writ of habeas corpus and ordered House sergeant-at-arms, retired Lt. Gen. Roland Detabali, to produce the detained employees before the court.
On June 9, the CA issued another resolution granting the petitioners’ request for provisional release, provided they post bail at P30,000 each.
But the House stood pat on its decision to detain the six officials and defied the CA’s orders, with a possible constitutional crisis escalating over the tussle between the legislative and the judiciary.
This led the CA’s Special Fourth Division to start its contempt of court proceedings against Alvarez and Detabali for disregarding its three orders.
But Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez threatened to file disbarment cases against the magistrates of the CA’s Special Fourth Division, Associate Justices Stephen Cruz, Edwin Sorongon and Nina Antonio-Valenzuela, for ordering the release of the six.

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