Sen. Gregorio Honasan II, Secretary Joel Villanueva, Rep. Rufus Rodriguez INQUIRER FILE PHOTOS
Charges of graft and malversation in connection with the P10-billion pork barrel racket have been prepared against Sen. Gregorio Honasan II, Secretary Joel Villanueva, Rep. Rufus Rodriguez and five other lawmakers, two sources in the Department of Justice (DOJ) told the Inquirer on Monday.
The eight constituted the third group to be charged in the alleged diversion of the congressional Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), or pork barrel, to ghost projects and bogus nongovernment organizations (NGOs) in schemes allegedly masterminded by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.
The DOJ sources, who asked not to be named for lack of authority to talk to the media, said the National Bureau of Investigation had finalized its
letter-complaint to the Office of the Ombudsman recommending graft and malversation charges against the eight lawmakers led by Honasan, the fourth sitting senator to be implicated in the Napoles scam.
But the NBI recommendation must first be approved by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.
Villanueva, chief of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda), is the only member of President Aquino’s Cabinet to be charged in the scam. He is planning to run for senator on the administration slate next year.
Rodriguez heads the House ad hoc committee that steered approval through his panel of the controversial draft Bangsamoro Basic Law calling for the creation of a substate under a peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
One of the sources also said La Union Rep. Victor Ortega and his predecessor, Rep. Manuel Ortega, were among those to be charged.
The Inquirer tried to get comments from the lawmakers on the NBI move, but calls and text messages went unanswered at press time.
Justice Undersecretary Jose Justiniano told reporters that De Lima had yet to approve the NBI recommendation to charge the eight current and former lawmakers. He declined to give details.
Speaking with reporters in the Sandiganbayan, Justiniano said the NBI investigators had come up with the final version of the complaint to be submitted to De Lima within the week.
“We have completed our task,” he said in an interview after attending the bail hearing of detained Sen. Jinggoy Estrada.
“We revised the first letter-complaint in the light of the allegations of some of the legislators that their signatures were fake. We revised the complaint to address those issues,” he said.
Justiniano, who was assigned by De Lima to lead the NBI investigation of the pork barrel scam, said it was up to the secretary to make public the names of the legislators.
But he said one of them was an incumbent senator while at least two others were known allies of President Aquino.
“As what Secretary De Lima had said, we don’t look at the political (affiliation) of the lawmakers. If there’s evidence against them, we will file charges against them,” he said.
Justiniano said the NBI recommendation was still subject to De Lima’s approval and that it was also up to her to transmit it to the Office of the Ombudsman for preliminary investigation.
Claims of forgery
He maintained that the lawmakers couldn’t feign ignorance just because their signatures in the PDAF documents were purportedly forged.
“That has become the trend,” Justiniano said. “After learning that we will be filing cases against them, they would have their signatures examined and claim that these are fake.”
“That’s why we addressed that issue. Even if their signatures were supposedly forged, we will still file cases against them,” he said.
On Monday, De Lima told reporters she had postponed for Wednesday her meeting, scheduled on Monday, with the PDAF investigators.
“It’s not difficult at all. They’re still just fixing up a lot of things on the documents that are already there before we could discuss which cases are to be given my go-signal,” she said.
De Lima, who is reportedly eyeing a Senate seat in the 2016 elections, earlier drew criticisms after she announced that pursuing the third batch of PDAF cases was no longer a priority due to other pressing legal issues.
Not easy on allies
She later said that the DOJ was still intent on filing the latest complaints against the legislators, stressing that she was not going easy on the administration allies as alleged by some sectors.
Since the PDAF racket broke out in July 2013, three opposition senators—Jinggoy Estrada, Bong Revilla and Juan Ponce Enrile—had been ordered detained by the Sandiganbayan for plunder and graft charges. Napoles is likewise under detention.
Two former House members, Rizalina Seachon-Lanete (Masbate) and Edgar Valdez (Apec), have also been arrested for similar offenses.
Three other former congressmen—Constantino Jaraulla
(Cagayan de Oro), Rodolfo Plaza (Agusan del Sur) and Samuel Dangwa (Benguet)—have been indicted for malversation, graft and direct bribery.–With a report from Jerome C. Aning