MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – Senator Gregorio Honasan and administration ally Joel Villanueva, also chief of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda), have been charged by the justice department with malversation of public funds, direct bribery, and graft and corruption.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Friday, August 7, filed before the Office of the Ombudsman the third batch of charges against 40 people in relation to the misuse of lawmakers' funds, more popularly referred to as pork barrel. The Ombudsman filed cases against incumbent and former lawmakers, public officials, and private individuals.
Radio station dzMM reported that Honasan, Villanueva, and Cagayan de Oro 2nd District Representative Rufus Rodriguez were among those charged. Villanueva was earlier reported to be among those running for the Senate under the Liberal Party in the 2016 elections.
The DOJ accused the following incumbent and former lawmakers of obtaining "kickbacks" from alleged pork scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles, who was also among those charged:
Senator Gregorio Honasan – P1.75 million
Manila 5th District Representative Amado Bagatsing – P600,000
Abono party-list Representative Conrado Estrella III – P45 million
Former Abono party-list Representative Robert Raymond Estrella – P22.68 million
Former La Union 1st district representative Manuel Ortega – P14.35 million
La Union 1st District Representative Victor Francisco Ortega – P9.59 million
Former Zamboanga del Sur 1st District representative Isidro Real Jr – P3.25 million
Cagayan de Oro 2nd District Representative Rufus Rodriguez – P2.09 million
Former Cibac part-list representative Joel Villanueva – P2.3 million
Also charged were former National Agribusiness Corporation (Nabcor) President Alan Javellana; former National Livelihood Development Corporation (NLDC) president Gondelina Amata; Technology Research Center (TRC) Director General Dennis Cunanan; and former TRC Director General Antonio Ortiz.
Napoles NGOs, lawmakers reps
The presidents of nongovernmental organizations ran by Napoles – Mylene Encarnacion of Countrywide Agri and Rural Economic and Development Foundation Inc (CARED) and Evelyn Ditchon-De Leon of the Philippine Social Development Foundation Inc (PSDFI) – were also charged.
The NBI also filed a complaint against the following representatives of the former and incumbent lawmakers:
Michael Benjamin (Honasan)
Anthony Dequina (Honasan)
Valentino Limchu (Honasan)
Manuel Jarmin (Honasan)
Celia Cuasay (Bagatsing)
Lourd Dexter Manalo (Estrella III)
Ronald Casareno (Estrella III)
"Irma" (Estrella III)
Zenaida Grace-Ducut (Ortega)
Jenny Quero (Ortega)
Ronald Francisco Lim (Real)
Maximo Bautista Rodriguez (Rodriguez)
Ma Theresa Defensor-Asuncion (Villanueva)
The following officials and employees from the implementing agencies were also charged:
Ma Ninez Guanizo
Ma Julie Villaralvo-Johnson
Emmanuel Alexis Sevidal
The third batch of pork scam charges were filed before the Ombudsman nearly two years after the last batch, which included another Aquino administration ally, former Customs chief Rozzano Rufino "Ruffy" Biazon.
'No due process'
In an interview on ANC, Rodriguez claimed that the DOJ had denied him due process, and said he will bring the matter to the Supreme Court.
"[I'm] going to the Supreme Court to be able to get justice in this particular case by having due process. The Constitution requires that there shall be due process. You cannot just charge people," he said.
Rodriguez said that the DOJ had required other potential respondents to give their side, but in his case, he was not even notified or informed about the affidavits and evidence against him, so he had no chance to defend himself.
"How can the DOJ just file this case when there was no notice from the DOJ from the very beginning? This is denial of due process under the Constitution," he said.
The lawmaker added that the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) had deemed as forgeries the signatures on 18 documents he allegedly signed to release P3 million to the TLRC.
Rodriguez maintained that he had never met Napoles or any of her "henchmen or people under her, or any bogus organization."
Villanueva described the timing of the charges against him as "weird," since he is helping the government in a criminal case against former Tesda chief Augusto Syjuco.
"Since Day 1, hindi tayo nagnakaw hindi tayo nangurakot (I never stole, I never got kickbacks)," Villanueva told reporters in an interview. He said he's ready to defend himself before the Ombudsman.
In a phone patch interview on ANC, Bagatsing said he was "surprised and confused" by the development.
"They know I'm just being manipulated because I circulated publicly the withdrawal or the retraction of Ms Napoles. I'm confused as to why my name is being included because no one is accusing me; she has even retracted and apologized. Why did the NBI include my name there?" the Manila lawmaker asked. (READ: Napoles: Rep Bagatsing not part of PDAF scam)
Bagatsing had filed a perjury case against Napoles for including him in the list of PDAF scam lawmakers.
He also said his "confusion" also stems from the fact that he had provided the DOJ all his documents to support his innocence.
Up to Ombudsman
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima told reporters in an interview that just like in the case of the first and second batches of complaints made by the DOJ over the pork barrel scam, "it will be the call of the Ombudsman whether or not to pursue the cases."
"This will not go directly into a PI (preliminary investigation). It will still have to pass through the field investigation office, just like the first and second batches," she said.
De Lima also denied suspicions that the filing of the third batch of complaints took longer because of the inclusion of Villanueva. She said the NBI had to thoroughly scrutinize the affixed signatures on the Special Allotment Release Orders (SAROs), which served as evidence of the bureau against the respondents.
The NBI said, however, that the NBI's findings on the authenticity of the signatures "are not conclusive" and "will still be subject to the scrutiny of of the Sandiganbayan in the event the Ombudsman decides to file the criminal cases with said court."
In Malacañang, Palace Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr said, "Public interest requires that the ends of justice are served, while affording due process to the respondents."
In its 7-page executive summary, the NBI anchored its complaint on the testimony of Benhur Luy, the cousin and former chief aide of Napoles.
The NBI rescued Luy in March 2013 after he was illegally detained by Napoles in her condominium over suspicions that he had secret deals with lawmakers on their PDAF, copying her modus operandi.
Through Luy and other former employees of Napoles, the NBI found that several lawmakers pocketed kickbacks from their anomalous transactions with Napoles. – Rappler.com