By JUN RAMIREZ
There is strong evidence linking some senators and congressmen to the so-called P10-billion “pork barrel” scam, according to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima yesterday.
As a result, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) will soon file before the Office of the Ombudsman plunder charges against lawmakers who allegedly profited from the P10-billion pork barrel scam before the Office of the Ombudsman.
The announcement was made during a hastily-called joint press conference by De Lima and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales at the OMB’s office in Quezon City.
De Lima declined to identify the names of the solons that will be included in the charge sheet.
“They will be identified when the formal complaint is filed with the OMB in one or two weeks time,” she said.
Morales, for her part, debunked insinuations that the media briefing was called in reaction to last Monday’s anti-pork barrel rally held at Luneta.
She said the OMB has been conducting a parallel probe on the issue after the anomaly was exposed last month.
OMB officials explained that the solons will be charged because the principal suspect Janet Lim Napoles cannot be charged alone in any graft case as she is a private citizen.
They said the anti-graft body’s mandate is to investigate and prosecute government officials and employees accused of corruption.
De Lima said the involvement of lawmakers in the case is strong based on evidence gathered by the NBI and testimonies of whistleblowers who have personal knowledge of the irregularity.
For her part, Morales said the OMB will immediately conduct a preliminary investigation and give the accused the opportunity to answer the charges as soon as the NBI complaint is filed.
She explained that the OMB has to validate all allegations and will only file the appropriate charges before the Sandiganbanyan if the evidence is substantial to stand the court’s scrutiny.
De Lima said the complaint to be filed shortly before the OMB concerned only the “Napoles component” of the irregularity.
She said the involvement of other persons mentioned in the 500-page Commission on Audit (CoA) report are still being investigated and validated by an eight-member Inter-Agency Anti-Graft Council (IAGC), adding that the panel chaired by Morales is still gathering evidence to substantiate the CoA findings.
De Lima and Morales said the CoA report alone cannot be used to file charges, although it will make their job easier.
The justice secretary said Napoles and her brother Reynald are still in the country and that they are still being hunted for kidnapping one of the principal whistleblowers, their cousin Ben Hur Luy.
She admitted difficulties in capturing the duo due to the NBI’s lack of manpower and resources.
“But eventually we will catch them,” she said.
She said the Philippine National Police is also helping the NBI in the search for the sibling and that the NBI has not yet recommended putting up a reward for their arrest.