The Philippine Department of Justice (DOJ) will conduct new investigations into the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) cases, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II announced on Thursday, May 11.
According to Aguirre, the DOJ will form a new task force to probe the multimillion-peso scams.
He added, however, that his office would not adopt the findings of the panel formed by his predecessor, former Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who investigated the cases during the previous administration of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.
De Lima, who was elected as a senator last year, is currently in detention on drug-related charges.
Likewise, the DOJ said it will not coordinate with Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales.
Criticizing the alleged “selective justice” of the previous administration, Aguirre noted that there were “several hundreds responsible individuals, public officials” but only “three were charged” by the Sandiganbayan.
Aguirre was likely referring to former Senators Ramon Revilla Jr., Jinggoy Estrada, and Juan Ponce Enrile, who were charged with graft and plunder charges in connection with the anomaly. Enrile is currently out on bail, while the other two remain incarcerated.
“We’ll be making an honest to goodness effort to reopen itong PDAF and even DAP cases. Kaya’t (That’s why) we could not rest in view of the fact that only three among hundreds of responsible public officials dito sa dalawang kasong ito (in these two cases),” Aguirre said.
He further added, “Tuloy-tuloy po tayo, that there will be no selective justice katulad ng nakaraan (We will continue and there will be no selective justice, unlike before).”
Aguirre’s statements came days after the Court of Appeals acquitted Janet Lim Napoles, the alleged architect of PDAF, also referred to as “pork barrel” scam, in her serious illegal detention case filed by whistleblower Benhur Luy.
Napoles, however, is still facing graft and plunder charges in connection with the anomaly of the pork barrel program.
Napoles to reveal more
Also on Thursday, Napoles’s lawyer said he has met with Aguirre to discuss the possibility of turning her into a state witness.
“We’re just exploring the possibility that my client will be admitted to the Witness Protection Program (WPP), basically ‘yun lang naman (That’s basically it),” Napoles’s lawyer Stephen David told reporters after their meeting.
David said they are requesting the DOJ to give Napoles “proper security” if the proposition passes, adding that Napoles is ready to name “higher” officials involved in the multi-billion peso scam.
According to him, there had been talks with the Aquino administration about the possibility of Napoles becoming a state witness but the proposal apparently failed to protect political allies allegedly involved in the scam.
Aguirre, for his part, assured that the DOJ would conduct a fair and impartial investigation into the cases.
“Napoles might be used not against the opposition but against those guilty or responsible,” Aguirre remarked.
He went on to say, “Whether you are in the opposition or in the administration if the evidence will show you are responsible then you should clear your name, answer the accusations against you. Otherwise, prepare for your trial.”
While clarifying that he was not implying guilt, Aguirre said that “high-ranking people” are likely involved in the scam, citing that Napoles was reportedly accompanied by then-President Aquino and then-Interior Secretary Mar Roxas to the Philippine National Police (PNP) headquarters after surrendering to Malacañang in August 2013.
Aguirre also recalled that then-Justice Secretary de Lima said, “more than three times that they are going to come out with additional respondents, but it did not happen.”
‘Duterte after truth’
In light of Napoles’s acquittal, President Rodrigo Duterte is looking to uncover the whole truth about the pork barrel scam and hold those involved accountable, according to Malacañang.
While Duterte has publicly expressed his support on the reopening of inquiry into the fund scam, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella assured that the probe would not be used for personal or political motives.
“The president wants the truth to finally come out and hold those involved, regardless of political color or party line, accountable,” Abella said in a statement.
Abella also underscored that the Filipino people “deserves to know the truth in this case, not the slanted truth nor the doctored truth.”
‘No probable cause’
Former President Aquino has insisted that there is no probable cause to indict him with technical malversation charges in connection with the controversial use of the DAP.
Last March, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales cleared Aquino from liabilities over the DAP and only indicted former Budget Secretary Florencio Abad for violating Article 239 of the Revised Penal Code, or the usurpation of legislative powers, by “unlawfully” issuing the National Budget Circular (NBC) No. 541, which paved the way for the release of P72 billion-worth of DAP.
But complainants, led by Rep. Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna party-list, appealed to the Ombudsman to reconsider its decision of clearing Aquino, arguing that the roles of Aquino and Abad “could not be discounted as mere ‘policy makers’ of the DAP scheme.”
“Rather, the policy direction chosen by respondents are the raison d’être of the DAP,” the motion for reconsideration read.
In October 2011, then-President Aquino approved the DAP proposed by Abad, which aimed to “fast-track public spending and push economic growth by prioritizing high-impact budgetary programs and projects.”
It was later declared partly unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2014.
In his comment filed before the Ombudsman, Aquino sought the dismissal of the motion due to lack of merit, arguing that it “failed to propound sound [and] valid.”
“The Honorable Office’s determination that there was no sufficient ground to engender a well-founded belief that the offenses charged were committed is grounded on adequate factual and legal bases,” Aquino said in his comment.
Aquino also argued that he did not commit usurpation of legislative powers when he approved the DAP issuances.
According to him, a president is not “obligated to determine how savings are accumulated, much less how they are ‘withdrawn,’” and that he only “utilized what was considered and reported to him as savings.”
“In other words, Respondent [Aquino] did not ‘withdraw funds as savings,’ contrary to Complainants’ insistent allegations. Put simply, the constitutional authority here is the power to augment—there is no such thing as ‘the power to save’ because savings are simply taken as given by every Chief Executive,” the comment further read.