AQUINO ALLIES BICKER ON PORK PROBE / DRILON SUED FOR PLUNDER



Manila: After three years in office, President Benigno Aquino finally controlled the two houses of Congress, with the election of his allies as leaders in the Senate and the House of Representatives, making him less of a lame duck in the last three years of his administration that will end in 2016.

MANILA, SEPTEMBER 30, 2013 (INQUIRER) By Norman Bordadora, Cynthia D. Balana - To be or not to be at the Senate inquiry into the pork barrel scandal. That is the question.

President Aquino’s allies appear to be on a collision course over whether to respect the decision of the Office of the Ombudsman not to allow alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles and whistle-blowers to appear in the Senate inquiry.

Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, chair of the blue ribbon committee, wants Napoles, Benhur Luy and the other whistle-blowers to attend the hearing that the panel was conducting on the scam.

But Senate President Franklin Drilon and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima wanted to get the opinion of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales on compelling Napoles and the whistle-blowers to appear before the blue ribbon committee.

Guingona, a party mate of Aquino and Drilon, vice chair of the ruling Liberal Party, has issued subpoenas to Napoles and the whistle-blowers for their appearance at the hearing. The subpoena, however, needed the Senate President’s signature to take effect.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Guingona scolded De Lima after she appeared at the hearing without the whistle-blowers, who, he said, the justice secretary had promised to bring with her.

Primary jurisprudence

Napoles is not expected to appear before the committee on Thursday after Drilon on Tuesday announced that he was deferring to the Ombudsman’s opinion that it was “not advisable at this time for Ms. Napoles to testify before the blue ribbon committee on what she knows about the alleged scam.”

“Let us not forget that the Ombudsman is not an ordinary government functionary. She is an independent constitutional official, and the Office of the Ombudsman is a constitutional office,” Drilon said in an early-afternoon news conference on Tuesday.

“Out of prudence and out of respect for her office, we must defer to the judgment of the Ombudsman as she has acquired primary jurisdiction over the case,” Drilon added.

Drilon, on Monday, sought the Ombudsman’s comment as regards the subpoena for Napoles. He got his answer Tuesday.

Ombudsman’s position

“It cannot be gainsaid that the publicity that may be spawned by the testimony of Ms. Napoles would, among other things, adversely affect public interest, prejudice the safety of witnesses or the disposition of cases against her and/or her corespondents pending before this Office or unduly expose them to ridicule or public censure,” Morales said in her letter to Drilon.

The Ombudsman based her decision on Section 15[1] of Republic Act No. 6770 (The Ombudsman Act of 1989) and Section 2,[2] Rule V of Administrative Order No. 7 (Rules of Procedure of the Office of the Ombudsman).

Morales also cited the filing in the Office of the Ombudsman on Sept. 16 of the first set of Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) complaints against 38 people, including three senators and Napoles, by the National Bureau of Investigation and lawyer Levito Baligod.

She further said that “[t]here are also other PDAF-related cases involving other government officials in conspiracy with other private persons which are pending investigation” by the Office of the Ombudsman.

‘Senate power is supreme’

Morales said summoning Napoles would not produce reliable information at this stage, considering that she has publicly and consistently professed that she was not involved in any PDAF-related transaction.

Guingona said Drilon was wrong when the Senate President decided to first get Morales’ view before acting on the subpoena for Napoles’ appearance on Thursday.

“I’m not in favor of getting the comment of the Ombudsman. The power of the Senate is supreme. We can’t allow the opinion of another branch of government to hold sway here,” Guingona said after Tuesday morning’s abbreviated inquiry into the pork barrel scam.

Like Drilon, De Lima cited provisions of the Ombudsman Law and the Ombudsman’s rules in her decision to forego the appearance of any of the witnesses in the scam.

De Lima said she didn’t mean to undermine the authority of the Senate but only wanted to have the Ombudsman’s guidance before allowing the witnesses to testify in the Senate inquiry.

Unimpressed

Apparently unimpressed with De Lima’s explanation, Guingona issued a subpoena for De Lima and the witnesses to appear at the hearing on Thursday.

Guingona indicated that if the Senate blue ribbon committee did not assert its authority, wrongdoers who don’t want to appear at its hearings could have other people file flimsy cases in the Office of the Ombudsman.

“Once you have a case, you can no longer be touched by the Senate blue ribbon committee. I will not let that happen.

That’s wrong and I won’t let that happen on my watch. That will never happen,” he said.

In his news conference, Drilon signed Guingona’s subpoena for De Lima and whistle-blowers Benhur Luy, Gertrudes Luy, Marina Sula and Merlina Suñas.

Drilon said it was now up to De Lima, the subject of the subpoena, to seek the Ombudsman’s guidance if she wanted to.
“The Office of the Ombudsman has already issued a ruling in the case of Napoles, so we will follow that,” he said.

“There is no such request for the whistle-blowers and the subpoena is addressed to Secretary De Lima. If Secretary De Lima thinks that she should request the opinion of the Ombudsman, that is the matter that Secretary De Lima should handle,” Drilon added.

In his own news conference earlier Tuesday, Guingona said there was no need to talk with Drilon on the subpoena he would issue to De Lima and the witnesses.

‘I have my duty’

“I totally disagree with the action of the Senate President on that matter,” Guingona said, referring to Drilon’s move to get Morales’ consent before signing the subpoena Guingona had sought for Napoles.

“No more. I have already stated in public that I am issuing it. I will issue it…. He has his prerogatives, I have my duty,” Guingona added.

Malacañang found Guingona’s outburst at the blue ribbon committee hearing “surprising.”

At a news briefing, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte sided with De Lima, explaining that Guingona’s move to compel whistle-blowers to face the committee had to be cleared first with the Office of the Ombudsman, which had acquired jurisdiction over the plunder and other charges lodged in connection with the P10-billion pork barrel scam.—With a report from Michael Lim Ubac

Drilon sued for plunder Philippine Daily Inquirer 4:32 am | Wednesday, September 25th, 2013


Senate President Franklin Drilon: Plunder charge. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—Former Iloilo Rep. Augusto Syjuco has filed a P65-million plunder suit before the Ombudsman against Senate President Franklin Drilon in connection with an allegedly irregular and poorly constructed three-story government building in Iloilo that was built when Drilon was still justice secretary in President Corazon Aquino’s administration in 1991.

In the complaint he filed last week, Syjuco, who is himself facing graft charges, accused Drilon of receiving kickbacks and rebates or commissions from his pork barrel releases as a senator for the construction of the P200-million Iloilo Hall of Justice and a later retrofitting of the building.

Describing the alleged offense as a continuing crime, Syjuco said Drilon allegedly tried to fix the building’s structural defects by spending another P50 million for repairs in 2012, this time using Drilon’s Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocations as a senator for that year.

Exposed by quake
In the complaint, Syjuco said the building’s questionable structural integrity and defects were shown following a 5.7-magnitude earthquake that hit Iloilo in February 2012.

He said that no other building was badly damaged except for the Hall of Justice which was why the regional trial courts, the offices of the clerks of court, the Philippine Mediation Center, the Iloilo Provincial Prosecutor’s Office, Iloilo City Prosecutor’s Office, and the Public Attorneys’ Office (PAO) decided to vacate the building.

‘Undue influence’
“It is of public knowledge that respondent Franklin M. Drilon and his co-conspirators unlawfully received a kickback/commission of more than P50,000,000 for the construction of a substandard Iloilo Hall of Justice which amount represents the money needed for the retrofitting of said building after it was found out to be inherently and structurally defective,” the complaint said.

It said the project was awarded without a proper bidding process being conducted and that Drilon, as justice secretary, had “unlawfully intervened and exerted undue influence in granting the construction of the Iloilo Hall of Justice Building to Kanlaon Builders, Inc.”—Cynthia D. Balana

FROM THE PHILSTAR

Drilon: Plunder case part of demolition job By Dennis Carcamo (philstar.com) | Updated September 25, 2013 - 1:25pm 14 196 googleplus0 1

MANILA, Philippines - Senate President Franklin Drilon (photo) on Wednesday said that the plunder case filed by his political rival in Iloilo province is part of a demolition job to malign his reputation as a lawmaker and head of the Senate.

"This was part of efforts to dishonor me and make me appear crooked and morally incapable to handle the pork barrel scam issue as Senate President," Drilon said in a statement, reacting to the plunder case filed by former Iloilo Rep. Augusto Syjuco Jr. before the Office of the Ombudsman.

Syjuco filed the case a week after Senators Jinggoy Estrada, Bong Revilla and Juan Ponce Enrile, along with two congressmen, were charged by the Department of Justice with plunder over the alleged pork barrel scam.

"First, there was this Montblanc pen which I did not receive from (Janet) Napoles. Second, a graft case was filed against me by a former consultant who I fired for unauthorized postings using my Twitter account. Now, there is this unfounded plunder case that involved the construction of the Iloilo Hall of Justice which happened two decades ago," Drilon said.

Napoles is the alleged mastermind of the P10-billion pork barrel scam now detained at a police camp in Sta. Rosa, Laguna for serious illegal detention charges. Napoles is also facing plunder charges.

Drilon said that the case filed by Syjuco is "malicious and baseless." He added that Syjuco had an axe to grind with him because he supported the former congressman's rival, Iloilo Rep. Arcadio Gorricete, in the last elections.

The case filed by Syjuco is based on the construction of the Iloilo Hall of Justice in 1992 when Drilon was the secretary of the Department of Justice.

"I had no involvement in the construction of the Iloilo Hall of Justice because the fund was coursed through the Department of Public Works and Highways Central Office. I was told the project was aboveboard, there was proper bidding, and there was nothing illegal and anomalous about the project which was completed in 1992," he said.

He noted that the Iloilo Hall of Justice had to undergo an extensive evaluation after a devastating 6.9-magnitude earthquake that hit Visayas region including Iloilo in 2002.

But the analysis made by the experts hired by the DPWH Central Office says that the building is structurally sound and only needs retrofitting works and minor repairs, Drilon said.

He stressed that the P50 million budget for retrofitting was not sourced from his 2012 Priority Development Assistance Fund. It was the DPWH that funded the retrofitting, he added.

"The arguments raised by Syjuco in his complaints are mere speculations and hearsays. The Ombudsman should act on his complaints as soon as possible so as to clear my name before the public," he said.

Drilon said Syjuco himself has been facing a number of graft cases before the Sandiganbayan for overpricing supplies when he was director general of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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