MANILA - Journalists who allegedly received money from the state-owned National Agribusiness Corp. (NABCOR) as "advertising expenses" may face charges if proven that they actually received "payoffs" involving questionable transactions, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said Thursday.
The justice chief said that she has yet to read the sworn statements of former NABCOR officials Rhodora Mendoza and Victor Cacal to assess their allegations.
De Lima said the matter needs to be looked into because it affects the media profession as a whole.
"It concerns public funds, and may kasama kang public officials, then you are part of it, you can be charged with such offenses as direct bribery and malversation of public funds," she said.
She said Atty. Levito Baligod had also pointed out that some of the NABCOR transactions linked to the journalists involve non-government organizations of alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles.
"Kung mapatunayan na itong media personalities na ito ay tumanggap ng mga pera ng Nabcor o pera ng gobyerno na related doon sa mga questionable or dubious transactions na yan using Napoles NGOs or non-Napoles NGOs. Because Atty. Levi (Baligod) was telling me, based sa statements ng dalawang NABCOR officials ay mga projects o mga transactions na yan, ilan ay Napoles-related NGOs, yung iba hindi," she said.
An Inquirer report published on Tuesday evening quoted Mendoza and Cacal as saying that TV5 news anchor Erwin Tulfo and Radio DzBB broadcaster Melo del Prado received payoffs in the form of "advertising expenses" from the government agency in 2009.
Mendoza and Cacal said Tulfo received a check for P245,535 on March 10, 2009 drawn from a NABCOR account at United Coconut Planters’ Bank (UCPB), Tektite Branch PSE Center, Ortigas, Pasig City.
On the other hand, Del Prado--Carmelo del Prado Magdurulang in real life--received three checks totaling P245,535 on April 27, May 14, and July 6 in 2009, also drawn from the same UCPB account.
The checks were part of documents submitted by Mendoza and Cacal to the Office of the Ombudsman.
The payoffs were allegedly sourced from pork barrel funds coursed through NABCOR, an agency under the Department of Agriculture (DA).
Tulfo has denied the charges and threatened to file a libel suit against the Inquirer.
Atty. Nelson Borja, Tulfo's counsel, said PDI's headline story is libelous and completely damaging to his stature as a broadcaster.
Borja said his client is ready to face allegations, adding that he has documents to prove that what Tulfo went into was a legal transaction and was payment for an advertising slot while he was still a commentator at RMN DZXL. Those payments were subject to taxes, he said.
Meanwhile, GMA-DZBB will conduct a thorough investigation into the news report.
In a statement, Radio Operations Group consultant Mike Enriquez said: “In accordance with standard procedure, we will conduct a thorough investigation on any allegation of any violations. Due process will be observed and we will ensure that full sanctions will be applied if determined to be necessary.”
He said the network continues to adhere to standards of professional and personal behavior for all employees.