MANILA - Justice Secretary Leila de Lima lauded the Office of the Ombudsman's recommendation to file plunder and graft charges against Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr. in connection with the multibillion-peso pork barrel scam.
De Lima said this is the "first major step" towards making those involved in the anomaly accountable.
"We laud and respect the Ombudsman's resolution. It puts focus again on the legal side of this narrative after emotions ran high during the Blue Ribbon hearings. This is the first step, a major one, towards making those involved accountable for their plunder and misuse of the people's money," she said in a text message.
Atty. Levito Baligod, one of the complainants in the pork scam case, also hailed the Ombudsman decision.
"The process and the ensuing resolution prove that our justice system is working; we need only to put the right people in Government and to remind our people of their civic duty to our country," he said.
The Ombudsman on Tuesday said it has found probable cause to file plunder charges against the three senators, Janet Lim Napoles, and their cohorts in the pork barrel scam.
The Ombudsman said it will file charges of plunder and graft and corruption against Enrile, Estrada and Revilla for receiving millions of pesos in kickbacks in the anomaly, while Napoles will be charged with plunder, malversation and corruption of public officials by using fake non-government organizations (NGOs) where the three senators and other lawmakers funneled their pork barrel funds.
The accused will be given 5 days upon receipt of the information on the charges to file a motion for reconsideration before the Ombudsman.
After the motions for reconsideration are resolved, the cases will be filed before the Sandiganbayan.
"Kapag ginrant ng Ombudsman [ang motions for reconsideration], it will probably be the turn naman of the complainant like the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) or Atty. Levito Baligod to also file a motion for reconsideration," de Lima said in an interview with radio dzMM.
"Pero kung i-deny naman ang motion for reconsideration then pwede na po yan i-file ng Ombudsman sa Sandiganbayan at hihingi ng issuance ng warrant of arrest," she explained.
Ruby Tuason, who was provisionally admitted to the DOJ's Witness Protection Program, was also included in the list of names that the Ombudsman said was involved in the pork barrel scam.
But de Lima believes this will not affect Tuason's application to become state witness and be granted full immunity from suits.
She said Tuason's motion for immunity is still being evaluated by the Ombudsman.
Tuason has claimed personally delivering pork barrel kickbacks to Estrada and Enrile's chief of staff, Atty. Jessica "Gigi" Reyes.
De Lima said Tuason is expected to also file her motion for reconsideration where she is expected to reiterate her plea to be utilized as state witness and be dropped as a respondent in the pork scam case.
Tuason is currently out of the country, but the DOJ chief assured that she will come back.
"Hinding-hindi naman ako magdududa sa ganun," de Lima said.
Meanwhile, Senate President Franklin Drilon urged the Sandiganbayan to conduct a speedy trial of the plunder and graft raps that will be filed against some of his colleagues.
In a statement after the Ombudsman issued resolutions on the pork barrel scam, Drilon said: “With due respect, I call on the Sandiganbayan to set the case for speedy trial so that the innocent would be cleared of the charges and set free, and the guilty punished and jailed."
"The search for truth is sometimes painful, but this is the kind of process that would strengthen our government institutions and reinforce the trust and confidence of our people in the justice system," Drilon said.
He said the whole country should always be vigilant that justice will be served.
"Whatever the outcome, our entire legal system now has the opportunity to show that we have a functioning system that can render fair, speedy and impartial justice," he said. -- With a report from Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News