MANILA - Malacanang on Tuesday welcomed the Office of the Ombudsman's decision to file charges against several lawmakers and others in connection with the pork barrel scam.
In a statement, Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma said, the Ombudsman's decision "upholds the major points in the complaint filed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the NBI in September 2013. The wheels of justice are moving forward."
"We share our people’s fervent hopes on the final resolution of these cases," he said.
“The Ombudsman’s resolution on the filing of plunder charges in connection with the alleged misuse of Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF) is based on the evidence gathered separately by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Ombudsman’s Field Investigation Office,” he added.
Government prosecutors will file plunder cases in an anti-graft court against three senators for misuse of congressional funds worth billions of pesos, a breakthrough in the fight against corruption, officials said on Tuesday.
The three senators - Juan Ponce Enrile, former movie actor Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr., and Jinggoy Estrada, son of former President and Manila Mayor Joseph Estada - were found to have amassed P172 million, P242 million, and P183 million pesos, respectively, from illegal kickbacks, according to the Ombudsman.
"The three senators took undue advantage of their official position to illegally divert their congressional allocations in exchange for kickbacks, with the projects turning out to be ghost projects," the Ombudsman, an agency that investigates and prosecutes corruption, said in a statement.
Seven others will also be charged, including businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles, who is at the center of the corruption scandal involving "pork barrel" funds channeled to fictitious non-government bodies (NGOs).
The senators face life imprisonment and forfeiture of any assets they may have illegally acquired.
Manila loses about P200 billion a year to corruption, or about 1.8 percent of economic output. It has drained government coffers and entrenched poverty in the Philippines, a country of 97 million people.
But under the Aquino administration, it has improved its image, moving up 11 places in last year's Transparency International index. It now ranks 94th of 177 countries.
In 2012, the Philippines was ranked 105th, up from 129th in 2011.
After six months of investigation, a panel of anti-graft prosecutors found probable cause to indict the three men for misuse of their congressional funds.
The cases against them stemmed from the expose of three whistleblowers about a "pork barrel" involving the use of huge sums from the country's Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or by alleged dummy NGOs for purported "ghost" projects.
Napoles has been detained in a police camp south of Manila. All three whistleblowers are former employees of Napoles.
The charges are merely an exercise in persecution, Joel Bodegon, a lawyer for Senator Revilla, said in a statement.
"A thorough and just examination and appreciation of all existing pieces of evidence will lead to only one conclusion, and that is the vindication of Senator Revilla," he added.
Estrada, for his part, said he would not run away but face the charges in court, hoping to clear his name. Enrile could not immediately be reached for comment. - with a report from Reuters