Palace washes hands off amended raps vs senators

By RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 26 2014 04:00 PM | Updated as of Jun 27 2014 12:00 AM

MANILA - Malacañang kept its distance from the Ombudsman's move to amend the information in the plunder case it filed against lawmakers and other persons for the multibillion-peso pork barrel scam.

However, Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma defended the move, saying it is well within the powers of the Ombudsman.

Coloma refused to comment when asked if the amendment is an admission that the complaint is defective.

"It is our view that in filing an amended information with the Sandiganbayan, the Office of the Special Prosecutor acted well within the rules of court that allow the prosecution to present its case in the manner it deems best consistent to its duty and mandate," he said.

He emphasized that the Ombudsman supervises the Office of the Special Prosecutor, which is the one handling the case. The Executive no longer has any part in it.

"Hindi na po iyan sakop ng administration. Hindi na po iyan Executive. So malinaw po iyon, hindi po ang Executive ang nag-i-initiate nito," Coloma said.

The amended information, if accepted by the anti-graft court, would assert that the lawmakers amassed wealth from kickbacks from Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF) siphoned into bogus projects implemented by Janet Lim Napoles, a private individual. The amassing of ill gotten wealth by a government person is a crucial element of plunder.

During the Palace briefing, Coloma refused to comment on whether the move would pave the way for making Napoles a state witness against the lawmakers.

"Mas mainam na ang ating talakayan ngayon ay i-focus na lang doon sa punto na iyan ay isang procedure na ginampanan ng Office of the Special Prosecutor about which wala pong kinalaman ang ating Executive branch; and we know that the Office of the Ombudsman is an independent constitutional body."

Malacañang is confident though that the case will prosper before the court, noting that "sufficient work has been done to build a credible and convincing case."

"We continue to trust in the integrity of our courts or the Sandiganbayan; and we believe that we have done what is needed to build a strong case. The President has repeatedly emphasized that this entire matter is evidence-based, and our guiding principle here is we will only file strong cases and cases where there is sufficient case buildup that would merit the successful prosecution of the case," Coloma said.

Meanwhile, the Palace official responded to criticisms against President Benigno Aquino III, who earlier expressed openness to giving some considerations to Senator Juan Ponce Enrile due to his age if the anti-graft court orders his arrest.

The Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) has called Aquino's statement irresponsible and an attempt to influence the court.

Coloma said, "Malinaw sa pahayag ng Pangulo na ipinapaubaya sa hukuman ang pasya kung saan maaring i-detine si Sen. Enrile. Ang sinabi lang niya ay isaalang-alang ang edad at kondition ng pangangatawan ng Senador. Hindi ito maaring maituturing na ini-impluwensya ng Pangulo ang sinuman."

He reiterated that no special detention facility was prepared for Enrile in advance.

"Hindi naman talaga nakalaan para kanino man yung kasalukuyang pasilidad na ginagamit ngayon sa Custodial Center ng Camp Crame. Iyong mismong lugar na ginagamit ngayon bilang detention quarter nina Senador Revilla at Estrada, ay itinayo bilang officers' quarters. Kaya para bang nag-a-adapt lang doon sa special circumstances na umiral. Wala namang kagustuhan na magpairal ng hindi pantay-pantay na pagtrato," he said.

He said he does not see anything wrong with the PNP preparing for Enrile's impending detention. "Mas maigi siguro yung may konting kahandaan kaysa naman yung hindi handa dahil kinakailangang kagyat ang magiging pagtugon sa pag-utos ng hukuman."

Enrile, Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr. and Jinggoy Estrada are all facing separate plunder and graft charges over the pork barrel scam. Revilla and Estrada are already detained at the PNP Custodial Center after separate divisions of the Sandiganbayan ordered their arrest.