MANILA, Philippines - Opposition Sen. Jinggoy Estrada is expected to deliver a privilege speech next week against some of his colleagues in the Senate mentioned in a special Commission on Audit (COA) report who allegedly misused their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), but were not included in the investigation conducted by the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Estrada said he would do this not to exonerate himself from the pork barrel scandal, but to condemn the “selective” process by the joint DOJ-Ombudsman inquiry into the P10-billion pork barrel scam.
Estrada lamented that the DOJ targeted the opposition senators when several others were mentioned in the COA report.
He reiterated that the government’s whistle-blower, Benhur Luy, has no direct evidence to implicate him in the pork barrel scam allegedly perpetrated by detained businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.
Although he had not denied knowing Napoles, Estrada said his association with her should not be misconstrued that they had business dealings.
“The buck stops at the chiefs of staff,” he said, adding he did not give any directive to his secretary on issues concerning the disbursements of his PDAF.
Pauline Labayen, Estrada’s appointments secretary, is among those charged with plunder. Labayen resigned on Sept. 15 after using her two-month leave credit.
Senators Estrada, Juan Ponce Enrile and Ramon Revilla Jr. have tapped topnotch lawyers to counter the plunder charges filed against them.
Estrada echoed the legal defense of Enrile, whose lawyer-spokesman Enrique de la Cruz Jr. said that the former Senate president had not given authority to his former chief of staff, Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes, to disburse his PDAF to non-government organizations.
Enrile’s camp revealed that the Ponce Enrile Reyes & Manalastas law offices, popularly known as the PECABAR Law, would be handling the legal defense of the former Senate president.
Sources said 23 lawyers from the firm led by Joseph Sagandoy have been tapped to defend Enrile before the ombudsman.
Revilla has hired lawyer Joel Bodegon, a managing partner of the Bodegon, Estorninos, Guerzon, Borje and Gozos law offices, who are composed of law graduates from the University of the Philippines.
Bodegon was among the members of the defense team of ousted chief justice Renato Corona during his impeachment trial at the Senate in 2012.
He debunked the moves of the DOJ and the Anti-Money Laundering Council to start proceedings to freeze the assets of Revilla and other lawmakers linked to the pork barrel scam.
The lawyer also slammed the credibility of Luy, whom he described as a liar and the one who pocketed pork barrel funds.
'Trial by publicity'
Bodegon lamented how his client has become a victim of trial by publicity.
“Sen. Revilla has been demonized so many times and without letup on this issue, and the bar of public opinion is not in our favor,” the lawyer said.
Bodegon regarded the filing of the plunder complaint as an opportunity for his client to confront the allegations being leveled against him.
“Sen. Revilla appeals for fair trial. We hope that he will be given a chance,” he said.
Bodegon said it is the fervent hope of the senator that the ombudsman will be objective and fair in resolving the case “so that truth and justice will be served.”
Just like Estrada and Revilla, Enrile is convinced that the allegations raised against him in relation to the pork barrel scam had something to do with politics.
Enrile’s lawyer and spokesman said that the cases filed against the three senators were politically motivated.
De la Cruz noted that the COA special audit report zeroed in on the period 2007 to 2009.
He questioned why the PDAF releases from 2010 to 2012, when President Aquino was already in power, were not covered.
According to De la Cruz, the total releases for the PDAF from 2007 to 2009 amounted to P115 billion, but the special audit only looked at P32 billion of the amount. – With Marvin Sy