PNoy: More 'pork' cases to be filed soon

By Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 02 2014 03:20 PM | Updated as of Dec 03 2014 02:30 AM

MANILA -- President Benigno Aquino III on Tuesday said more cases will be filed against those involved in the pork barrel scam.

Aquino made the statement as the heads of the three branches of government gathered in Malacañang for the second state conference on the country's implementation of and compliance with the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC).

"Prominent lawmakers, former heads of GOCCs and government agencies, and others in the private sector who conspired to steal from the people through the Priority Development Assistance Fund have been arrested and are now undergoing the appropriate processes to determine accountability. We should emphasize: these are only the initial cases filed; more will come once the necessary evidence is assembled," Aquino said.

Meantime, Senate President Franklin Drilon reiterated that the 2015 budget no longer contains pork barrel, saying legislators can no longer identify projects after the budget has been signed, a practice struck down by the Supreme Court.

"It is the most scrutinized budget, Mr. President, as its provisions were carefully dissected and analyzed to ensure that it is insulated from loopholes where graft and corruption can thrive," Drilon said.

"Mr. President, there is no more PDAF in the budget which you have submitted to Congress and that we have sustained, there will be no PDAF in this budget."

JUDICIARY APPEALS FOR MORE BUDGET

Despite his disagreement with recent Supreme Court decisions, Aquino immediately responded to Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno's appeal for "additional budgetary support" for the judiciary's anti-corruption and modernization programs.

"We strongly believe that technology can be an effective anti-corruption tool as it minimizes the areas of human intervention. This in turn can be fertile breeding grounds for corruption, that is, human intervention… Of course, such initiatives require funding and this is the reason why we continually appeal for additional budgetary support," Sereno said in her policy response.

Addressing Budget Secretary Butch Abad in his speech, Aquino expressed support for the judiciary's initiatives.

"Butch, I hope you took note of budgetary requirements of the judiciary that should be attended to posthaste, and since the approving authority is present also, perhaps we can lobby them for the speedy inclusion of what is necessary to help the judiciary in our common fight against corruption amongst others, making sure we are compliant with all the directives," Aquino said.

'HOUSE CLEANING'

Sereno said the Supreme Court has been undertaking a "serious house cleaning" by investigating allegations of corruption against members of the judiciary.

She cited the dismissal of Sandiganbayan Justice Gregory Ong and the investigation of four Regional Trial Court (RTC) judges in connection with the elections of officers in the Philippine Judges Association.

"This is by operating the standard of the good judge... one whose decision is beyond the reach of money and power. Towards this end, we have engaged in serious house cleaning, a painful but necessary process. Part of this process involves the conduct of investigations, some of which we have done on our own initiative," Sereno said.

As part of opening up the courts, Sereno mentioned the live-streaming of oral arguments and making available to the public the justices' statements of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALN) "upon specification of reasonable grounds."

She also said that the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) can now get copies of SALNs of Sandiganbayan justices.

"To clarify, we never intended to deny the BIR the SALNs per se. It was the way that the request is made that is important for the court. And as the media has reported, she now can get a copy of the SALNs of the Sandiganbayan justices," Sereno said.

OMBUDSMAN POWERS

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales reported that the country "has gone beyond the minimum of what is required of it as a state party of the UNCAC [United Nations Convention against Corruption]," proposing that five legislative measures be prioritized to boost the country's compliance.

This includes the amendment of the code of conduct and ethical standards for public officials and employees, the passage of a law criminalizing influence peddling, the passage of the Freedom of Information Act, laws to strengthen the Witness Protection Act, the passage of Whistleblower's Act, and a law creating additional divisions of the Sandiganbayan.

The Ombudsman is also proposing amendments to the forfeiture law "to expedite the recovery of stolen assets and illegal wealth." This would include "the removal of the preliminary investigation stage to facilitate the immediate filing of forfeiture cases."

The Ombudsman is also seeking "provisions on contempt powers, grant of regulated wire-tapping and increased immunities and legal protection for Ombudsman investigators, prosecutors, and officers" to help it in its investigative and prosecutorial powers.

She also called for an augmentation of skills and compensation of employees, increased fiscal autonomy, and the creation of an Ombudsman Academy, "which shall act as both an in-house repository of skill, resources and a revenue-earning facility."

"The enactment of such laws shall enable the Office to carry out its functions more effectively and free from any undue influence through the grant and utilization of necessary material resources and specialized staff consistent with the prescription of the Convention," Morales said.

FOI ACT ON HOUSE FLOOR BY 2015

House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte expressed support for the passage of proposed key legislative measures, expecting their approval in the House plenary by 2015.

"By mandating the disclosure of public documents, the proposed measure seeks to promote greater transparency and accountability in the government, thereby discouraging graft and corrupt practices," Belmonte said of the FOI bill.

"All these proposed measures have received the approval of the relevant committees and are in the final stages of preparation. By next year, we expect these bills to be discussed and approved in the plenary sessions," Belmonte said.