Gringo, TESDA chief charged in 3rd PDAF scam cases

By Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 07 2015 02:33 PM | Updated as of Aug 08 2015 09:46 AM

7 other ex- and incumbent lawmakers, 31 others included in complaint

MANILA (3rd UPDATE) - An opposition senator, a close ally of President Aquino, and 7 other former and incumbent lawmakers were charged before the Office of the Ombudsman on Friday for allegedly funneling portions of their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocations to "ghost projects" in conspiracy with alleged "pork barrel" scam architect Janet Lim Napoles.

Malversation, bribery, and graft raps were filed by the Department of Justice (DOJ), through its attached agency, National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), against the following:

- Senator Gregorio 'Gringo' Honasan II, United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) vice-president;
- former CIBAC congressman and now TESDA chair Joel Villanueva, a close ally and friend of Mr. Aquino;
- Cagayan de Oro 2nd District congressman Rufus Rodriguez;
- Manila 5th District congressman Amado Bagatsing;
- former Pangasinan 6th District congressman and now ABONO party-list congressman Conrado Estrella III;
- former ABONO party-list congressman Robert Raymund Estrella; - former La Union 1st District congressman Manuel Ortega;
- La Union 1st District congressman Victor Francisco Ortega; and - - former Zamboanga del Sur 1st District congressman Isidro Real, Jr.

Thirty-one other individuals, including Napoles, former and current heads and officers of implementing agencies National Agribusiness Corporation (NABCOR), National Livelihood Development Corporation (NLDC), and Technology Resource Center (TRC), and the lawmakers' representatives were also charged in the third batch of "pork barrel" scam-related cases filed with the anti-graft office.

The second batch was filed on November 29, 2013; the first batch was filed on September 16, 2013.

'NON-BAILABLE OFFENSE'

"The amount of kickbacks [the lawmakers] received from Napoles" constitute a non-bailable offense punishable with life imprisonment, in the maximum, under Article 217 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC). Under the RPC, malversed funds more than P22,000 carry a penalty of life imprisonment, in the maximum.

According to the RPC, Malversation is committed by any public officer "who, by reason of the duties of his office, is accountable for public funds or property, shall appropriate the same, or shall take or misappropriate or shall consent, or through abandonment or negligence, shall permit any other person to take such public funds or property, wholly or partially, or shall, otherwise, be guilty of misappropriation or malversation of such funds or property."

KICKBACKS AND NGOs

The complaint states that the following lawmakers allegedly received the following amount of kickbacks from Napoles:

- Honasan: P1,750,000
*NGO: Agri and Economic Program for Farmers Foundation, Inc (AEPFFI)
*implementing agency: NLDC

- Villanueva: P2,330,000
*NGO: Masaganang Ani Para sa Magsasaka Foundation, Inc. (MAMFI)
*implementing agency: TRC

- Rodriguez: P2,099,000 (Philippine Social
*NGO: Philippine Social Development Foundation, Inc. (PSDFI)
*implementing agency: TRC

- Bagatsing: P600,000
*NGO: MAMFI
*implementing agency:TRC

- Estrella, Conrado: P45,030,000
*NGOs: Social Development Program for Farmers Foundation, Inc. (SDPFFI), Countrywide Agri and Rural Economic and Development Foundation, Inc. (CARED), People's Organization for Progress and Development Foundation, Inc. (POPDFI)
*implementing agencies: TRC, NLDC, NABCOR

- Estrella, Robert: P22,675,000
*NGOs: SDPFFI, POPDFI
*implementing agencies: TRC, NLDC, NABCOR

- Ortega, Manuel: P14,350,000
*NGO: CARED
*implementing agency: TRC

- Ortega, Victor: P9,587,500
*NGOs: SDPFFI, POPDFI
*implementing agencies: TRC, NLDC, NABCOR

- Real: P3,250,000
*NGO: PSDFI
*implementing agency: TRC

GHOST PROJECTS

"For basically converting their [priority development assistance funds] into kickbacks/commissions through the implementation of ghost projects, the lawmakers, together with their representatives and the officials of the implementing agencies, are charged with the following crimes: malversation of public funds; direct bribery; manifest partiality and bad faith in granting unwarranted benefits and advantage to the injury of the government; requesting a share or percentage from a government contract; entering into a transaction grossly disadvantageous to the government; and granting license or privilege to a person not qualified.

"The lawmakers used their PDAF in illegal transactions with [Napoles] NGOs to enable themselves to profit from the simulated disbursements and utilization of their PDAF," an executive summary from the DOJ read.

The DOJ said for "selecting and endorsing" Napoles NGOs to as beneficiaries of their PDAF allocations, the lawmakers were allegedly promised by Napoles "the agreed amount of 40-60% of the PDAF as commission/kickback." The rest of the amount "was to be shared among Napoles, officials of the implementing agencies, the lawmaker's representative, and [the lawmaker's] chief of staff."

'FAKE SIGNATURES'

Villanueva, Rodriguez, Estrella III, Bagatsing, and Francisco Ortega requested the examination by the NBI's Questioned Documents Division (QDD) of their alleged signatures in documents pertaining to the PDAF transactions.

Upon examination, some signatures in the questioned documents did not match the specimen signatures submitted by the lawmakers.

However, the NBI said that the findings are "not conclusive and binding upon the results of this investigation," and even if it were true that the lawmakers' signatures were fake and they were not part of the scam, they still cannot escape accountability because of negligence, an element stipulated under the RPC.

"This will be subject to the scrutiny of the Sandiganbayan in the event that the Ombudsman decides to file the criminal cases with said court. In any event, malversation is also committed through negligence, in which case the signatures of the lawmakers are not necessary to prove that they allowed, through their negligence, the misappropriation and misuse of public funds entrusted to them," the DOJ-NBI executive summary read.

In an interview with reporters, Justice Secretary Leila De Lima said that the issue on the lawmakers' signatures is "a matter of defense," which the Ombudsman and the Sandiganbayan, should the lawmakers be indicted before the anti-graft court, will weigh in.

OTHER RESPONDENTS

The complaints will be investigated by the Ombudsman's Field Investigation Office (FIO); once the FIO deems it proper, the cases will progress into the preliminary investigation phase.

The other respondents in the complaints include:
- Michael L. Benjamin, Anthony Dequina, Valentino Limchu, Manuel Jarmin (representatives of Honasan)
- Ma. Theresa T. Defensor-Asuncion (representative of Villanueva)
- Celia Cuasay (representative of Bagatsing)
- Lourd Dexter D. Manalo (chief of staff and representative of Estrella III); "Irma," Ronald Casareno (representatives of Estrella III)
- Zenaida G. Ducut (representative of Manuel Ortega)
- Jenny Quero (representative of Victor Ortega)
- Ronald Francisco Lim (representative of Real)
- Maximo Bautista Rodriguez (brother and representative of Rodriguez)
- Alan A. Javellana (former NABCOR president)
- Gondelina G. Amata (NLDC president)
- Antonio Y. Ortiz (former TRC Director General)
- Dennis L. Cunanan (former Deputy Director General and now Director General of TRC).

DUE PROCESS

De Lima earlier clarified in numerous occasions that the invocation of due process sets in during the preliminary investigation phase.

The procedure conducted by the NBI was fact-finding, in which case, it was not mandated to hear the defense of the respondents.

Should the Ombudsman give due course to the complaint, the next phase is the preliminary investigation stage.

Only then will due process set in, which entails that the respondents be given the opportunity to be heard through submissions of counter-affidavits, evidence and other pleadings.

In similar cases where politicians involved in the PDAF scam have asserted due process during the NBI investigation, the Supreme Court has ruled that they were not denied due process by the DOJ and the Ombudsman in that particular stage.