MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday denied that he had anything to do with businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles' recent revelation tagging Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon to the multibillion peso Priority Development Assistance Fund scam.
Napoles, the alleged brains behind the fund diversion racket, had said in an interview on state-run television that she gave a P5-million campaign donation to Drilon, a stalwart in the opposition Liberal Party.
Duterte said he would not think of plotting against Drilon since the lawmaker is his “friend.”
“Senator Drilon, if I talked to somebody urging a case against you sa PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund), bring that person in my presence and I will resign, because you are my friend,” Duterte said in a speech prior to flying to India, where he is set to attend the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit.
Drilon has denied Napoles’ claim and branded it as harassment.
The Liberal Party also hit the Duterte administration’s supposed “pattern” of floating issues against it critics every time it finds itself embroiled in a controversy.
Napoles is facing multiple plunder and graft charges in connection with the scam, which saw billions worth of "pork barrel" funds funneled to non-existent projects by bogus non-government organizations owned by the businesswoman.
She had earlier come out with her own list of lawmakers and other individuals she accused of being involved in the scam, but only selected personalities have been indicted.
Critics of former President Benigno Aquino III said there was "selective justice" in the handling of the pork barrel scam cases during his term, as lawmakers deemed unfriendly to his administration were the only ones indicted.
In a news conference on Tuesday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Napoles’ claim is something that the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Office of the Ombudsman must look into since "we want the whole truth and nothing but the truth to come out of this PDAF scam."
“This is information which, for the first time, was revealed by Janet Lim Napoles. And I think, the Constitution, in providing for accountability of public officers, is the legal basis for the relevant government agency to conduct an investigation,” Roque said.
“I would hope that the Ombudsman on its own would conduct its probe. And I think the DOJ also on its own should also conduct its own probe.”
In a radio interview, Roque said certain individuals have to be prosecuted if the pieces of evidence that Napoles presents are deemed sufficient, adding that this should not give the impression that the administration is cracking down on opposition figures.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, meanwhile, said that for now, Napoles’ claim remains to be “tsismis” (gossip) and that she must execute a sworn statement to make it admissible in court.
“We cannot respond to tsismis. Ms. Napoles should execute a sworn statement to make the statement under oath. It doesn’t mean also that she’s credible. Kung meron siyang sworn statement, [that would] be fair to everybody,” Panelo told reporters on Tuesday.