MANILA (UPDATE) - One of the lawmakers identified by President Rodrigo Duterte to be allegedly involved in corruption said on Tuesday that the issue hurled against her is an old one that has already been settled.
Occidental Mindoro Rep. Josephine Ramirez-Sato vehemently denied the accusation that she was among lawmakers who received kickbacks from the government’s public works projects.
“Yan pong isyu na yan, ginamit na nila noong nakaraang eleksiyon, 2019 elections,” said Sato.
(They used that issue against me during the 2019 elections.)
In an interview on ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo, Sato said the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and even the Commission on Audit investigated the issue and came out with a report clearing her of any involvement in an alleged P400-M ghost project in Lubang Island in 2017.
“This is an old issue po that has been settled, kaya nagtataka ako,” she said.
Speaking also on Tuesday before teachers in the town of San Jose in Occidental Mindoro, Sato said she can look anyone in the eye and say that in all her years in politics, she was never involved in corruption.
Sato, who is on her third term as Representative of the lone district of Occidental Mindoro and is reportedly planning to run again as Governor of the province, believes her inclusion in the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) list is meant to discredit her ahead of the 2022 elections.
But she refused to name her political rivals whom she suspected as those behind the fresh allegation, when ABS-CBN News asked her about them. She just said the people in her province know them.
Sato challenged PACC Commissioner Greco Belgica and the PACC to come out with documents where he "based his allegations against us, especially in my case."
Belgica has so far not issued a statement after Duterte's public address Monday night amid denials by the lawmakers.
According to Sato, an investigating team sent by the DPWH to Lubang Island, as well as a separate audit by the COA ruled that no such alleged project existed in the province.
Another probe on the issue initiated several months ago following a complaint filed with the DPWH also cleared her of any involvement, she said.
"It's a ghost project because it only exists in their imagination," said Sato.
The congresswoman meanwhile admitted to appealing to DPWH Sec. Mark Villar to postpone the transfer of District Engineer Josefino Melgar Jr. four years ago. She said Villar agreed because her reason for doing so was valid.
She explained that at that time, the province was in the middle of finalizing the program of work for the highway connecting the town of Abra de Ilog to Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro, and the change in leadership would cause delays in the project.
She never interceded on Melgar’s behalf after that incident.
“It is not my duty, nor function, nor am I authorized to appoint or remove the DE from the province,” she said.
The lawmaker said she plans to deliver a privileged speech when Congress resumes its session on January 19. She will also call for a probe on the corruption allegations against her and the other lawmakers named by Duterte.
Aside from current and former lawmakers, Duterte also read out names of DPWH district engineers allegedly involved in the scheme.
Also included in the PACC list were Quezon City 5th District Rep. Alfred Vargas; Bataan 1st District Rep. Geraldine Roman; Northern Samar 1st District Paul Daza; and former Ifugao Rep. Teodoro “Teddy” Baguilat Jr., who all denied the allegation.
Sato noted that Duterte mentioned several times that there was no basis or evidence to support the list prepared by the PACC.
“Sana yung PACC who prepared the list, sana naging maingat sila. Kasi parang idineklara kami, wala man lang imbestigasyon at ‘di po sila nagtanong,” she said in the TeleRadyo interview.
(The PACC who prepared the list should have been careful. We were declared as such even without an investigation. And they did not even ask us.)
“Ako ay susulat ngayong umaga kay Commissioner Belgica just to tell him ano ba ang basehan niya at inilista niya ako when in fact, yang isyu na ‘yan has been settled in 2019,” she added.
(I will write to Commissioner Belgica this morning to ask him what his basis was for including me in the list, when in fact that issue has been settled in 2019.)
- with report from Miranda de Quiros, ABS-CBN News