MANILA, Philippines – Vice President Jejomar Binay called the Office of the Ombudsman’s investigation into the Aquino administration’s implementation of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) as a mere act for the public.
“Drama. Walang mangyayari. Kung totoo ‘yan, [eh] ‘di sinuspende na agad [sila],” Binay told reporters in an interview at the Amoranto Complex in Quezon City on Wednesday, September 2. (Drama. Nothing will come out of it. If this were true, then all of them should have been suspended right away.)
“[I’m only saying that] on the basis of what had happened in the past. You can already speculate what will be the ending,” the Vice President said in a mix of English and Filipino, adding that the investigation seems to be a part of a “protracted teleserye.”
Binay, who is the opposition party United Nationalist Alliance’s standard-bearer for the 2016 elections, believes the Ombudsman’s probe “only aims to exhaust the issue so the public will forget about it in 2016.”
“Basta’t ako, my feeling is drama lang ito para ngayon pa lang ay mapatay na ‘yung mga bintang at kung anu-ano, kasi issue ‘yan sa darating na halalan,” Binay said. (I think this is just a drama they are putting up so they can kill the allegations, because this will be an issue in the upcoming elections.)
DAP is a program initiated in 2011 by the administration of President Benigno Aquino III to boost the economy by transferring unused funds for slow-disbursing projects to fast-disbursing ones. It was primarily implemented by Budget Secretary Florencio Abad.
On Tuesday, September 1, Morales announced that there is an ongoing probe on the alleged liability of Aquino and Abad for creating and implementing the DAP.
“We have initiated a motu propio (on its own) investigation and the respondents include the President and Secretary Abad,” Morales told the House appropriations committee chaired by Davao City Representative Isidro Ungab on Tuesday.
“There is already a fact-finding report that is currently under evaluation by the Ombudsman. If we approve it, preliminary investigation follows. But we want to be sure of the law and the jurisprudence,” she added.
Morales said she is also evaluating another fact-finding report on a plunder case against Abad, which “should be resolved within the month.”
In a press conference on Wednesday, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said Malacañang has “respect” for the independence of the Office of the Ombudsman.
“Currently, it’s a pending investigation by the FIO (Field Investigation Office). It’s an independent office, so I do not wish to pre-empt any statement for or against, or rather, the status of the case that is being investigated right now by the Office of the Ombudsman. We would rather respect the independence of the Ombudsman,” said Lacierda, who added that Aquino “does not regret” appointing Morales.
Asked about what Binay had to say on the Ombudsman’s probe, Lacierda said, “Natatawa ako (I find it funny).”
“Nung dinala sa Ombudsman, binanatan ang Ombudsman (When it was brought before the Ombudsman, they slammed the Ombudsman),” Lacierda said.
“Tulad ng hindi ko pagsalita kung ano'ng dapat aksyon na gawin ng Ombudsman [at dahil] abogado siya (Binay), huwag niyang pangunahan kung ano'ng gagawin ng Ombudsman.” (Like my non-dictation of what the Ombudsman should do and because Binay is a lawyer, he should not pre-empt what the Ombudsman should be doing.)
Lacierda added that this is just part of the “nega (negative) campaign” of Binay against the Aquino administration.
The Vice President resigned from the Cabinet for Aquino’s supposedly inept government. (READ: Binay: I resigned to protest 'crooked, failed' gov't)
Immunity and ‘selective justice’
In a statement, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr reiterated that the President of the Philippines is immune from suit based on a constitutional principle.
However, he acknowledged the Ombudsman’s power to investigate.
Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Leila de Lima expressed the same sentiments in a text message sent to reporters on Tuesday.
However, while Morales can investigate the President, De Lima explained this only goes as far as the fact-finding stage because “he cannot be the subject of a preliminary investigation without violating his immunity.”
“Only the President is immune from further stages of prosecution. No one possesses this trait other than the President, neither high government leaders nor religious leaders,” said de Lima.
She added there is nothing extraordinary behind the Ombudsman's probe because the agency is only performing its ministerial function.
"A complaint is filed so the Ombudsman has no option under the law but to conduct the fact-finding investigation. This is just the same with a complaint filed with the DOJ. It has no option but to conduct an investigation therein," the justice chief said.
A fact-finding investigation involves data gathering to determine if there is a need to subect a person to a preliminary investigation. A preliminary investigation, meanwhile, is an inquiry aimed to determine if there is sufficient ground to file a case in court.
According to Binay, he will lobby for the investigation of the DAP and the concerned officials should he be elected as president in 2016.
“Kung may ebidensya po, bakit hindi? Kailangan ay ‘yung may mga kasalanan sa administrasyong ito, lalong-lalo na si Mr Abad, [ay papanagutin]. Pangit naman po ‘yun [kung hindi]. Magiging selective justice,” he said. (If there is evidence, why not? Those who erred during this administration, especially Mr Abad, should answer for their wrongdoing. It won’t be good if they don’t. It would be selective justice.)
Binay added that he would leave it to the DOJ whether or not Aquino could be charged. – Rappler.com