JPE, Estrada, Revilla charged with graft

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – More charges have been filed against the 3 senators already charged with plunder over the alleged illegal diversion of their development funds to fake non-governmental organizations.

On Monday afternoon, June 9, the Ombudsman filed graft charges with the Sandiganbayan against senators Ramon Revilla Jr, Juan Ponce Enrile, and Jinggoy Estrada, along with 7 other key personalities.

Also charged with graft were officials of the state firm Technology Resource Center (TRC), among them, former director general Dennis Cunanan.

They are accused of violating Section 3(e) of the Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. They allegedly endorsed to implementing agencies the NGOs controlled by Janet Lim Napoles so these could siphon off their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). The senators supposedly got huge kickbacks in return. (READ: Web of lies: Faces behind the pork barrel scam)

The PDAF – a congressional pork barrel that was released in lump sum – was a massive development fund that lawmakers could use at their discretion to fund pet projects.

This has been subject to abuse and corruption over decades, with the Napoles scandal that erupted last year as its worst manifestation. Following the scandal, the Supreme Court declared the fund unconstitutional.

It took the Ombudsman nearly 9 months to finish its probe and finalize these charges against the principal accused in the scam. The National Bureau of Investigation submitted its evidence to the Ombudsman in September 2013.

With conduits

Revilla faces 16 counts of graft involving a total of P517 million along with his chief political staff Richard Cambe, Napoles, and Napoles' driver-bodyguard John Raymond de Asis.

Enrile faces 15 counts of graft involving a total of P345 million along with his chief of staff Jessica Lucila "Gigi" Reyes, Napoles, John Ronald Lim, and De Asis.

Estrada faces 11 counts of graft involving a total of P278 million along with his staff Pauline Labayen, Napoles, and De Asis.

Graft is punishable by imprisonment of 6-15 years, permanent disqualification from public office, and government seizure of assets for whatever amount they gained. Plunder, on the other hand, is a non-bailable offense.

Conspiracy against the government

To determine how many times each of the accused committed graft, the Ombudsman counted the Special Allotment Release Orders (SAROs) issued by the budge department in the names of the 3 senators to the dubious NGOs.

The senators and their co-accused "conspired in causing undue injury to the government," the Ombudsman said, noting that they were "manifestly partial in the selection of the Napoles NGOs."

The Ombudsman said "unwarranted benefit, preference or advantage" were given by the offices of the 3 senators "to the Napoles NGOs which were chosen without the benefit of public bidding and which supposed turned out to be 'ghost projects.'"

Confessed moneybag Ruby Tuason, whom the Ombudsman granted immunity from criminal prosecution over the PDAF scam, had tagged Estrada and Enrile, through Reyes, as direct recipients of kickbacks.

Revilla, Enrile, and Estrada, as well as Napoles, De Asis, and Lim are all facing plunder charges for P597 million in stolen government funds. The charges were filed Friday, June 6, shortly before the docket closed at the Sandiganbayan. (READ: 3 PH senators charged with plunder over PDAF scam) 

Cunanan, TRC officials

The Ombudsman earlier junked the application of former TRC chief Cunanan to become state witness, a status that could have given him immunity from criminal prosecution over the PDAF scam.

Cunanan's testimony was not an "absolute necessity" as there are "other direct evidence available" to prove his claims, said the Office of the Ombudsman in its order. (READ: Ombudsman: Cunanan can't be state witness)

Other TRC officials charged with graft were: director general Antonio Ortiz, chief accountant Marivic Jover, as well as group managers Francisco Figura and Ma Rosalinda Lacsamana.

Along with National Agribusiness Corporation (Nabcor), TRC was among the government-owned and -controlled corporations that cornered much of the PDAF that went to dubious NGOs.

Nabcor and TRC served as implementing agencies where funds were coursed through.

Estrada's motion

The graft charges are the second batch of criminal cases filed in court in relation to the PDAF scam.

At least 34 individuals were named in a separate batch of criminal complaints filed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) before the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman has yet to approve the filing in court of these other cases.

Estrada's lawyer Alexis Abastillas also said her client filed on Monday his consolidated motion for judicial determination of probable cause before the Sandiganbayan. A courier came to the anti-graft court to file the motion in his behalf around mid-afternoon. 

Given this legal remedy, the issuance of an arrest warrant against Estrada is held in abeyance.

The Sandiganbayan is expected to require the Ombudsman to answer Estrada's motion. Only when the Sandiganbayan sustains the Ombudsman’s finding can the arrest warrant be issued.

Revilla and his aide Cambe have already filed their respective motions for judicial determination of probable cause. – Rappler.com