Indigents drawn into pork case can't afford bail

MANILA, Philippines – They were used as dummies – presumably without their knowledge – in the bogus non-governmental organizations set up by Janet Lim Napoles in pulling off the worst scandal involving government funds for farmers and poor rural folk.

All that time, they were clueless that the NGOs under which they were named incorporators were collecting millions of pesos in pork barrel funds, without them getting any single cent.

Now, they have to cough up between P120,000 to P180,000 for their temporary liberty, if and when the arrest warrant is finally issued against them.

Lawyer Lourdes Benipayo said two of her pro-bono clients, Amparo Fernando and Ailene Palama, are likely to be locked up in jail because they cannot raise the bail bond.

“These people are poor. How do you expect them to raise that money in an instant?” she asked.

Fernando and Palama are co-accused in the graft charges filed against Senator Juan Ponce Enrile for the misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel of lawmakers.

The 3rd division of the Sandiganbayan, which is handling Enrile’s plunder and graft charges, has yet to determine probable cause, the basis for the issuance of arrest warrants.

DH in Middle East

Benipayo, in a phone interview, was disappointed that Fernando and Palama were still indicted by the Ombudsman despite motions that they should have been excluded in the charge sheet.

“The witnesses have already said their (Fernando and Palama) names were used without their knowledge as incorporators in the NGOs. We filed for a motion for reconsideration but it was also ignored,” Benipayo said.

Fernando and Palama were both identified as incorporators of the Napoles-linked Countrywide Agri and Rural Development Foundation Inc. (CARED), which was one of the major beneficiaries of the pork barrel of Enrile and Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. Estrada and Revilla are also facing plunder and graft charges before the Sandiganbayan.

Benipayo said Palama was a former househelp of Napoles’ bookkeeper, Marina Sula. On the other hand, Fernando is a neighbor of Simonette Briones, who was identified as president of CARED.

Palama is now in the Middle East working as a domestic helper, Benipayo said, while Fernando is a plain housewife.

“These people did not know their names were used. What is your evidence against them that they actively participated in the scam?” Benipayo pointed out.

Witnesses in the pork barrel scam, who were former staff of Napoles, testified before the Senate blue ribbon committee hearing that they set up a number of NGOs as fronts for the scam – on orders of Napoles.

They also admitted that they used names of their relatives for purposes of incorporating the NGOs at the Securities and Exchange Commission.

During the Senate hearing on the pork barrel last year, one of the witnesses, Merlina Suñas, admitted she used her cousin’s name, Nemesio Pablo, as president of Agri and Economic Program for Farmers Foundation Inc, without his knowledge. In the process, she forged his signature for the SEC incorporation.

This prompted Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to drop the charges against Pablo. But Fernando and Palama were not as lucky.

Indigents

With no one to represent them initially and possibly not even receiving notices to rebut the allegations, the charges against Fernando and Palama pushed through. “How could they receive the notices when the address of the NGO is non-existent in the first place?” Benipayo said.

And now, they’re indicted with the big fish, who can easily come up with a bail bond.

Benipayo, who took their cases only recently, said Fernando faces 6 counts of graft, while Palama, 4. At P30,000 for each count, Fernando would have to raise P180,000 ($4,090) while Palama, P120,000 ($2,727).

“We’re expecting additional charges against them in connection with the Malampaya Fund misuse. How are they going to raise the money? These are indigent persons,” Benipayo said.

Almost half of those charged with graft in connection with the pork barrel scam have posted bail for their temporary liberty, including the two children of Napoles.  Revilla and Estrada are now in detention for the plunder charge, where bail for temporary liberty is not generally allowed. – Rappler.com