MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales found probable cause to charge former president Benigno Aquino III with usurpation of legislative powers in the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) case.
Morales, in effect, partially granted the motion for reconsideration filed by complainant Bayan Muna. But the indictment falls short of Bayan Muna's appeal to charge Aquino with graft.
Usurpation of legislative powers is the lesser charge, penalized by prison time of 6 months to 6 years and a fine not exceeding P1,000 as stated by Article 239 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC).
The earlier indictment for usurpation of legislative powers against former budget secretary Florencio Abad also stands. Morales did not find probable cause to charge Abad with graft, contrary to what Bayan Muna would have wanted.
A month before her retirement, Morales resolved this DAP case, which she had been bugged to do by supporters and critics alike.
Morales' resolution is dated June 14, but was disclosed to media only on Wednesday, June 20.
"A re-evaluation of the case establishes that the individual actions of respondent Aquino and respondent-movant Abad showed a joint purpose and design to encroach on the powers of Congress by expanding the meaning of savings to fund programs, activities and projects under the DAP," the Ombudsman said. (READ: Aquino's DAP defense leaves Abad to be indicted)
Asked for his reaction to the indictment, Aquino told Rappler: "We have yet to receive our copy from the Ombudsman which my lawyers will study when we get it. We are therefore not yet ready for a reaction."
Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate, meanwhile, maintained that Aquino and Abad should have been indicted for graft.
"We welcome the grant of our motion for reconsideration by the Ombudsman by now indicting ex-President Aquino as among the respondents. However, we believe that Aquino and Abad should not be indicted for the charge of usurpation of legislative powers only, but they should be indicted as well for technical malversation and graft charges as both author and architect of the multibillion-[peso] presidential pork barrel called DAP," Zarate said.
"We will still study other options to make them accountable," added the Bayan Muna representative.
What is the case about? Aside from the Mamasapano bloodshed in 2015, the DAP is another issue that has hounded Aquino past his presidency.
Then Bayan Muna alleged that there was bad faith in instituting DAP because Aquino was supposedly well-aware that only Congress can make new appropriations.
DAP authorized the inter-agency transfer of savings, to be able to use money for public projects.
The Office of the Ombudsman's press statement did not explain why Morales junked the graft complaints. It only tackled why Aquino was indicted for usurpation, when he was initially cleared of any crime.
Morales said Aquino is liable because he approved Abad's actions in instituting DAP.
"It is thus clear that respondent-movant Abad sought the approval of respondent Aquino on both the request for authority to pool savings to fund the DAP and the request for omnibus authority to pool savings/unutilized balances. In both instances, respondent Aquino knowingly gave his approval. His approval prompted the issuance of NBC 541 which directed the withdrawal of unobligated allotments and unreleased appropriations and their declaration as savings, which is contrary to law," the Ombudsman said.
But in a statement on Wednesday, Aquino's Liberal Party (LP) said the former president approved DAP because it was "crafted with the intention to deliver the services and infrastructure needed by the people and guided by the laws available to the executive."
"Before all courts and until the very end of the process, former president Aquino will show that he did not commit any illegal act. He will respect the process, as he expects that his reasoning be also given due course," added the LP.
Bayan Muna had said that not charging Aquino and Abad with graft would promote a culture of impunity among high-ranking officials.
Morales has always faced criticism that she is allegedly partial to Aquino, who appointed her. But the Ombudsman, in recent interviews, said she is confident that her integrity is intact. – Rappler.com