MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – A multi-sectoral interest group on Thursday, November 27, filed plunder and graft charges against House Majority Floor Leader Neptali Gonzales II for the alleged misuse of his discretionary funds.
Thee charges, filed by the group Sentinels of the Rules of the Law, is the Commission on Audit special report on lawmakers' Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) from 2007 to 2009.
Citing the COA report, the complainants alleged that Gonzales misused up to P315 million worth of PDAF.
The COA report found irregularities in over P500 million worth of transactions involving Gonzales' PDAF funds, including P263.676 million worth of transactions that were considered questionable as the suppliers were not legally and/or physically existing.
Sentinels of the Rules of the Law spokesperson Jefferson Indap said the group decided to file charges against Gonzales after anti-graft investigators failed to act on the case a year since the release of the COA report.
Asked who the head of the group is, Indap said the person is "anonymous."
Asked whether politics is involved behind the group's move, Indap said, "I can neither confirm nor deny."
The group is only planning to file charges against Gonzales for now, according to Indap.
In an interview at the House of Representatives, Gonzales reiterated his argument that using COA findings as evidence would not stand in court.
"The (COA special audit report) can't be the basis of prosecution because at best, it is just a hearsay evidence," Gonzales said.
"It's not a finished thing. It's not a final thing. There should be an exit conference," he added.
A team of lawyers and accountants are now in the final stages of preparing Gonzales' response to the report, which was released over a year ago.
Gonzales did not give an estimate on when his final response will be submitted to COA. The report involves almost 100,000 pages and it took his team about 6 months just to photocopy the documents, he said.
The House leader took a swipe at the group who filed a case against him for singling him out.
"If they are really the sentinels of the rule of the law, why are only filing a case against me? There were other names mentioned in that report," Gonzales said in a mix of English and Filipino.
He also raised doubts about the legitimacy of the organization.
"What entered my mind is when you ask an American if they have nuclear weapons, if they answer, 'We neither confirm nor deny,' that means there are nuclear weapons. It's easy to say there is none. Why would you say you neither confirm nor deny?" Gonzales said.
But Gonzales said he is not taking the case lightly.
"The worst that can happen is for me to be overconfident about this that it will not prosper. So I will face it in accordance with the law," Gonzales said.
Although the COA report tagged Gonzales as one of the 192 lawmakers found to have irregularities over the discretionary funds, the House leader is not among those linked to the web of non-governmental organizations controlled by Janet Lim Napoles, which allegedly connived with lawmakers to plunder public funds.
The Supreme Court has declared the PDAF as unconstitutional for enabling lawmakers to participate in post-enactment measures of the budget.