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Govt launches sweeping probe of pork barrel scams


(Updated 12:46 p.m.) As public outrage continues to build around the issue of pork barrel abuses, the government is casting a larger net to catch even more big fish.

The Inter-Agency Anti-Graft Coordinating Council (IAAGCC) announced that it is investigating not just Janet Lim-Napoles and the pork barrel scam that she allegedly masterminded, but a wide array of other players and institutions implicated in the comprehensive Commission on Audit report released earlier this month.

In addition to the handful of senators and a dozen congressmen already named in news reports as benefiting from connections to Napoles, nearly 200 other lawmakers were said to have "misused" over P6-B of pork allotments from 2007 to 2009, according to the COA report. There is also growing public pressure to investigate possible abuses under the Aquino administration.
 
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales will jointly probe pork barrel scams.
The broader probe is being headed by two famously steel-willed officials, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, who faced the media Tuesday morning.
 
"Given the release of the Commission on Audit special report on the misuse of the PDAF funds, it is decided that IAGCC will undertake the bigger investigation into those revelations contained in the COA report," de Lima said during the press conference at the Office of the Ombudsman.
 
She said the COA report on its own is not evidence, but the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) is completing the necessary documents, including documentary proof on top of sworn statements from whistleblowers.
 
De Lima said the NBI would file its report with the Office of the Ombudsman, which would determine whether or not to form a fact-finding investigation to further strengthen the case, or to proceed to the preliminary investigation.
 
"'Yung iba pa po na mas malaki, more extensive, bigger, exposes or disclosures especially as revealed in the COA report yun po ang itatackle officially ng IAGCC," De Lima said, adding that the Office of the Ombudsman would lead the council.
 
De Lima emphasized that the COA report was not enough basis to file a case, but was a crucial reference document. "Para alam ng Ombudsman, ng NBI kung anong mga dokumento ang hahanapin, ang ico-collate, iga-gather, i-o-organize into a cohesive and comprehensive manner na malakas ang pagkakafile ng mga kaso," she said.

The announcement comes on the heels of a massive multisectoral protest against the pork abuses. An estimated 75,000 people flocked to Luneta Park on August 26 for the so-called Million People March, but public anger has been building online since July.

The protest pushed through despite President Benigno Aquino III's pronouncement on August 23 that it is time to abolish the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). Aquino proposed an improved system, resulting in criticism that it's the same pig with a different collar.

Protesters are calling not just for the total abolition of the pork barrel but the prosecution of those who allegedly pocketed pork funds, including several senators.

Following the protest, Malacañang agreed to hold a dialogue with concerned groups. 

Ombudsman probe
 
Meanwhile, the Office of the Ombudsman is also conducting its own investigation into the scam involving Napoles, who has so far eluded arrest in connection with an illegal detention case involving Benhur Luy, one of the whistleblowers.
 
"The Office of the Ombudsman is conducting a parallel investigation in order to see to it that in the event we get the NBI report and we find that there are some aspects which have not been covered by them then we will already be ready to conduct a preliminary investigation if need be," Morales said.
 
Morales said they have already written letter requests to different agencies including the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), with respect to the corporations that were allegedly involved in the scam.

So far, the SEC complied with the request, while the DBM and AMLAC have not yet complied with the Ombudsman's request.
 
"The NBI has complied partially with our request but given the fact that the testimonies of witnesses including whistleblowers have not been fully considered we are expecting the NBI to submit their report through the DOJ with the imprimatur of the secretary of Justice in one or two weeks," Morales said.

She also denied that her office only started probing the anomaly after the COA report was released, saying she had created a panel as early as July 18 to investigate the matter.

"It is not true that it is only now that the Ombudsman is conducting a probe on the case," Morales said. "If you have been reading the newspapers, you would know the Ombudsman is already conducting a fact-finding investigation. Even before the release of the COA, there had already been concrete moves by the Ombudsman." she said.

Morales assured the public that the inter-agency body would not become "tools of anybody to spare any fellow."

"We assure you of the credibility of this investigation," she said.

NBI probe

As far as the NBI investigation is concerned, De Lima reiterated her earlier statements that several lawmakers would be included in the charges.

"Ang pine-prepare na kaso ng NBI ay ang first batch ng puwede i-file dahil may sufficient evidence na while the others are undergoing case buildup," she said.

"Depende sa mga nakalap na ebidensiya," she added. "May ino-organize na na kaso and it will also include lawmakers."

Meanwhile, De Lima also revealed that the NBI has already invited several "personalities" to be interviewed on the pork barrel scam, other than the whistleblowers.

She, however, added that she was unaware whether invitations had already been sent to the lawmakers implicated in the mess. "But the NBI said hindi naman sila (lawmakers) compelled."

De Lima also reiterated that there are still "no indications" that Napoles and her brother had already left the country. – Carmela Lapeña and Mark Merueñas/RSJ/HS/KBK, GMA News

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