THE Department of Justice (DoJ) issued on Friday, Nov. 24, a series of department orders (DOs) dated Thursday directing an investigation into a number of controversies from the previous administration of Benigno S.C. Aquino III.
DO 749 read in part: “The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), through Director Dante A. Gierran, is hereby directed and granted authority to investigate the complaint filed by Coalition for Investigation and Prosecution Rep. Greco (B.) Belgica, et al. against former President Benigno S. Aquino III, et al. for Malversation under Art. 217 of the Revised Penal Code,as amended.”
In his press briefing on Friday, Justice Secretary Vitaliano N. Aguirre II said that particular complaint is in connection with the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program under Mr. Aquino.
“DAP. Kasi yung malversation yung (Because malversation pertains to) less than (P)50 million,” Mr. Aguirre said.
In a statement also on Friday, Mr. Belgica said: “DAP is a crime that has been decided almost 4 years ago. Its investigation and the prosecution of its perpetrators have been blocked since then by those who committed it and with many of those who still remain in power.”
“DOJ and NBI can now can use our template to build up cases against all culprits regardless of political affiliation and verify what we submitted. All our evidences have been submitted to DOJ,” Mr. Belgica added.
Other DOs issued Friday were No. 751, on conducting an “investigation and creation of special task force in connection with the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) anomalies,” and No. 752, also directing an investigation and creation of a special task force in connection with the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) anomalies.
Sought for comment, Ramon C. Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, said in a text message that these planned inquiries are still “up in the air.”
Mr. Casiple said: “Investigation is far from filing a case. Much farther is a possible conviction. At this point, this is still up in the air. Let us see if there is substance.”
“It is interesting to note that there are dissenting SC (Supreme Court) opinions that Aquino, et al. may be liable for DAP,” he added, in reference to a high court ruling at the height of the DAP controversy in 2014.
Apart from the DOs issued Friday, Mr. Aguirre also issued a statement that day “on the discovery of an alleged criminal syndicate involved in the Php 8.7 billion right of way scam during the Aquino administration and the admission into the witness protection program of a witness who was personally involved in the scam.”
“The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) informed me that they have a witness who is personally involved in a criminal syndicate which was purportedly involved in defrauding our government of around P8.7 billion from a road right of way (RROW) scam in General Santos City,” Mr. Aguirre said in the statement which he read in his Friday press conference.
“Based on the initial reports submitted to me by the NBI, this criminal syndicate purportedly submitted fake titles in the name of non-existent persons to allow them to claim from the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) the just compensation from the expropriation of land which will be supposedly occupied by government projects,” he added.
“From 2009 when the syndicate started to operate, the members of this syndicate were able to process more than 300 folders containing fake road-right-of-way amounting to more or less P8.7 billion.”
“I was also informed that for the syndicate to accomplish these apparently criminal acts, several public officials from the Department of Public Works and Highways, Bureau of Internal Revenue, the City Assessor’s Office of General Santos, the Registry of Deeds, the Commission on Audit and the Regional Trial Courts have been identified by the said witness as having participated in the processing, approval and eventual release of payments to cover these dubious claims,” Mr. Aguirre said.
Mr. Aguirre, however, mentioned several public officials under the Aquino administration who may be involved in the said scam.
He added: “Consequently, I have instructed the NBI to continue its case build-up in order to further strengthen the case which most likely will include several high ranking officials of the Aquino administration.”
Mr. Aguirre pointed out that “based on their signatures in the documents submitted to the NBI and on the sinumpaang salaysay (sworn testimony) of our witness, some high ranking officials of the previous administration may have potential liabilities like former DPWH Secretary Rogelio (L.) Singson who apparently approved and requested the release of payment of fake RROW claims.”
“Former Budget Secretary Florencio (B.) Abad who apparently approved the release of payment for illegal RROW claims as requested by DPWH Secretary Rogelio Singson may also face potential criminal liability,” he added.
Mr. Abad for his part said on Friday: “The accusation is baseless and therefore not true. I and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) were never part of the negotiations for that transaction. The DPWH will be in the best position to shed light on the issue. If I’m not mistaken, that case is already pending with the Omb(udsman).”
Mr. Singson, for his part, said: “Am so sorry I don’t know what it is about and so I cant comment yet.”
The Aquino camp was also sought for comment but has not responded as of this reporting. — Andrea Louise E. San Juan