TAKING ON corruption is never easy. After two years of investigation by nearly three dozen lawyers of the Office of the Ombudsman reviewing thousands of documents, the corruption cases involving the use of pork-barrel funds against an incredible tally of legislators are far from being concluded. Many of the cases have not even reached trial stage.
The government’s efforts to clean up the pork-barrel mess have thus far produced plunder, graft, and bribery charges against eight legislators—three senators and five members of the House of Representatives—filed before the Sandiganbayan.
The eight are among over 100 legislators who purportedly participated in the misuse and abuse of the pork barrel, otherwise known as Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
Read: Part 8 of PCIJ’s series on “Pork a la Gloria, Pork a la PNoy”
* Ombudsman on PDAF cases: Long, rough road to justice
A third complaint that the Department of Justice filed only last August 4 against two senators and seven former and current House members is still undergoing review by the Ombudsman.
“We consider these PDAF cases as [among] the most important cases that we are prosecuting,” Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon Gerard A. Mosquera tells PCIJ.
“In fact,” he adds, “a substantial number of prosecutors are involved [in these cases]. And our most senior prosecutors are directly supervising [them].”
After more than a year in court hearings, however, the Ombudsman has yet to get a conviction on the first eight cases that are now pending at the Sandiganbayan. Comments Mosquera: “Some cases proceed quickly, while others are not as quick.”
The investigation began on March 22, 2013 when the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) “rescued” Benhur Luy, from a Taguig City condominium owned by his cousin and boss, businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles. Luy would later become a whistleblower exposing massive pork-barrel fraud, pointing to Napoles as the head of a network of bogus nongovernment organizations (NGOs) that siphoned off pork-barrel funds in collusion with legislators.
Mosquera says the Ombudsman currently has 35 prosecutors exclusively focusing on the eight ongoing cases filed before the anti-graft court and five new PDAF cases. These prosecutors are apart from the scores of lawyers of the Ombudsman’s Field Investigation Office who continue to gather documentary and testimonial evidence against more potential respondents. Mosquera is serving as lead prosecutor in the cases. Mosquera heads the Ombudsman’s prosecution team.
For each of the eight cases, the Ombudsman is presenting some 5,000 documentary exhibits. The number shoots up to about 8,000 when the exhibits’ sub-markings are included. The number of witnesses who testify ranges from 30 to 50 per case.
“There is only one prosecution team for all the cases,” he says. “But on the other side, ang sa defense naman, iba-iba ang mga abugado ng mga akusado. So natural na iba-iba ang pagpapalakad nila ng depensa (But on the other side, the defense has a variety of lawyers representing the accused. Naturally, the way they carry out their defense would be different from each other).”
He can only be thankful that while the “fairly complicated” pork cases have required more than extraordinary attention on the part of the Ombudsman, these have also served as a landmark in how the regulatory and integrity agencies of government could work together to build cases against corruption.
“It’s very encouraging to share and to note,” Mosequera tells PCIJ, “for probably the first time in our history as a country, talagang nagtulong-tulong ang Office of the Ombudsman, Commission on Audit, National Bureau of Investigation, Anti-Money Laundering Council, Securities and Exchange Commission, and even the Civil Service Commission.” – PCIJ, August 2015