BY JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR and RAYMOND AFRICA
PRESIDENT Duterte said he has “no business investigating congressmen” and has left to the Office of the Ombudsman the probe of lawmakers who are allegedly receiving “kickbacks” from project contractors involved in government programs.
He said he has a list but refused to name the lawmakers.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson questioned the President’s statement, pointing to the case of Sen. Leila de Lima who has been in jail for almost four years now after being accused by the Duterte government of involvement in the illegal drugs trade at the national penitentiary.
He said the Department of Justice, which is under the Executive Branch of government, initiated an investigation into the drug allegations against De Lima.
“May nakita lang akong inconsistency kasi si Senator De Lima, DOJ din, executive ang nag-prosecute. Kaya nga siya nakakulong kasi ang nag-initiate ng investigation DOJ din at that time… I think 2016 ito second semester hanggang 2017 (I can see inconsistencies here because it was the DOJ, the Executive [branch] which prosecuted Sen. De Lima that’s why she was jailed because the DOJ initiated an investigation that time… I think it was during the second semester of 2016 until 2017),” Lacson said in a radio interview.
The President, on Monday night during his weekly address, said the “list of congressmen” has been submitted to him by the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) but he has no jurisdiction over the lawmakers as they belong to the Legislative Branch of government, which is a separate and co-equal branch of the Executive.
“I have no business investigating congressmen. They belong to a separate organ of government, which is co-equal with the President and the Supreme Court. Now, if you throw it at me, I have no other recourse, but to throw it to the Ombudsman because… it is the only investigating agency that has jurisdiction over congressmen, not me. I cannot investigate congressmen. That would be an encroachment of the power of separation,” he said in mixed Filipino and English.
Duterte, who ran on a campaign against corruption, said he is not washing his hands but merely following the law.
He also said his refusal to name the lawmakers in public does not mean he was afraid or trying to cover up the activity of lawmakers.
“If I cannot investigate the congressmen or itong mga kickback nila sa mga commission sa mga projects sa kanilang probinsiya na pinili nila iyung mga contractors… kung wala akong jurisdiction, wala akong, huwag mo akong tanungin dito sinong involved diyan because this is not recognizable by my (office) [If I cannot investigate the congressmen or their kickback or commission from projects implemented in their provinces where they chose the contractors… if I do not have jurisdiction, do not ask me who is involved because this is not recognizable by my (office),” he said.
PACC Commissioner and spokesman Greco Belgica has said in congressional hearings that some congressmen were involved in irregularities in some government infrastructure projects.
The President has also talked about the corruption problem at the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), including the alleged involvement of many officials in the department’s projects. He has said some congressmen might be involved but did not elaborate pending corruption investigations.
Lacson has repeatedly called the DPWH’s attention to alleged doubling of budget allocations for certain infrastructure projects.
Lacson said the DOJ can also initiate an investigation on congressmen with alleged links to corruption and later pass its findings to the Office of the Ombudsman, which will make the latter’s work easier.
“So, ano’ng kaibahan kung iimbestigahan din ang mga congressmen? Dahil ang naiintindihan ko ang batas, patas naman ‘yan (So, what’s the difference if congressmen will be investigated [by the Executive]? To my understanding, the law applies to everyone). It would cut across the different branches of government,” Lacson said.
“Kung magko-conduct ng preliminary investigation ang DOJ at makakita sila ng probable cause, puwede nila itong ipasa sa Ombudsman para mas madali na ang trabaho ng Ombudsman
(If the DOJ conducts a preliminary investigation and finds there is probable cause, it can pass its findings to the Ombudsmen, thus making the Ombudsman’s job easier),” he added.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, who has been tasked by Duterte to investigate corruption in the entire government, said no specific congressmen is being investigated as the focus of his task force’s probe are transactions or projects.
“So, Mr. President, it’s not really the person who is being investigated but a particular transaction na maaari pong nakasama (who may be involved) or may involvement itong any member of the government which is outside the Executive Department,” he said during the meeting.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque yesterday said the President refused to name the lawmakers allegedly involved in corruption because they belong to a separate branch of government, unlike some employees of the executive branch, who have been charged, suspended, or dismissed, and who were named by the President.
Roque also said that there is a need for strong evidence to back up allegations that the lawmakers asked or received kickbacks.
“I think it’s evidentiary. Sinabi naman po iyan ni Presidente na because this is an issue of evidence, mas mabuting mag-imbestiga ay ang Ombudsman dahil ang hurisdiksiyon ng Ombudsman ay lahat ng tao ng gobyerno, hindi lang po ang Ehekutibo or Legislative or Judicial (I think it’s evidentiary. The President said because this is an issue of evidence, it is better to let the Ombudsman investigate because the Ombudsman has jurisdiction over all people in government, not just the executive or legislative or Judicial),” he said.
Asked about the President’s making public of an alleged drug list that included names of some judges and lawmakers as well as Duterte’s accusing De Lima, Roque said it was easier to prove the drug allegations and there was already evidence.
“As lawyers kasi you can evaluate evidence for yourself lalo na dating public prosecutor ang Pangulo. So malinaw na malinaw pa sa sikat ng araw iyong pananagutan ni Leila de Lima sa illegal drug trafficking. At ito namang pagdating sa mga kongresista na nakiki-collude daw sa mga contractors, mas competent po talagang mag-evaluate niyan ang Ombudsman (As lawyers you can evaluate evidence for yourself especial since the President is former public prosecutor. The accountability of Leila de Lima in illegal drug trafficking is clearer than the sun shining. In the case of the congressmen who were colluding with contractors, the Ombudsman would be more competent to evaluate),” he said.
Roque also said that De Lima is “one of a kind” as there was strong evidence against her and 11 witnesses testified the senator was involved in illegal drug activities.