PDAF accused offered immunity for Malampaya testimony?
MANILA, Philippines – The lead counsel of alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles said on Thursday, October 2, that the Ombudsman attempted to strike a deal with a number of those accused before the anti-graft court so they would be immune from charges.
These accused over the pork barrel scam were offered immunity in exchange for their testimony in a set of cases still in the making over the Malampaya Fund scam, said defense counsel Stephen David.
On Thursday, prosecution witness Ryan Medrano, a lawyer with the Office of the Ombudsman, admitted before the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan that pork scam defendants were summoned by the Ombudsman for their possible input in a separate probe. It involved the scam that siphoned off millions in government proceeds from natural gas operations off the shores of Palawan known as the Malampaya Fund.
The "fact-finding" summons was issued and the subsequent meeting occurred in April 2014, Medrano added.
David alleged in open court that those who were called to the "clarificatory meeting" with the investigating body were "threatened" with additional charges if they didn't cooperate.
He added later on that an exchange for immunity from suit was offered to them as well.
"My point is, 'pinatawag kasi nila ang mga akusado at pinangakuan na aalisin sa kaso 'pag pinirmahan ang mga affidavit na ginawa nila," David clarified in an interview. (My point is, they summoned the accused and promised they would drop charges if they signed prepared affidavits.)
Medrano mentioned Eulogio Rodriguez, Rodrigo Galay, Evelyn de Leon, and John Raymund de Asis as among those who were summoned by the Ombudsman for the probe of its field investigation office (FIO) into the Malampaya scam.
The 4 he mentioned are already facing graft cases in court over the multi-million-peso diversion of lawmakers' Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel to ghost projects of Napoles-controlled non-profit foundations.
De Asis, Napoles' former driver-bodyguard who is still at large, is also charged with the non-bailable offense of plunder in addition to his graft charges over the PDAF scam.
Medrano did not admit promises were made that PDAF scam charges will be dropped against the 4. He said David has his "own version" of the story.
When David made the allegation in open court, Justice Samuel Martires asked Medrano: "Is it within your discretion to grant immunity?" Medrano said no.
David was questioning the witness for the hearing of his client's bail plea before the Sandiganbayan Third Division.
Admonished by the bench
David's cross-examination of Medrano dragged on for 3 hours, with justices admonishing the defense lawyer on questions that were either irrelevant or lacking in basis.
David raised in court a point he made in previous chance interviews that the Ombudsman was biased in its selection of who to charge in court, relying mostly on what state witnesses led by Benhur Luy bared to the government.
David made Medrano enumerate names of incorporators of NGOs Napoles supposedly controlled.
"Why are they not charged despite the fact that their name and signature appear in this document?" David asked Medrano.
But Medrano said these individuals were not charged "considering the statement given to us by Benhur Luy and whistleblowers that they were not aware that their signatures were used."
"Because Benhur Luy said so," David said to drive home his point.
Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang cut short David's statement, asking the defense counsel if he was listening to the witness' answer.
Justice Samuel Martires likewise reminded David not to raise "insulting" questions. He asked David, known for his theatrical manner of questioning in court, to stop badgering the witness.
Justice Alex Quiroz also joked about the "halo halo" (mixed up) questions of David and interrupted the lawyer to ask the witness himself. – Rappler.com