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Lawmakers tagged by Duterte cry ‘witch hunt’

SEVERAL lawmakers accused by President Rodrigo R. Duterte of corruption denied the allegations against them on Tuesday.

Mr. Duterte in a televised talk on Monday named nine lawmakers and district engineers involved in alleged corruption related to the Department of Public Works and Highways’ (DPWH) infrastructure projects.

Before reading the names on a “public document” prepared by the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC), the President said there was no substantial evidence to back the PACC’s claim.

The lawmakers merely appeared to be in connivance with the supposed corrupt officials at the DPWH and district engineers, the President claimed, citing instances of ghost projects and an “enrollment fee” of P12 million before a project could be awarded to a contractor.

Among the lawmakers mentioned were Occidental Mindoro Rep. Josephine Y. Ramirez Sato, Quezon City Rep. Alfred D. Vargas, Misamis Occidental Rep. Henry S. Oaminal, Isabela Rep. Alyssa Sheena P. Tan, Northern Samar Rep. Paul R. Daza, Quezon Rep. Angelina D. Tan, ACT-CIS Party-list Rep. Eric G. Yap, Bataan Rep. Geraldine B. Roman, and former Ifugao Rep. Teddy B. Baguilat, Jr.

Mr. Yap, chairman of the House appropriations committee, challenged PACC Commissioner Greco B. Belgica to file a case before the Office of the Ombudsman instead of “resorting to witch-hunting” and trial by publicity. 

Mr. Yap currently serves as the legislative caretaker of Benguet.

According to the PACC report read by the President,  Mr. Yap allegedly rigged the bidding process for an infrastructure project in the province “through his agent” and exerted influence in choosing his district engineer to be able to manipulate the awarding of projects in the district assigned to him. 

The lawmaker, however, denied the allegations. “They said that I meddled with the biddings for infrastructure projects, what I want to say is I have never been involved in the bidding. When I came to Benguet as its legislative caretaker on January 27 this year, all biddings had already been completed,” he said in Filipino in a press briefing on Tuesday.

The lawmaker said the House of Representatives will initiate in January a legislative inquiry into accusations against Mr. Belgica to let him “clear his name” before the public.

Workers of Duty Free Philippines Corp. in October filed criminal and administrative complaints against Mr. Belgica before the anti-corruption body for allegedly using their cases against the company to develop ties with its management for his personal gain.

Mr. Belgica is currently facing charges of grave misconduct, conduct prejudicial to service, gross inexcusable negligence and violations of Republic Act No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

OTHER SOLONS
Other lawmakers tagged in the report have also denied and slammed the accusations.

Ms. Tan, for her part, said she has “never owned any construction company” and does not have any shares in any construction company.

“This truth can easily be verified by the PACC by simply checking and validating with the concerned government agencies that they surely have access to,” she said.

The lawmaker said her inclusion in the list is “not only malicious but also prejudicial.”

Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra on Tuesday said the agency’s task force against corruption already submitted to the President on Monday “an update on its ongoing investigations,” in which the names mentioned in the PACC’s list “were likewise mentioned.”

Mr. Guevarra said the Office of the President (OP) may refer the report to the agency’s task force against corruption for “validation, further investigation, or case build-up.”

“I’ll wait for OP’s referral, if ever. If the PACC report is already complete (in proper form with supporting evidence), that can be directly filed at the Ombudsman,” he said in a Viber message to reporters in mixed English and Filipino.

House Speaker Lord Allan Q. Velasco, meanwhile, defended the President’s revelation saying Filipinos “are entitled” to know what’s in the PACC report.

“The President made it clear that there is a presumption of innocence and such announcement was not an indictment,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.

Mr. Velasco said House members in the PACC report claimed that no one from the agency invited them for questioning.

“It appears that the PACC has not made any investigation as to the veracity of the accusations against them since they belong to another branch of government, which is not within the authority of the Commission.”

The House leader said the concerned officials are entitled to due process.

“Due process dictates that a thorough investigation be conducted to determine whether there is probable cause or evidence to support the charges against them,” Mr. Velasco said, adding that the case should be brought before the Ombudsman. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

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