By Llanesca T Panti & Benjie L Vergara/Manila Times
The return of Jessica “Gigi” Reyes, one of several personalities accused of plunder in connection with the misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), could delay the filing of charges at the Sandiganbayan (anti-graft court), lawmakers said yesterday.
Reyes, the former chief of staff of Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, flew home from the US early yesterday, eight months after she left Manila.
Early this month, the Office of the Ombudsman approved the filing of plunder charges against Reyes, Enrile, Senators Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr, Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, Janet Lim Napoles and Ruby Tuason before the Sandiganbayan.
Plunder involves the misuse of at least P50mn of state funds and is a non-bailable offence.
In its resolution, the Ombudsman said it found probable cause to indict the three senators, Reyes, Napoles and Tuason for plunder and several counts of graft. The senators were accused of receiving kickbacks from questionable projects funded by their pork barrel.
Enrile reportedly poured P345mn of his PDAF to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) or foundations owned or controlled by Napoles, Revilla, P517mn and Estrada, P278mn. From these transactions, Revilla reportedly got P242mn in commissions, Estrada, P242mn and Enrile, P172mn.
The Ombudsman said the PDAF of the senators went to ghost or non-existent projects.
Tuason, one of the witnesses in the pork scam, claimed that she brought Estrada’s “commissions” to his office in the Senate. She said she never transacted directly with Enrile but that it was Reyes who signed documents to facilitate the release of funds.
Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago earlier urged Reyes to return so she can testify against her former boss, Enrile.
But Isabela Rep. Giorgidi Aggabao believes Reyes’ return “would delay the filing of charges because she could request for a reinvestigation on her case on the ground that she was unable to traverse the complaint by way of counter affidavit.”
Given the gravity of the offence, the Ombudsman may grant Reyes’ request, Aggabao, who is the House Deputy Speaker, said in a text message.
Reyes resigned in January 2013 at the height of the pork barrel controversy. She left the country in August 2013.
Sherwin Tugna, the House Deputy Majority Leader, shared Aggabao’s view that with Reyes back, the filing of the case could be delayed.
Terry Ridon of Kabataan party-list said, “It might be more prudent for the Office of the Ombudsman to give some time for Mrs. Reyes to provide some information. It would also mean that the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee will convene again to receive her testimony.”
Other lawmakers welcomed Reyes’ return. “I am glad that she is confronting the case. As you know, flight could imply guilt. What she does next is going to be important either way,” Speaker Feliciano Belmonte said in a text message.
Reyes has filed a motion before the Ombudsman to reinvestigate the plunder charges against her. Rep. Elpidio Barzaga also lauded Reyes for returning.
“It is a bold move! Her return creates the impression that she is willing to face the music and that she has sufficient evidence to defend herself. Her return is good not only for the prosecution but also for the entire country since we shall be able to hear her version of the pork barrel scam,” he said.
“We cannot definitely say that her return will boost the case of the prosecution but one thing is certain: Attorney Reyes’ return shows her willingness to submit to the jurisdiction of Philippine authorities, face her accusers and seek justice,” Ako Bicol representative Rodel Batocabe added.
Malacanang also welcomed Reyes return.
Presidential Communications Operations Office head Herminio Coloma Jr urged Reyes and other personalities involved in the PDAF issue “to fully disclose what they know.”
“Their willingness to shed light on the ongoing legal proceedings is vital to our people’s quest for justice,” Coloma said in a statement.
After arriving at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 2 on Philippine Airlines flight from San Francisco, Reyes was escorted by two security personnel out of the terminal. Immigration sources said Reyes, a business class passenger, was wearing an orange outfit when she was seen queuing at the immigration counter for clearance.
Reyes was implicated by Benhur Luy who has testified before the Senate that Enrile, Estrada and Revilla released PDAF allocations to businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles, suspected to be the mastermind of the scam.
Another witness said Reyes received millions of pesos in cash apparently on Enrile’s behalf at a house somewhere in Quezon City.
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