SC affirms NBI findings to indict lawmaker over pork-fund mess


THE Supreme Court has affirmed the recommendation of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) before the Office of the Ombudsman to indict House Deputy Speaker Rep. Rufus Rodriguez for graft and other criminal offenses for allegedly receiving around P2 million in kickbacks from his priority development assistance fund (PDAF), or pork barrel fund.

In a 15-page resolution made public on October 29, the SC’s Second Division found no grave abuse of discretion on the part of the DOJ and the NBI in recommending to the Ombudsman the conduct of a preliminary investigation for the eventual filing of charges before the Sandiganbayan against the lawmaker who represent Cagayan de Oro’s Second district in the House of Representatives.

Sought by the BusinessMirror for comment, Rodriguez said the Office of the Ombudsman, in a Joint Resolution dated December 23, 2020, had already dismissed the cases against him arising from the alleged PDAF anomaly amounting to P3.5 million.

“At present, I have no pending case in the Ombudsman,” he told the BusinessMirror.

He also maintained that all his signatures in PDAF documents were forged.

“Although it has been my legal position that I was denied due process as required by our Constitution when the NBI investigated me on the alleged PDAF anomaly without giving me the opportunity to be heard and submit my evidence before it, and furthermore, that the NBI itself has found my signatures in the documents to be all forged, I fully respect the SC decision,” he added.

Napoles ‘connection’

The NBI, in its executive summary dated August 7, 2015, alleged Rodriguez along with several other lawmakers, used his PDAF in illegal transactions with Janet Lim-Napoles’s nongovernment organizations (NGOs) to profit from the simulated disbursements and utilization of his PDAF.

Based on its investigation, the NBI said all of the NGOs of Napoles, which were all bogus in nature, were used as mere conduits for the purported implementation and liquidation of projects financed by the PDAF.

Some lawmakers, their representatives and officials of the implementing agencies, according to the NBI, however, pocketed bulk of the funds.

Napoles, who has been named as the mastermind of the pork barrel scam, is currently in detention following her conviction for plunder, graft and other charges related to the multimillion pork-barrel fund scam.

Specifically, the NBI found sufficient evidence to prosecute Rodriguez for malversation of public funds, direct bribery, and violation of the provisions of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

Then DOJ secretary and now detained Sen. Leila de Lima approved the NBI’s recommendation against Rodriguez during her term.

Right to due process

IN assailing the validity of the DOJ and NBI’s filing of the complaint against him, Rodriguez argued that the respondent agencies acted in excess of their jurisdiction and/or grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in conducting a formal investigation against him in relation to the Napoles PDAF scam.

The petitioner said his right to due process and equal protection of the law was violated when they conducted an investigation and recommended his indictment without giving him the opportunity to be heard.

As a consequence, Rodriguez said he was not able to present evidence to refute the accusations against him.

However, the Court declared that the NBI’s investigation and the subsequent issuance of the executive summary and letter-complaints against the petitioner were done merely in the performance of its mandate.

“The NBI did not perform a judicial or quasi-judicial function when it recommended to the Ombudsman further fact-finding investigation or the corresponding preliminary investigation for the eventual filing of the appropriate charges before the Sandiganbayan. Instead, the findings of the NBI were merely recommendatory and still subject to the Ombudsman’s actions,” the SC pointed out.

Likewise, the Court found no merit in Rodriguez’s claim that the NBI and the DOJ went against its own internal rules by refusing to issue a subpoena and take or require his sworn statements.

“There is not even a vested right granted by law to any person under investigation to participate in the proceedings before the NBI,” the SC noted.

“Consequently, there being no grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of the NBI in conducting an investigation on the person of petitioner as to his participation in the Napoles PDAF Scam, the Court finds no ground to nullify the NBI’s investigation,” it added.

With Jovee Marie N. Dela Cruz

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