The Department of Justice (DOJ) will decide by Thursday whether it will proceed with the filing of the third batch of cases against lawmakers accused of diverting their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocations to phony and overpriced projects.
Among those reportedly to be included in the third batch were Sen. Gregorio "Gringo" Honasan, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority Director General Joel Villanueva, and at least two other politicians reportedly planning to run for the Senate next year.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said Tuesday she would meet with the investigating team led by Undersecretary Jose Justiniano to wrap up their discussions on the matter.
"They already have recommendations but we need to discuss further by Thursday," De Lima told reporters. "I can't tell yet their recommendations. I'll just make the proper announcement."
De Lima has been criticised for earlier announcing that she no longer had the time to handle the third batch of cases in connection with the P10-billion PDAF scam with the election season just around the corner.
She has reconsidered this and given herself this week as her self-imposed deadline to make a final decision.
She also said the so-called "Napolist," or the list of nine senators and 69 former and current congressmen involved in the scam and divulged to her by the purported mastermind, Janet Lim-Napoles, would be forwarded to the Interagency Anti-Graft Coordinating Council after the NBI had completed its verifications.
De Lima denied reports that the DOJ would be dropping the "Napolist" probe.
"How can we drop that? That's our assignment. The list was given to me by Mrs. Napoles and the people want to know if those on the list, is it true that dealt with Mrs. Napoles. What I'm having the NBI verify is that if those in the list really had PDAF projects and used nongovernment organisations set up by Mrs. Napoles," De Lima said.
Earlier charged with plunder for their alleged misuse of their PDAF, or pork barrel, allocations were Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr., along with Napoles.
De Lima noted that National Bureau of Investigation agents helping in the probe had raised questions on the signatures of three or four implicated politicians on the PDAF documents.
"They're raising the issue of the authenticity of their signatures, citing the findings stating that it would appear that in many of those documents, the signatures were not by one and the same person," she said.
"I want them to study if these cases will be given the go signal despite the findings of the NBI on the forgery of signatures in certain documents. Will these be enough, good or valid reason not to proceed with the filing of the cases?" she said.
The justice secretary compared the findings of the investigators with Revilla's claims that his signatures were forged.
De Lima said in Revilla's case, his own private handwriting experts testified that the senators' signatures on the PDAF documents were forged. In the case of the third batch, De Lima said NBI experts themselves had found that some signatures were forged.
However, she said the findings of forgery did not necessarily exculpate those involved.
She said in many PDAF documents the whistle-blowers had revealed that they had participated in forging signatures in the papers, calling this "part of the scheme."
De Lima said whatever the decision of the DOJ on the matter would still be forwarded to the Office of the Ombudsman, which would conduct its own inquiry and would decide whether to proceed with indictments.
On the list Napoles submitted to the DOJ in May last year in her abortive bid for immunity from criminal suits in the PDAF scam, Napoles tagged nine incumbent senators in the PDAF scam: Revilla, Estrada, Enrile, Honasan, Vicente Sotto III, Loren Legarda, Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III, Alan Peter Cayetano and Francis Escudero II.
Former Sen. Manny Villar as well as Villanueva and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad were also on the list.
Tedious, tedious process
De Lima said that while the DOJ is probing the "Napolist," the Inter-Agency Anti-Graft Coordinating Council was also conducting its own investigation using the Commission on Audit (COA) report, which also covered PDAF scams perpetrated by other individuals and nongovernment organisations not linked to Napoles.
"Actually we already missed our deadlines by so much. But due to the number of those involved, the team is having difficulty gathering documents from the COA and the Department of Budget and Management, so we have to get it from the implementing agencies concerned. It's a tedious, tedious process."