MANILA – Malacañang on Tuesday said there is nothing malicious about President Rodrigo Duterte naming lawmakers allegedly involved in corruption at the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).
In a taped speech on Monday night, Duterte named at least nine lawmakers who allegedly received kickbacks from project contractors. These legislators have since denied the allegations.
Despite having named them, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Duterte himself clarified that they are still under investigation and have not yet been proven guilty.
“There was nothing unfair, there was nothing malicious kasi inulit-ulit po ni Presidente, hindi pa naman sila proven guilty (because the President repeatedly said that they’re not yet proven guilty),” he said in a virtual presser.
He denied claims that Duterte was subjecting the said lawmakers to trial by publicity.
“It’s not a trial by publicity dahil nilinaw po ni Presidente (because the President clarified) they have the presumption of innocence and these are people who are being investigated. So di naman sinasabi nagkasala na pero merong imbestigasyon ongoing sa mga ito (he didn’t say they’re already guilty but they are being investigated),” he added.
Roque also rejected the remark made by former Ifugao Rep. Teodoro “Teddy” Baguilat, one of the lawmakers on the list, that Duterte’s decision to bare their names was a “diversionary tactic” to draw attention from some of his close-in security members receiving a Covid-19 vaccine from China.
“Siya po ang nagda-diversionary tactic. Sagutin na lang po former Congressman Baguilat…sagutin ninyo lang po kung hindi totoo na nanghihingi kayo ng tongpats, sabihin ninyo po ‘no. Pero huwag na po natin palitan pa ang issue (He’s the one making diversionary tactics. Congressman Baguilat should just answer the question if it’s true he received kickbacks, just say it. But don’t change the issue),” he said.
Freedom of information
Roque said the President finally decided to reveal the names of alleged dishonest lawmakers as reported to him by the PACC as part of “freedom of information.”
“Sinabi naman po niya ‘no, freedom of information ‘no. Ito po ay report na galing sa PACC, opisyal na na-receive ng Palasyo. Ito po’y naging public document at bagama’t sinabi nga po niya na mayroong presumption of innocence at hindi pa po napapatunayan ang kanilang pagkakasala ay minabuti rin po niya na basahin iyan kasi nga po ang pula ng media dati bakit hindi binasa iyong mga pangalan ng congressmen (He said it himself ‘freedom of information’. This report came from the PACC which the Palace officially received. It becomes a public document and even if he said that there is presumption of innocence and they have not yet been proven guilty, he opted to read them out loud because media previously criticized him for not doing so),” he said.
Last November, Duterte previously refused to reveal their names because he had no jurisdiction over members of a co-equal branch of government.
Instead, the President said he would refer information provided to him to the Office of the Ombudsman for investigation.
Roque, meanwhile, lamented that it seemed like there was no way to please reporters who criticized Duterte for either revealing names or withholding them.
“Kayo namang mga kasama sa (You in the) media ‘no “damn if you do, damn if you don’t” – noong hindi brinodkast, pinulaan na ang mga maliliit lang daw ang tinitira natin ‘no. Ngayong brinodkast, bakit pa raw brinodkast (when it wasn’t broadcasted, you criticized him for only targeting small time persons. Now that he broadcasted their names, you question why he did),” he said.
Roque said Duterte’s intention in naming the lawmakers who allegedly received kickbacks was to push them into changing their corrupt ways.
“Binanggit nga niya yung mga pangalan ng kongresista, hindi pa sila nagkakasala, iniimbestigahan pa, pero ang mensahe sa mga kongresista at sa mga DPWH, shape up dahil (He mentioned the congressmen’s names even if they have yet to be proven guilty and are still being investigation, but his message to the solons and the DPWH is to shape up because) the good days are over,” he said.
He noted that Duterte’s effort to publicize names of supposed dishonest politicians is the “first time in Philippine history that a President dared to touch this institutional source of corruption.”
“Alam niyo po ang kaniyang sinabi na irerevamp niya lahat ng [district engineers] napakalaki ng magagawa niyang ng pagbawas ng koruspyon sa DPWH (You know what he said that he will revamp district engineers, that would make a huge difference in efforts to curb corruption at the DPWH),” he said.
Asked if Duterte’s support for freedom of information would also mean willingness to release his Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN), Roque said persons and parties requesting for the President’s SALN must follow procedures prescribed by the Office of the Ombudsman.
“Meron na pong procedure na sinabi ang Ombudsman. Sumunod lang po tayo dun sa procedure (The Ombudsman has already prescribed procedures. Let’s just follow those procedures),” he said.
Roque has repeatedly insisted that Duterte is “not hiding anything” even if his SALN has not been released to the public.
Under the Ombudsman’s Memorandum Circular No. 1, SALNs would now be released only in three situations—if the government official who filed it and his or her official representative made a request; if it is legally ordered by the court in relation to a pending case; and if the request is made through the Office of the Ombudsman’s field investigation office for the purpose of a fact-finding probe.
In all other instances, the circular said that “no SALN will be furnished to the requester unless he/she presents a notarized letter of authority from the declarant allowing the release of the requested SALN”.
Before Ombudsman Samuel Martires was appointed by Duterte in 2018, a reporter can request for certain government officials’ SALNs by writing formal letters of request before the Office of the Ombudsman. (PNA)