By Daniel LLanto
FilAm Star Correspondent
The number of implicated Cabinet officials under the previous Aquino administration grew as former Transportation Sec. Joseph Emilio Abaya was indicted for graft along with 16 others in connection with alleged irregularities in the awarding of the PHP 4.25-billion contract for the upkeep and maintenance of the Metro Rail Transit 3.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales ordered the filing of graft charges against Abaya and company a few days after she also indicted former President Benigno Aquino III and his former economic managers for the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) during the past administration.
This was on top of the indictment Morales meted on Aquino for alleged usurpation of authority and violation of the anti-graft and corrupt practices act over the botched anti-terror raid in Mamasapano, Maguindanao in 2015, where 44 police commandos were killed.
Moreover, Aquino faces charges on the PHP 3.5-billion dengue vaccination program together with former Health Sec. Janette Garin, former Budget Sec. Butch Abad and former Executive Sec. Paquino Ochoa.
In a resolution, Ombudsman Morales said her special panel of investigators found probable cause to charge Abaya and 16 other respondents with violation of Section 3 (e) of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
Aside from Abaya, ordered charged with graft before the Sandiganbayan were former transportation Undersecretaries Edwin Lopez (operations), Rene Limcaoco (planning/head of negotiating team), Catherine Jennifer Gonzales (procurement and administration/vice head of the negotiating team), as well as former DOTC-MRT-3 GM Roman Buenafe, Assistant Secretary for procurement and BAC Chair Camille Alcaraz, former BAC Vice-chair Ofelia Astrera and BAC members Charissa Eloisa Opulencia, Oscar Bongon and Jose Rodante Sabayle.
Morales, herself an appointee of Aquino and set to retire a month from now, nonetheless rejected a plunder complaint against Abaya along with his predecessor at the then Department of Transportation and Communication, Mar Roxas.
Also cleared of plunder charges for “lack of probable cause” were seven former Cabinet officials in the previous administration: Abad of Budget; Cesar Purisima, Finance; Jericho Petilla, Energy; Mario Montejo, Science; Voltaire Gazmin, Defense; Rogelio Singson, Public Works and Arsenio Balisacan, Economic Development.
Malacañang welcomed the indictment of Abaya, saying someone should be held accountable for the suffering of commuters. “It is about time and we appreciate that. If you recall, if no one is charged, we will release the documents one by one,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said at a press briefing in Cagayan de Oro.
Sen. Grace Poe, chair of the Senate committee on public services that investigated the anomalous MRT maintenance contracts, expressed the same sentiment. Poe said the Ombudsman’s decision would renew “the fight to make erring public officials accountable for their failure to exercise the highest degree of diligence in the performance of their duties.”
On the Ombudsman’s indictment of Aquino over the DAP, Morales said the former president was culpable of the “unlawful” issuance of the budget circular related to the economic stimulus program. For authorizing the release of PHP 72 billion in funds through the withdrawal of unobligated allotments from various government agencies in 2012, Morales said Aquino was guilty of usurpation of legislative powers under Article 239 of the Revised Penal Code.
This anti-graft body’s move reverses its 2017 decision that cleared Aquino of wrongdoing over the alleged illegal implementation of the DAP in 2011, 2012, and 2013. Former Budget Sec. Abad was the only official found liable in the supposed illegal implementation of DAP last year.
Morales did not have a hand in the cases related to the anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia filed against Aquino, who is a respondent in one of 10 separate cases that have been filed with the Department of Justice so far.
The “untimely illness and death” of a 14-year-old girl from Pasay City has become the basis of the 10th criminal complaint filed against over 30 individuals in connection with the allegedly fatal effects of the anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia.
Aquino has claimed there is no evidence that the vaccine is fatal.