Lawmakers cry foul over inclusion in PACC corruption list, ready to submit to probe

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 29) — Incumbent lawmakers and a former congressman linked by President Rodrigo Duterte to alleged corruption denied the accusations on Tuesday, saying they are ready to face investigations to prove their innocence.

Despite admitting that there is "no hard evidence" against the lawmakers, Duterte on Monday proceeded to read nine names included in the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission's list of solons being probed for supposed links to anomalous projects of the Department of Public Works and Highways.

Reading from the list, the President said the following lawmakers allegedly received kickbacks and implemented ghost projects, among other issues: Occidental Mindoro Rep. Josephine Ramirez Sato, Quezon City Rep. Alfred Vargas, Northern Samar Rep. Paul Daza, Quezon Rep. Angelina "Helen" Tan, Bataan Rep. Geraldine Roman, Isabela Rep. Alyssa Sheena Tan, Misamis Occidental Rep. Henry Oaminal, ACT-CIS Party-list Rep. Eric Yap, and former Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat, Jr.

He also named district engineers from the Department of Public Works and Highways allegedly in cahoots with the lawmakers implicated in the illegal schemes. The President ordered their relief by Tuesday, to which DPWH agreed to act fast.

Rep. Angelina Tan, who was tagged by Duterte in an "anomalous" national road project in Quezon Province, called her inclusion in the corrupt list as "malicious" and "prejudicial." She said a portion of the ₱800-M bypass road in Gumaca, Quezon that she spearheaded in 2016 is already being used, although the road has yet to be paved.

"It holds no water due to the lack of evidence — a fact which was also pointed out by the President in the same speech," she said in a statement on Tuesday.

Sato, Daza, and Vargas denied the allegations made to besmirch their names, saying their inclusion in PACC's list may be politically-motivated.

Sato said PACC Commissioner Greco Belgica is a known ally of a politician who plans to run against her in the 2022 polls.

"The report made by Commissioner Belgica which impinges on my credentials as a public servant is clearly calculated to sow intrigues and disruption in the local politics of Occidental Mindoro," she said in a statement on Tuesday.

Vargas said, "Mukha pong napadalhan ang PACC ng maling impormasyon ng mga nakakalaban natin sa pulitika."

Rep. Daza, meanwhile, said, "It stemmed from, what I believe, a malicious complaint filed before the PACC by my local political opponents."

Isabela Rep. Tan and Oaminal refuted claims they own construction companies in their provinces.

"I have never owned any construction company. I do not have any shares in any construction company. This truth can easily be verified by the PACC," Tan stated.

Oaminal said, "When I became Congressman, I sold all my shares in accordance with law. Upon verification, HSO Construction Corporation does not have any construction projects in all government agencies in Misamis Occidental, including DPWH."

Roman stood by her family's track record in serving their constituents in Bataan.

"I am open to any investigation to establish the truth on this matter and I am sure that my honor will be vindicated. My conscience is clear," she added.

Yap denied rigging bids in Benguet and endorsing a DPWH district engineer to be able to control the awarding of projects, saying the PACC list is based on anonymous tips without proper vetting.

"Bilang PACC you should be responsible. Ang ginagawa niyo, nagwi-witchhunt kayo," he added.

He questioned the timing of PACC Commissioner Greco Belgica's revelation of the alleged ties between lawmakers and DPWH district engineers. He said the issue only crept up after the Belgica faced complaints from Duty Free Philippines Corporation workers before the Ombudsman in October. He added he will file a House resolution in January 2021 to probe the issue in aid of legislation.

Baguilat denied receiving kickbacks from when he was still a congressman. The former opposition lawmaker also accused Duterte as the one who is corrupt for refusing to release his net worth. He added that Duterte is using the PACC list as a diversionary tactic after it was revealed on the same day that his Presidential Security Group and some military personnel were jabbed with unregistered COVID-19 vaccines and breached the vaccination priority list.

"As usual, they want to divert people's attention with their latest dud. #LumangTacticNaIyan [That's an old tactic]," he tweeted.

RELATED: Duterte not naming corrupt lawmakers as evidence still lacking – Roque

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque on Tuesday refuted allegations by critics that Duterte revealed the list of supposedly corrupt lawmakers to draw the public's attention away from the controversy over members of the military, including Duterte's security detail, being given shots of the still unlicensed vaccine developed by China-based drug maker Sinopharm.

He said in a briefing that Duterte's intention was for lawmakers to "shape up" because "the good days are over." He also argued the people had the right to know about the information that the President received from the PACC.

Meanwhile, infrastructure projects watchdog Infrawatch PH emphasized Duterte's unvetted disclosure of lawmakers allegedly tagged in corrupt practices can diminish the government's anti-corruption efforts as it appears to be more of a "witch hunt" on personalities rather than getting rid of systemic corruption.

In a statement on Monday, House Speaker Lord Alan Velasco said he agreed that all those named "enjoy the presumption of innocence until their conviction or acquittal, whatever the case may be."

"Based on reports, the House members mentioned in the PACC list claimed that none of the representatives from PACC have invited them for questioning. It appears that the PACC has not made any investigation as to the veracity of the accusations against them since they belong to another branch of government, which is not within the authority of the Commission," he added.

Duterte previously spoke about the list but refused to divulge the names, saying he has no jurisdiction over House members due to separation of powers. His spokesman on November 24 said more evidence is needed to prove corruption.

Roque is now blaming the media for Duterte's move to announce the names of the lawmakers.

"Ang pula ng media dati bakit 'di binasa iyong mga pangalan ng Congressmen? Kayo namang mga kasama sa media noh, damn if you do, damn if you don’t," he said.

[Translation: Media's criticism before was: Why weren't the names of Congressmen revealed? You, colleagues in the media, damn if you do, damn if you don't.]