Senate probe sought into pork barrel scam

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Monday, July 15, 2013


MANILA (Updated) -- A resolution was filed in the Senate on Monday calling for a probe into the P10-billion scam that used pork barrel funds for ghost projects.

In filing Senate Resolution 40, Senator Francis Escudero asked the Blue Ribbon committee to conduct an inquiry, saying the scam is damaging to the country and image of all congressmen and senators.

"We deserve no less as a people and as a nation, we have to make sure that everyone adheres to the principles of good governance when it comes to public funds. At the same time, we have a responsibility to protect the integrity and reputation of the Senate as an institution and as a pillar of our democracy," he said.

The Senate committee on ethics and privileges may also investigate for improper behavior a senator and expel him if found guilty, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago said, but "that would be a futile route."

Five senators and 23 congressmen were reported to have benefited from the scheme allegedly ran by Janet Lim-Napoles of trading company JLN Corp., which used dummy non-government organizations as beneficiaries through forgery, falsification and bribery.

Tagged in the scam were Senators Ramon Revilla Jr., Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., and Gregorio Honasan II. Revilla supposedly spent some P1.017 billion of his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to bogus NGOs.

Revilla smelled politics behind the accusation in light of reports that he was encouraged to seek the presidency in 2016.

He recalled that the government tried to bring him down last May, when police surrounded his home in Cavite on suspicion that armed men allegedly sought refuge in the Revilla compound.

The senator blamed Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II, who has supervision over policemen, for the incident. Coincidentally, Roxas is being groomed by the ruling Liberal Party to be its presidential bet.

"I have already been warned by someone in Malacañang that I will be targeted. This is it. This controversy has been engineered by the administration for only one purpose - to demolish the opposition, especially those who enjoy the popular support of our people," he said.

Revilla noted that only opposition members are being dragged into the controversy as he called for a scrutiny of pork barrel records of all lawmakers including those of Palace allies.

Honasan and Marcos also denied the report. Marcos, who was also seen as a presidential aspirant, said he does not know Napoles.

"I have never spoken to her and so I have had no personal dealings with her," said Marcos. "However, I am more than eager to fully cooperate in the investigation and in any other similar efforts that will reveal the truth on this matter."

Enrile denied getting financial benefit in exchange for the utilization of his PDAF, whether they be the agricultural or livelihood assistance being mentioned in favor of various local government units or allegedly bogus NGOs or foundations throughout his legislative career.

"All the fund releases from mine and other legislators' PDAF's and infrastructure projects are of public record," said Enrile. "My office has consistently abided by all DBM (Department of Budget and Management) issuances and guidelines, old and new, regarding all requirements for projects to be qualified for PDAF and infrastructure funding."

Santiago, on the other hand, asked her colleagues to go on leave pending investigation by a proposed special panel of prosecutors composed of retired Supreme Court justices to be appointed by President Benigno Aquino III.

"Out of delicadeza, the five senators should go on leave, to erase any doubt that they might use their power or their money to pressure the investigators," she said.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima refused to name lawmakers who are currently being probed by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) over the issue.

"We're going to pursue this investigation but quietly. I hope the public will understand," she told reporters.

De Lima, however, cleared Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. of any accountability as the affidavits submitted by Napoles to the NBI contained the imprint of MOST, which stands for (Liza) Marcos, Ochoa, (Edward) Serapio and (Joseph) Tan.

"ES (Ochoa) is on leave from the firm. I think Napoles is not a client of MOST. I haven’t seen documents that could trace any involvement of ES directly or indirectly," she said.

Each senator receives P200 million worth of PDAF per year, which he can use to fund infrastructure, health, education, and other social projects.

Escudero said a lawmaker's participation is limited to the designation of beneficiaries and identification of projects and the implementation is undertaken by government agencies concerned while Revilla cited the responsibility of the Executive branch to ensure that the funds were properly used.

Senator Franklin Drilon, who is likely to be elected Senate President on July 22, is in favor of scrapping PDAF since this has been a subject of public ire.

But as compromise, Drilon said the PDAF can be used for "certain activities," such as medical or educational assistance.

"Many senators do this. You place money for indigents in government hospitals. Then the use will be limited to your constituent who really enter the hospital and make use of its facilities, and then you charge the expenses of that particular indigent to the funds you deposited to the hospital," he said.

COA has a special audit of pork barrel funds but its findings have yet to be released. Enrile said COA must disclose the report "without fear or favor if it were to perform its constitutional duty."

In the House of Representatives, ACT Teachers party-list Representative Antonio Tinio said he will file a bill abolishing the PDAF, calling it a "corrupting mechanism that is beyond repair".

"The magnitude of the alleged plunder involving JLN Corp. and a large number of legislators in both chambers of Congress has outraged the nation and shown that PDAF is a corrupting mechanism that is beyond repair. Public outrage should provide the momentum for scrapping the PDAF once and for all," Tinio said.

Quezon City Representative Feliciano Belmonte Jr., however, opposed Drilon's proposal to abolish the PDAF.

"In the case of the congressmen particularly the congressmen with district there is a specific constituency. There are all sorts of things that we can do to see to it that the PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) 100 percent goes to the benefit of the people there and to nobody else and that is definitely doable," he said.

District and party-list congressmen receive a PDAF of P70 million yearly. (Virgil Lopez/Kathrina Alvarez/Sunnex)

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