Absence of whistleblowers forces Senate to suspend 'pork' scam hearing-A A +A
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
MANILA -- Justice Secretary Leila de Lima was berated by Senator Teofisto Guingona III on Tuesday for allegedly defying the chamber's authority to summon whistleblowers of the supposed multi-billion peso pork barrel scam.
De Lima deferred the appearance of the whistleblowers while waiting for the clearance of the Office of the Ombudsman, citing the anti-graft body's authority to shun publicity of cases to ensure impartial resolution.
The senator didn't buy the Justice chief's explanation, considering that recent jurisprudence recognized the power of the Senate blue ribbon committee to investigate issues even if there is a pending case in court.
He said de Lima could not invoke the Ombudsman's powers since she is not the Ombudsman.
Guingona, the committee's chairperson, felt de Lima attempted to "undermine" the panel's authority as he requested Senate President Franklin Drilon to issue a subpoena to compel the whistleblowers led by Benhur Luy to appear in the fifth hearing on Thursday.
The committee also wanted Janet Napoles, the alleged brains of the scam, to appear on the same day.
But Drilon shared de Lima's opinion as he earlier referred the matter to Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales.
"We sought the advice of the Ombudsman given the fact that under the law, publicity is to be avoided or prohibited where in her judgment, it can prejudice the case," Drilon said on Monday.
Speaking on state-run PTV, de Lima said the incident was a case of misunderstanding.
"I have no intention to defy or undermine the authority of the Senate. I only wanted to defer the appearance based on my reading of the Ombudsman Act," she said.
She also took exception Guingona's statement during the hearing that she sanctioned the media interviews of the whistleblowers.
"Wala nang explanation na kailangan. Tama na iyong salita, gawin mo na," Guingona told reporters, reiterating his order to de Lima to bring the whistleblowers in the next hearing.
De Lima said she will comply with the subpoena. (Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)