Summon Napoles-A A +A
Thursday, September 26, 2013
THE pork barrel scandal has taken an interesting turn with senators now tangling against each other on two fronts.
Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, chair of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee that is conducting a probe on the misuse of the pork barrel or the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), is bristling over the refusal of Senate President Franklin Drilon to sign a subpoena for Janet Lim-Napoles, supposed mastermind of a PDAF scam
involving P10 billion.
Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, who is one of the three senators facing plunder charges before the Office of the Ombudsman together with Napoles, delivered a privilege speech last Wednesday lambasting some of his colleagues and insinuating they too have misused their PDAF shares.
Outside of the Senate, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has expressed worries of a constitutional crisis with the insistence of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee to summon the whistle-blowers in the Napoles case even as plunder and other graft cases have been filed against the suspects in the PDAF scam before the Office of the Ombudsman.
De Lima was scolded by Guingona last Tuesday for failing to bring the whistle-blowers in the Napoles case to the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing. This even as Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales has frowned on the plan of the committee to summon Napoles, asserting the authority of her office to determine what cases may not be made public.
"The publicity that may be spawned by the testimony of Ms. Napoles would, among other things, adversely affect public interest, prejudice the safety of witnesses or the disposition of cases against her and/or her co-respondents pending before this office, or unduly expose them to ridicule or public censure," Morales said in her letter to Drilon.
It is actually tempting to side with Senate President Franklin Drilon on this one.
Upholding the rule of law and ensuring that the prosecution of the pork barrel scam cases won’t be prejudiced are good enough reasons for the Senate not to force Napoles and even the whistle-blowers to attend an inquiry that is “merely” in aid of legislation.
But in this case, I think transparency transcends all other considerations. The idea of breaking the PDAF scam wide open is for me more compelling than the argument about upholding the rule of law. We have seen how damaging “rule of law” was to the quest for the truth in the impeachment case against ex-chief justice Renato Corona in 2011-2012.
Like what I wrote in previous columns, Napoles is the one person who can provide us with the full picture of this mess because she was the one who dealt with senators, congressmen, executives of national government agencies and officials of local government units. Whistle-blowers like Benhur Luy were mere employees in Napoles’s PDAF business.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales has a point when she noted that summoning Napoles to the Senate may end up being counter-productive because she has denied involvement in the scam. But who knows what will happen once she is grilled by senators live on national TV?
Franklin Drilon sat as Senate president only last July. Now his leadership is being tested as the pork barrel issue simmers.
Sens. Jinggoy Estrada, Juan Ponce-Enrile and Ramon Revilla Jr. are facing plunder cases and may end up in jail once these are lodged with the Sandiganbayan, plunder being a non-bailable offense. How will Drilon handle the situation once warrants for the arrest of the three are out? On which side will he lean to?
He is currently at loggerheads with Estrada and Sen. TG Guingona III on the conduct of the Senate Blue Ribbon inquiry into the pork barrel scam. Will he be able to maintain unity or will he fall in a “rebellion” by his colleagues?
These surely are interesting times for the Senate’s “Big Man.”
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on September 27, 2013.