MANILA, AUGUST 12, 2013 (INQUIRER) By Christine F. Herrera - OPPOSITION lawmakers on Sunday accused House leaders of blocking a congressional investigation into irregularities in the use of pork barrel for fear the “corruption trail” may lead all the way up to Malacañang.

“We wonder why there is a lot of resistance from administration people themselves. Why the explicit refusal for a probe? What if the trail can lead all the way up to Malacanang?” Gabriela Rep. Luz Ilagan told the Manila Standard.

Ilagan said no less than President Benigno Aquino III berated the opposition lawmakers and got back at them when they pressed for a probe and challenged the President to give up his own pork barrel funds and follow their lead.

At the Palace, deputy presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte denied that President Aquino had his own pork barrel, saying there was no Executive counterpart to the Priority Development Assistance Funds given to senators and congressmen.

Valte was reacting to a statement by former national treasurer Leonor Briones that the President’s pork was simply labeled “budgetary support, intelligence, special purpose funds and unprogrammed funds.”

These funds, Briones said, can be released only with the approval of the President. She also said that several budgetary support funds were earmarked to agencies that did not have details as to where the money will be spent.

Ilagan, a member of the bloc headed by House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora, said even House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II had engaged in a heated debate with Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza on the floor last Wednesday when the latter pushed for the suspension of the pork barrel while the congressional probe was ongoing.

Ilagan and Atienza, a member of the independent minority bloc led by Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, said corruption continues in the present administration as evidenced by growing number of Filipinos who have become poorer and jobless.

“Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap, the President says, but why has the number of the poorest of the poor been increasing?” Romualdez said.

Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon agreed, saying, “Sa daang matuwid, may mahirap na, may corrupt pa. (In [Aquino’s] straight path, we have the poor and the corrupt.)”

Atienza said he would not allow Gonzales to stop him from pursuing the issue.

“I find his actions on the floor condescending and arrogant. He even cut me off while I was at the rostrum just like that. He told me to bring my advocacy somewhere else. What does he mean? What he did was very unparliamentary. What are they trying to hide?” Atienza said.

“We should in fact investigate previous and continuing infrastructure projects to formally determine the depth and trail of corruption in these projects,” Ridon said.

House Deputy Minority Leader Arnel Ty of the LPG-MA said the minority bloc renewed its pitch for a legislative inquiry into the alleged looting of some P10-billion worth of congressional Priority Assistance Development Fund (PDAF) allocations by a network of phony non-government organizations run by Janette Lim Napoles and JLN Corp.

“We cannot wash our hands of this supposed shameless plunder of public funds,” Ty said.

“We in Congress are duty-bound not only to oversee those who administer the laws that we enact, but also to keep an eye on the spending of the money that we appropriate,” Ty said.

Zamora and 17 colleagues, including Ty, earlier filed Resolution 160, urging a joint inquiry by the House committee on good government and public accountability and the committee on ethics and privileges, on the purported embezzlement of PDAF allotments or pork barrel.

“The challenge for the House is to conduct an investigation into its own members that will be credible to the public. It should be able to show that it can police its own ranks,” ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio said.

“Congress cannot just twiddle its thumbs or conduct its business as usual even as its members are accused of perhaps the largest corruption scandal in its history,” Tinio said.

Ilagan’s fellow Gabriela Rep. Emmi de Jesus said: “Anyone from the Executive involved in whatever scam, Malacanang and the President should be held accountable as part of his command responsibility.”

Ilagan also faulted the Commission on Audit for its “strip-tease revelation” of those allegedly involved.

Atienza said the Romualdez bloc was pushing for a probe to allow the congressmen and senators a chance to clear their names.

Romualdez said the inquiry should not be selective and limited only to lawmakers tagged by the Palace as opposition.

“The integrity of the House and the Senate as institutions is at stake here. So why not face this inquiry head-on,” Atienza said.

House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said he wanted the National Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice to finish their probe first.

But Ty disagreed and pointed out that an authorized House inquiry has the power to compel witnesses to testify.

“This power to punish (for contempt) witnesses who may refuse to provide testimonial evidence can be very helpful in a fact-finding inquiry,” he said.

“The congressional powers of investigation should be brought to bear in this case, particularly in obtaining vital information that will enable the Department of Justice, possibly even the Office of the Ombudsman, to take all the necessary legal actions,” Ty said.

Despite the alleged misuse of the pork barrel among lawmakers, Malacanang earlier said this should be retained in the 2014 national budget.

Some senators and congressmen have called for the abolition of pork barrel after the Napoles revelations.

Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago has flled a resolution that phases out pork by 2016, the year she leaves office. With Macon R. Araneta

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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