TOO SEXY FOR MY SHIRT: Sen. Jinggoy Estrada shows Sen. Loren Legarda where bariatric surgery was performed on his stomach to curb his appetite during a break in Senate sessions yesterday. Estrada said he slimmed down after the surgery but insisted that he is not the ‘Senator Sexy’ alluded to by pork scam whistle-blower Benhur Luy. MANNY MARCELO

(PHILSTAR) By Marvin Sy and Christina Mendez - Days after being named in plunder cases filed with the Office of the Ombudsman, two senators said they are preparing to drop bombshells aimed at exposing the Aquino administration’s alleged involvement in high level corruption.

Senators Ramon Revilla Jr. and Jinggoy Estrada are expected to reveal their exposés in privilege speeches they hope to deliver next week.

Revilla and Estrada, along with Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile, were charged Monday with plunder for allegedly skimming millions of pesos from their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) in connivance with businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.

Napoles, widely acknowledged as the mastermind of the pork barrel scam, was included in the plunder charges.

Based on complaints prepared by the National Bureau of Investigation, Revilla allegedly pocketed over P224.5 million in kickbacks from Napoles while Estrada supposedly amassed P183.79 million. Enrile supposedly got P172.8 million.

To prepare for his defense, Revilla reportedly met with members of his legal team to strategize his next move.

Estrada was mum on the contents of his privilege speech but sources said he would likely rant about the involvement of executive officials and other members of the chamber in the anomalous disbursement of PDAF.

“Let’s just wait for my speech,” Estrada told reporters.

Estrada earlier said it was the fault of implementing agencies that dubious non-government organizations (NGOs) linked to Napoles were able to corner government funds.

Enrile’s camp, meanwhile, has assigned a lawyer as spokesman, apparently in preparation for a tough legal battle.

In a radio interview, lawyer Enrique “Buko” de la Cruz Jr. said the former Senate president’s legal team (PECABar) is assembling witnesses and documents to buttress its position.

Enrile was scheduled for discharge from a hospital yesterday where he has been confined for hypertension and removal of an obstruction in his urethra.

“The entire legal team of Enrile is preparing his defense,” De la Cruz said.

He stressed that the senator signed endorsements of PDAF projects only to local government agencies. “This is not against the law,” he said.

De la Cruz practically put the blame on Enrile’s former chief of staff Gigi Reyes and another deputy chief of staff, lawyer Jose Antonio Evangelista, who supposedly signed endorsements for NGOs that later turned out to be bogus.

Reyes was included in the plunder complaint while no charges have yet been leveled against Evangelista.

De La Cruz said Enrile was strict in his directives that his PDAF should only be allocated to local government units (LGUs).

“If ever some of his employees had diverted funds to these NGOs, it’s not because they had been ordered by Enrile,” he said.

He said they are optimistic the Office of the Ombudsman would rule objectively on the matter.

Meanwhile, the Senate Blue Ribbon committee will continue its probe into the pork barrel scam with its fourth hearing scheduled next Tuesday, Sept. 24.

Committee chairman Sen. Teofisto Guingona III made the announcement yesterday in response to speculations that the hearings would no longer continue with the filing of plunder and malversation cases with the Office of the Ombudsman.

“Benhur Luy, together with other whistle-blowers, have been invited to the hearing. The committee gave the Department of Justice and the whistle-blowers in the case ample time to prepare for the filing of charges against those implicated in the alleged Napoles pork barrel scam,” Guingona said in a statement.

Luy, a relative and former employee of Napoles, is the main whistle-blower in the scam.

Sen. Francis Escudero on Monday called for the continuation of the Blue Ribbon committee hearings, saying this is the only way for the public to “acquaint themselves with the goings-on of this case from the witnesses and key players themselves.”

“We did the same in the case of AFP General Carlos Garcia. His case was already before the Sandiganbayan and it was already in the plea bargaining stage. We went on with the Senate investigation,” Escudero said.

Sen. JV Ejercito, for his part, said that the Blue Ribbon hearings must continue and cover every aspect of the use of PDAF not only for 2007 to 2009 or during the previous Arroyo administration.

He said the Commission on Audit should also take a closer look on PDAF disbursement in the first three years of the Aquino administration.

“In the spirit of transparency as I always say, we have to continue with these hearings. Also as a taxpayer, not only as a senator of the republic, we want to get to the bottom of this mess and find out who are really involved,” Ejercito said in a press briefing.

“The Filipino people, everybody, has the right to know what really happened regarding this issue and who are involved,” he said.

“Everybody should be covered, be it an ally or partymate (of the administration). This would be the way for them to clear their names and for those really involved to face the music,” he added.

Ejercito reiterated his belief that the members of the opposition are being singled out in the investigations into the pork barrel scam as shown by the filing of charges against Enrile, Estrada and Revilla.

“We in the minority think that there are presidentiables and vice presidentiables who are being targeted and of course we can’t help but notice that those who keep on mentioning their names are also the ones with ambitions (for higher office),” Ejercito said.

“I pose this challenge to the committee, if we want to get to the bottom of this, why not investigate the leadership, we can start with leadership of the House, the leadership of the Senate, everybody,” he added.

He said that the investigation should also cover former members of Congress who are now members of the President’s Cabinet.

“If they have nothing to hide then they should be subjected to the investigation as well,” Ejercito said.

Cautious hope 10:16 pm | Tuesday, September 17th, 2013 61 2679 2548 OPINION PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER

Freudian slip?

Asked for his reaction to the National Bureau of Investigation’s filing of charges against him and 37 other people last Monday in connection with the pork barrel scam, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada (photo) defended himself thus: “They are conditioning the mind of the public that we are the worst thieves, and that I cannot accept.”

Note the wording. Estrada didn’t deny that he and his co-accused are thieves, only that they are the worst ones – which may be technically true. Guinness lists Ferdinand Marcos as having made off with the largest loot in the country’s history. Ex-presidents Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo have both been accused of the heinous crime of plunder, with the former convicted of it and the latter’s nine-year stay in Malacañang pockmarked by one corruption scandal after another.

So Estrada may not be the worst—but if the NBI charge sheet is true, he is guilty of plunder to the tune of P183.79 million. That makes him only the second worst, with the top honors going to Sen. Bong Revilla, who is said to have pocketed P224.5 million in kickbacks from businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles. Former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, meanwhile, stands accused of stealing P172.8 million.

The three senators are at the top of the sordid food chain of government officials and enterprising outside operators like Napoles who, according to the NBI and the Department of Justice, conspired to profit from the misappropriation, conversion, misuse, and malversation of their Priority Development Assistance Fund, or PDAF.

Three other congressmen are accused of the lesser crimes of malversation, direct bribery and other graft and corrupt practices, since the amounts they received were allegedly less than the P50-million threshold for plunder. Joining them in the dock are a slew of lawmakers’ chiefs of staff and representatives, heads and officials of implementing agencies, and presidents of NGOs allegedly set up by Napoles.

Step back a bit and appreciate the historic import of this moment.

At no other time in the Philippines’ largely inutile history of fighting against official corruption has so large a net been cast, with so many top-tier government officials being charged with irregularities in their official functions, and during their incumbency yet.

If credit must be given, some of it should go to President Aquino’s administration, for making good on its promise to file charges against those implicated in the PDAF scam. But the much bigger credit should go to the citizenry, whose collective outrage at the scandal was what forced the hand of Malacañang not only to announce the abolition of the PDAF in subsequent budgets, but also to get Napoles into custody and work on building a case against those implicated by the disclosures of Benhur Luy and other whistle-blowers, and the confirmatory report by the Commission on Audit on the lawmakers’ pork-barrel misuse.

This is only the beginning, of course. The hard part is making the charges stick and bringing the prosecution home, something for which the government has no estimable track record to speak of. It’s worthwhile to remember that the PDAF scam did not happen in a vacuum; its enormousness and brazenness are merely the natural spawn of the culture of impunity that has long ruled this country.

To date, the Marcoses have not only eluded the long arm of the law, they have even made the smoothest of political comebacks. Former President Estrada may have been convicted of plunder after a drawn-out four-year trial, but he was promptly pardoned by Arroyo. And he is now the mayor of Manila.

Decades of unpunished depredation by sundry politicians and officials have made the people contemptuous and cynical of the government—and who can blame them? But the staggering dimensions of the pork barrel scam have energized them in ways that have shaken the ruling class like never before.

The cases against Senators Revilla, Estrada et al. is a test case: whether the ruling dispensation can convict its erring members, and send the message that the days of rapaciousness and greed are over. Not because these erring members have gone straight, but because the public has wised up to their ways, and will be watching more carefully from now on.

So, 38 people charged in the P10-billion pork barrel scam for a start, and, according to the NBI, one million sheets of bond paper to reproduce the evidence against them. Dare we add the nation’s cautious hope to that mix?

More ‘pork’ personalities leave Phl By Evelyn Macairan (The Philippine Star) | Updated September 14, 2013 - 12:00am 9 503 googleplus1 23

MANILA, Philippines - Aside from Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes, former chief of staff of Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, records from the Bureau of Immigration (BI) showed that former Agusan del Sur Rep. Rodolfo Plaza and two other persons linked to the pork barrel fund scam might have also left the country.

Using only the names published in the newspapers as their basis, a BI source checked on the travel records and discovered that three other persons implicated in the pork barrel fund scam have also left the country.

Plaza reportedly left for Hong Kong on Cebu Pacific flight 5J-108 last Wednesday.

He served as Agusan del Sur representative from 2001 to 2010. Plaza was among the 28 lawmakers tagged by whistle-blowers to be among those who allegedly allowed businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles’ dummy non-government organizations (NGOs) to use their pork barrel fund or Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) for ghost projects.

Ruby Chan Tuason left the country on Cathay Pacific flight CX 906 last Aug. 26 bound for Hong Kong.

Tuason is the former social secretary of former President and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada.

She was tagged by the whistle-blowers as Napoles’ conduit to the offices of Enrile and Sen. Jinggoy Estrada.

BI records also revealed that Richard Cambe left the country long before the pork barrel scam came out in public.

He reportedly went to Hong Kong on May 17, 2012 on board Cathay Pacific flight CX-918.

Cambe is said to be Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr.’s chief political adviser.

Napoles’ cousin and former employee Benhur Luy, one of the whistle-blowers, claimed that Enrile, Sen. Estrada and Revilla were among the lawmakers who allowed bogus NGOs of Napoles to use their PDAF for ghost projects.

Reyes, former top aide of Enrile, left the country on Cebu Pacific flight 5J-362 last Aug. 31 bound for Macau.

Noy, Frank deny PDAF deals with Janet By Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) | Updated September 11, 2013 - 12:00am 12 1703 googleplus0 4

In Janet Lim-Napoles’ kingdom there are many mansions, according to witnesses against her. Two of her houses identified by a whistle-blower are the one at 1588 Mahogany Street in Dasmariñas Village and at 9 Narra Street in South Forbes Park, both in Makati (inset). GIL GACUMA

MANILA, Philippines - Alleged pork barrel scam operator Janet Lim-Napoles could be known to several lawmakers, but President Aquino said he could not recall any encounter with her when he was still a senator.

“I hope I am not turning senile but I don’t recall any incident,” Aquino told reporters yesterday after attending the 7th ASEAN Navy Chiefs’ Meeting in Makati City.

“I tried to research in my mind if I ever came across her or even heard of her name… Did I ever meet her? …I can’t even say I ever said hi to her,” he added.

He said Napoles did not even look familiar when she surrendered to him at Malacañang on the night of Aug. 28.

“I was trying to look at her and I don’t remember her…I am normally very good with faces…but I’m poor with names. She doesn’t look familiar whatsoever,” he said.

He said he even had some doubt if Napoles was indeed the person authorities are looking for when she was presented to him, as he noted some differences compared to her pictures in the newspapers.

Aquino said he could not have any dealings with Napoles because as an opposition senator, he no longer had his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

“If her interest in a legislator was to find out how to access the PDAF, it’s useless to talk to me,” he said.

‘Guilty by association’

Senate President Franklin Drilon admitted that he knows Napoles but said he did not provide a single centavo of his PDAF to any of her non-government organizations (NGOs).

“There is a clear effort to implicate me as guilty by association with the pictures shown last night on TV,” Drilon said.

Photos of Drilon and his wife Mila with Napoles were shown on a television news program and found its way into social media. –With Marvin Sy, Jen Ponsaran

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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