LAWMAKERS AWAIT JINGGOY, BONG 'BOMBSHELL' / PUNO: 'PORK' IS EVIL

MANILA, SEPTEMBER 23, 2013 (PHILSTAR) Jess Diaz - Congressmen cautioned Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr. (photos above) yesterday on the supposed “bombshell” on the pork barrel fund scam that the two are scheduled to explode in privilege speeches this week.

Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. of Dasmariñas City in Cavite said the plan of the two to target their own Senate colleagues and possibly some members of the House of Representatives “is not a defense on their part.”

“Targeting your own colleagues after you have been charged with plunder is not a defense. It’s more like an admission of wrongdoing on your part,” he said.

Barzaga is one of the leaders of the National Unity Party, which groups former Lakas members. He chairs the House committee on games and amusement. NUP is part of the Liberal Party-led majority coalition in the House.

Though Barzaga started his congressional stint in 2007, he is not mentioned in the Commission on Audit (COA) special report on the use of pork barrel funds between 2007 and 2009.

He has confined the use of his funds to his district mostly on infrastructure projects, scholarships and medical assistance.

According to the COA report, Estrada, Revilla, and Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Gregorio Honasan gave P1.1 billion to nongovernment organizations (NGOs) linked to alleged pork barrel scam brains Janet Lim-Napoles during the three-year period covered by the audit.

Estrada, Revilla and Enrile have been charged with plunder before the Ombudsman’s office, along with Napoles.

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) claims the three senators received from the Napoles NGOs P581 million in kickbacks. They deny any wrongdoing.

Estrada will reportedly mention senators and House members named in the COA report but against whom no charges have been filed yet.

Barzaga said there is no need for Estrada and Revilla to expose their own colleagues’ alleged misdeeds in their planned privilege speeches.

“The pork barrel scam investigation is not yet complete, and President Aquino has promised that nobody would be spared and cases would be filed against anybody to whomsoever the evidence will lead,” he said.

He said lawmakers who repeatedly gave funds to bogus NGOs should instead explain why they did so.

For his part, Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora said senators who have been accused of misusing their pork barrel funds should prepare for their defense instead of resorting to mud throwing.

“If they are accused of using fake NGOs, they should prove that these NGOs are not fake. If the accusation is that their funds went to non-existent beneficiaries, they should disprove that by producing genuine beneficiaries,” he said.

Zamora said senators should also explain why they “bunched” their PDAF together in some common beneficiary-towns and Napoles NGOs.

Political analysts said Estrada and Revilla are apparently working on a “burn the house down” scenario.

“The opposition already forewarned the public of a bombshell on Monday. They have been saying that from the day (Justice) Secretary (Leila) de Lima brought the so-called ‘truckloads of evidence’ on the Napoles pork barrel scam to the Ombudsman,” said professor Benito Lim, who teaches political science at Ateneo.

“It is completely cynical on our part if we say or declare that all of them are corrupt. If the majority there are corrupt, the house will go down. But if it’s just a few, the institution will survive,” he said.

Lim raised the possibility that Estrada and Revilla are planning to target their colleagues to divert public attention and scrutiny away from them.

Another Ateneo professor, Benjamin Muego, said any bombshell would become a dud if it does not result in the filing of charges, prosecution and conviction of those implicated in irregularities.

Barzaga also defended Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales for giving her office a one-year deadline to evaluate the evidence against those accused in the pork barrel scam and to file charges with the Sandiganbayan.

“Considering the truckloads of evidence as described by Secretary De Lima and the number of transactions involved, I would earnestly say that the statement of the Ombudsman that she would finish the preliminary investigation in one year is very reasonable,” he said.

Barzaga, a practicing lawyer-accountant for many years, said the Ombudsman’s office has the legal obligation to conduct preliminary investigation to determine the existence of probable cause before filing of criminal cases with the Sandiganbayan.

“The respondents, in the course of the preliminary investigation, have the right under the Constitution to be informed of the nature of the accusation against them,” he added.

Sen. Revilla’s lawyer Joel Bodegon said his client is ready to defend himself and the senator will rebut all allegations hurled by whistleblower Benhur Luy and the NBI.

Revilla is set to deliver his privilege speech to give his side over allegations.

The senator will likely discuss how the PDAF is disposed by the Department of Budget and Management and the disbursement of the Malampaya funds, which is directly under the control of Malacañang, Bodegon said.

Bodegon said the Malampaya fund scam – involving over P900 million in fund alleged misuse – is purely under control of the executive department, particularly the Office of the President, the DBM, and implementing agencies.

He said the senator will likely also speak about how he is being pilloried as a criminal by the present Aquino administration over the pork barrel fund use.

Bodegon said that prior to the attacks, the NBI raided his Cavite mansion on purported reports that there were armed men at his house at the height of the May elections.

Revilla has been at odds with the Palace especially during the recently concluded elections when President Aquino and the administration backed Team PNoy coalition supported the gubernatorial bid of his political rival Ayong Maliksi, who lost in the last polls. – With Edu Punay, Christina Mendez

FROM THE INQUIRER

Ex-Chief Justice Puno: Pork is evil ‘We must fight from start to finish’ By Christine O. Avendaño, TJ Burgonio Philippine Daily Inquirer 12:00 am | Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Retired Chief Justice Reynato Puno has denounced the pork barrel system as an “evil” that people should fight to abolish.

Speaking on Saturday before a gathering of Methodist Churches at the Good Samaritan Church in Quezon City, Puno lashed out at the P10-billion pork barrel scam, saying it “could well develop to be the worst to hit the government as billions of pesos misused by our public officials can still be unearthed by the Commission on Audit (COA).”

“However you look at it, the pork barrel scandal is all about abuse in the exercise of the powers of government, especially the legislative power over the money of the people,” he said.

The retired Chief Justice was referring to the controversy involving the alleged diversion of the congressional Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), or pork barrel, to bogus nongovernment organizations (NGOs) in schemes involving lawmakers and detained businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.

“The pork barrel is an evil practice and it is our duty to fight evil by engaging it and not running away from it, not escaping from it,” he said.

“The fight against evil requires that we not only start the fight but we finish the fight. The fight against evil demands a period. The fight cannot be postponed by a comma, cannot be suspended by a ceasefire. Evil deserves but one end—defeat,” he added.

Plunder charges were filed last week against Napoles and Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. in the Office of the Ombudsman. Charges of either plunder or malversation of public funds also were filed against 34 other people.

In his speech, Puno asked what should be the response of Methodists to the controversy considering that people had expressed their indignation against the scam by flocking to protest rallies in Manila’s Rizal Park and Edsa.

Puno cited four ways to understand the issue via Methodist teachings and the 1987 Constitution—the source of power of the government, the role of government, political responsibility of the State and their position on graft and corruption.

“In sum, the Methodist position in regard to abuse of governmental power is clear, unchanging and unchangeable. Our North Star has always been and will always be the Word of God. We maintain that government derives its power from God; that it is the sovereignty of God that counts, it is the sovereignty of God that controls, its the sovereignty of God that should dictate the direction of human destiny,” Puno said.

Disquieting theft

As Methodists, they view that the government only exists to serve the people and that “the only rationale of the government is to maintain order by promoting good and not evil, and above all, the government must be an instrument of God, hence no government can subvert the sovereignty of God,” Puno said.

He said the pork barrel scam was a “sad story repeated again and again in the history of governments.”

But Puno said the scam was more than the story of “mass theft” of the people’s money and that “more disquieting is how the money was misused against the people’s interest.”

“It was misused for political patronage; to buy the loyalty of people whose politics is for sale; to corrupt our system of making laws; to corrupt our systems of enforcing our laws; to corrupt our system of election; to perpetuate poverty; in other words, to violate the dignity of our people, to demean our democracy, and worse of all, to defy the sovereignty of God,” he said.

The retired Chief Justice said this was “God’s battle” as it was a struggle between good and evil. “This is a battle between God’s power and evil people in power,” he said.

And when evil reigns, this is temporary while goodness is permanent, he said.

“Let us take comfort in God’s promise that evil may succeed for a moment but goodness shall prevail for only the right born of righteousness has the power to rise and to prevail,” Puno said.

Plea to lift TRO

Malacañang on Sunday said it would not stop members of the House of Representatives from asking the Supreme Court to lift the temporary restraining order (TRO) on the allocation of their pork barrel for poor students and indigent patients.

Should the lawmakers go ahead with the filing of the motion on Monday, it’s the call of the high court whether to grant it, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a radio interview.

“It’s not defiance. That’s different from disobeying a TRO. In effect, they’re bringing the side of the Lower House to the attention of the high court,” Valte said over government-run dzRB. “It’s up to the Supreme Court how to act on the move.”
Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, vice chair of the appropriations committee, said the motion would specifically ask the high tribunal to free up pork barrel funds for scholarships and medical assistance programs.

The pork-barreling lawmaker said the Office of the Ombudsman had been furnished copies of affidavits of scholars and indigent patients who continued to depend on PDAF allocations. With the TRO, allocation for such programs has been stopped.

The high tribunal issued the TRO on Sept. 10 pending the resolution of a petition questioning the constitutionality of the PDAF.

P12.27B frozen

The high court stopped the Department of Budget and Management, national treasurer and executive secretary from releasing the remaining funds allocated to members of Congress under the General Appropriations Act of 2013.

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said some P12.27 billion in PDAF for the second semester in 2013 had not been released.

After President Aquino announced the abolition of the PDAF in the national budget, a growing number of lawmakers have expressed concern over the possible discontinuation of assistance to students and patients in their congressional districts.

The abolition came in the face of public outrage over the P10-billion pork barrel scam, fanned by news and state auditors’ reports on the large-scale misuse of the PDAF over 10 years, especially during the Arroyo administration.

Valte also said Malacañang would look into reports that the PDAF allocations of certain senators had been channeled through Philippine Forest Corp. to questionable NGOs from 2010 to 2012.

“We will take a look at what Secretary (Ramon) Paje has found because I understand that from the onset of the administration, Secretary Paje has been asking that the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) be taken out of the menu of implementing agencies that could be identified as possible implementers of programs sourced from PDAF. If they found something, let’s see what it is that they found,” she said.

Originally posted: 10:03 pm | Sunday, September 22nd, 201


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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