WHO IS BEHIND THESE RUN OF 'STATE WITNESSES'?

It could be President B. S. Aquino III’s suspected sellout of our Sabah claim. Or his plan to have the Constitution amended by our totally discredited lawmakers. Or his decision to rush an agreement on the US “rotational military presence” in time for President Obama’s coming. Whatever it is, there is an obvious effort to divert public attention from something important and explosive to something sensational but meaningless through the Senate noise machine and what passes now for mainstream political journalism. This seems the only way to look at the Senate Blue Ribbon committee’s persistence in investigating the alleged P10-million pork barrel scam after the Ombudsman had begun investigating the three senators selectively implicated in the scandal, and at Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s spirited defense of her “provisional and potential state witnesses” program. At the risk of boring the reader, Sen. Teofisto Guingona III and his committee colleagues have never been and could never be the proper investigators of this scam. Why? First, because their inquiry “in aid of legislation” is really in aid of public entertainment and diversion. It is meant to generate cheap and empty publicity for the Senate grandstanders, but it does not have the right, the duty or the competence to determine the innocence or guilt of anyone involved or implicated in anything. Secondly, because except for those who were elected only last year and did not take part in Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona’s 2012 impeachment trial—Grace Poe Llamanzares, Nancy Binay, Bam Aquino, J. V. Ejercito, and Cynthia Villar, (Sonny Angara was spokesman for the prosecution)—and those who did not take a bribe to convict Corona or to railroad the highly divisive Reproductive Health bill, none of them have clean hands.

EDITORIAL: A witness or a menace?

Another day, another witness. This seems to be the case with former Technology Resource Center director general Dennis Cunanan who faced senators last week in the continuation of the probe into the pork barrel scam. Cunanan has executed an affidavit detailing the involvement of former and current lawmakers who channeled their Priority Development Assistance Fund through bogus non-government organizations and foundations set up by the so-called pork barrel queen, Janet Lim Napoles. The problem is that Cunanan’s credibility is in question. Another witness to the scam says Cunanan himself pocketed kickbacks from the deals. Moreover, Cunanan has displayed fantastic staying power in office despite his lack of a college degree. He has served under three different administrations in various government posts. His lifestyle was also raised, especially since he lives in a big house inside a posh Metro Manila village. Questioning by the more astute senators revealed Cunanan’s insistence that he never benefitted from the pork barrel system and that his knowledge of the transactions was limited to “ministerial functions.” Cunanan is among the first batch of personalities slapped with charges before the Office of the ombudsman in connection with the multi-billion peso scam. Because of Luy’s assertion that Cunanan himself profited from the scam, the latter’s application to be under the government’s Witness Protection Program is now at risk, according to Justice Secretary Leila De Lima. Witnesses’ appearances at the Senate investigations do a lot less for cases than they appear to do. This is because the purpose of the congressional probe is merely in aid of legislation. An unintended consequence however is media coverage and an ability to sway public opinion, not to mention the opportunity for some lawmakers to grandstand.

ALSO: How Gloria must feel

I have been getting a lot of calls. People are concerned that I have missed my column since Tuesday this week. Are you on vacation or what, they asked. The truth is that I was confined at the Makati Medical Center—for a lot of reasons, mostly because of the ravages of old age. And like a rusty old car, I had to undergo a lot of tests, not only to tune me up, but to ensure that I’m in good running condition. If there’s anything I learned during my few days’ confinement, it is an insight into what former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo must be going through with her long confinement and hospital arrest at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center. At least I got to watch television and receive phone calls. Family, relatives and friends visited me and my sons kept me company at night. My only complaint was the low fat and low salt diet they gave me. My gulay, it’s like eating paper. I know that hospital food was bad, but I just realized it was the worst. But imagine Mrs. Arroyo who is deprived of television, mobile phone, and computer, and whose visiting hours have been limited. Worst of all, she is suffering from a debilitating bone ailment which makes swallowing very difficult. No wonder she is down to 80 lbs. I would not wish her situation on my worst enemy! It’s cruel and inhuman. It shows the vindictiveness and insensitivity of the present administration! ...MORE BELOW


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Who’s behind these ‘state witnesses’?

MANILA, MARCH 10, 2014 (MANILA STANDARD) By Francisco S. Tatad - It could be President B. S. Aquino III’s suspected sellout of our Sabah claim. Or his plan to have the Constitution amended by our totally discredited lawmakers. Or his decision to rush an agreement on the US “rotational military presence” in time for President Obama’s coming. Whatever it is, there is an obvious effort to divert public attention from something important and explosive to something sensational but meaningless through the Senate noise machine and what passes now for mainstream political journalism.

This seems the only way to look at the Senate Blue Ribbon committee’s persistence in investigating the alleged P10-million pork barrel scam after the Ombudsman had begun investigating the three senators selectively implicated in the scandal, and at Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s spirited defense of her “provisional and potential state witnesses” program.

At the risk of boring the reader, Sen. Teofisto Guingona III and his committee colleagues have never been and could never be the proper investigators of this scam. Why? First, because their inquiry “in aid of legislation” is really in aid of public entertainment and diversion. It is meant to generate cheap and empty publicity for the Senate grandstanders, but it does not have the right, the duty or the competence to determine the innocence or guilt of anyone involved or implicated in anything.

Secondly, because except for those who were elected only last year and did not take part in Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona’s 2012 impeachment trial—Grace Poe Llamanzares, Nancy Binay, Bam Aquino, J. V. Ejercito, and Cynthia Villar, (Sonny Angara was spokesman for the prosecution)—and those who did not take a bribe to convict Corona or to railroad the highly divisive Reproductive Health bill, none of them have clean hands.

From the time they received their P50 million each from Malacañang after convicting Corona on May 29, 2012, their right to remain in the Senate became a lingering prejudicial question. They should be the ones investigated rather than the ones investigating. But even if the bribery and corruption issue did not exist at all, they have entertained the gallery long enough. They should move on.

There are so many urgent and important issues which senators worth their salt should be discussing with the nation. If the agreement being rushed with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front or with the United States, or the long con on the constituent assembly (“con ass”) is beyond their depth, perhaps they could start talking about what to do with the price of electricity and the power shortage in Mindanao, the water crisis everywhere, the crime wave, the continued inaction and incompetence in Tacloban, or the possible consequences of war breaking out between Russia and the Ukraine.

Each of these could be more useful than listening to “provisional state witness” Ruby Chan Tuason or Dennis Cunanan.

But one thing is clear: the Ombudsman is now investigating the complaints against the senators who had been pre-selected for prosecution (some will say “persecution”). If any evidence against them exists, then let the Ombudsman file the appropriate charges, and let them have their day in court. The worst thing that could happen is for the Senate to broadcast on live TV the purported “evidence” against them, and for that same “evidence” to be played back a second time, if and when they are finally charged before the Sandigang bayan.

This cannot be fair to the accused, who should be tried only once for the same offense. It has a corrosive effect upon due process and the rule of law, even if the Senate hearing is only a trial by publicity rather than a real court trial. As Moliere once put it, this is like hanging a man first and trying him afterwards. This happened to former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada in 2000-2001.

In October 2000, then Sen. Teofisto Guingona Jr., T.G. III’s father, rose on the Floor to accuse Estrada of corruption and betrayal of public trust, for allegedly taking protection money from gambling lords and taking a cut from Ilocos Sur’s share of the excise tax on its Virginia leaf tobacco produce. Guingona was merely repeating an earlier accusation made by Ilocos Sur Governor Luis “Chavit” Singson. The Blue Ribbon committee chair Aquilino Pimentel Jr. promptly decided to investigate, giving Singson full opportunity to detail his charges against Estrada on TV, without the President being present or represented by counsel.

As Senate Majority Leader at the time, I tried to stop the spectacle, pointing out that Congress had no authority to investigate a sitting president unless he had been impeached by the House of Representatives and was already on trial.

However, on this issue, I stood alone. Not even the Senate president, Frank Drilon, supported my position, which was (is) firmly enshrined in the Constitution. Singson’s expose became the basis of Estrada’s impeachment. At the Senate trial, the prosecution merely replayed what the nation had heard before, making it easy for many to join the prosecution in calling for Estrada’s conviction. But the trial was botched when the prosecutors walked out and Estrada was ousted instead by a small EDSA demonstration.

I do not wish to see this happen to Estrada’s son, Senator Jinggoy, or to Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile or to Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr. or to any other senator. But this could be what their prosecutors could be aiming for. I hold no brief for the three senators, but this is certainly unfair. Let them face the charges in court where their innocent or guilt could be ascertained.

Secretary de Lima could be of enormous help here. Instead of trying to put her “witnesses” on the Senate equivalent of a “witness stand,” she should simply send them to the Ombudsman. And she should stop referring to them as “provisional state witnesses”. This tends to inflict so much “voodoo law” upon laymen, like this writer. To the best of my knowledge, an actual case must first exist in court before there can be any state witnesses. And it is the Judge, not the DOJ or the Ombudsman, who decides whether an accused should be discharged as a state witness. The Ombudsman merely recommends.

While we are on the subject of “state witnesses,” the Senate and the conscript media, if they persist in investigating anything, may wish to verify the veracity of reports that a big Filipino businessman, who appears high on the Forbes magazine’s annual listing of Filipino dollar-billionaires, is the one bankrolling the operations of Chan and Cunanan. For what reasons, it is not clear. Although the businessman is not known to flaunt his wealth, and prefers to be known simply as “Reasonably Rich” rather than super rich, he is said to have provided Ruby Chan P100 million, P40 million of which she has offered to return to the government, representing her alleged commissions from her past dealings with the reputed “pork barrel queen” Janet Lim Napoles.

An earnest inquiry into the secret activities of this “philanthropist” could reveal untold secrets about the missing Malampaya fund, among others. More later.

Editorial: A witness or a menace? By Manila Standard Today | Mar. 09, 2014 at 12:01am
 

MANILA -Another day, another witness. This seems to be the case with former Technology Resource Center director general Dennis Cunanan who faced senators last week in the continuation of the probe into the pork barrel scam.

Cunanan has executed an affidavit detailing the involvement of former and current lawmakers who channeled their Priority Development Assistance Fund through bogus non-government organizations and foundations set up by the so-called pork barrel queen, Janet Lim Napoles.

The problem is that Cunanan’s credibility is in question. Another witness to the scam says Cunanan himself pocketed kickbacks from the deals.

Moreover, Cunanan has displayed fantastic staying power in office despite his lack of a college degree. He has served under three different administrations in various government posts. His lifestyle was also raised, especially since he lives in a big house inside a posh Metro Manila village.

Questioning by the more astute senators revealed Cunanan’s insistence that he never benefitted from the pork barrel system and that his knowledge of the transactions was limited to “ministerial functions.”

Cunanan is among the first batch of personalities slapped with charges before the Office of the ombudsman in connection with the multi-billion peso scam.

Because of Luy’s assertion that Cunanan himself profited from the scam, the latter’s application to be under the government’s Witness Protection Program is now at risk, according to Justice Secretary Leila De Lima.

Witnesses’ appearances at the Senate investigations do a lot less for cases than they appear to do. This is because the purpose of the congressional probe is merely in aid of legislation. An unintended consequence however is media coverage and an ability to sway public opinion, not to mention the opportunity for some lawmakers to grandstand.

We really should have learned from the parade of Senate witnesses we have seen over the years. Some of them had legitimate stories and valuable information to share even as they tried to tone down their involvement and guilt. Each of them had their own motivations for coming out.

Nobody is singularly bad or singularly good. It is then up to the public to pick out which aspects of these stories are credible and which are not. The lawmakers’ role – assuming the investigation is not about them in the first place – is to help unmask dark motives or pretention. And then, in keeping with their mandate, they should immediately follow up with ideas for new or improved laws.

It is then the task of the Justice Department to evaluate whether these so-called witnesses would serve their purpose in the proper courts, or weaken (instead of strengthen) the cases because of their lack of credibility.

How Gloria must feel By Emil Jurado | Mar. 07, 2014 at 12:01am

MANILA -I have been getting a lot of calls. People are concerned that I have missed my column since Tuesday this week. Are you on vacation or what, they asked.

The truth is that I was confined at the Makati Medical Center—for a lot of reasons, mostly because of the ravages of old age. And like a rusty old car, I had to undergo a lot of tests, not only to tune me up, but to ensure that I’m in good running condition.

Santa Banana, if you think that vampires are found only in the movies, I assure you that they are all over the hospitals. During my first days in confinement, so much blood was extracted from me. Nurses paraded almost every hour to check up on me and made me swallow dozens of pills. These were done to find out what’s wrong with my system.

My doctor, Dr. Oswaldo Herrera, a cardiologist and internist who has always been our family doctor, diagnosed me for costochondritis —something to do with the pains on my left arm close to my chest. Well, at least my sickness sounded glamorous and exotic.

If there’s anything I learned during my few days’ confinement, it is an insight into what former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo must be going through with her long confinement and hospital arrest at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center.

At least I got to watch television and receive phone calls. Family, relatives and friends visited me and my sons kept me company at night.

My only complaint was the low fat and low salt diet they gave me. My gulay, it’s like eating paper. I know that hospital food was bad, but I just realized it was the worst.

But imagine Mrs. Arroyo who is deprived of television, mobile phone, and computer, and whose visiting hours have been limited. Worst of all, she is suffering from a debilitating bone ailment which makes swallowing very difficult. No wonder she is down to 80 lbs.

I would not wish her situation on my worst enemy! It’s cruel and inhuman. It shows the vindictiveness and insensitivity of the present administration!

* * *

When the Supreme Court ruled as unconstitutional the Priority Development Assistance Fund because of the abuses by public officials and their conduits like Janet Lim Napoles, I said I doubted whether Malacañang would even let it go.

Some geniuses would always find a way for the pork barrel system to continue. It is the best way for a President to survive politically.

True enough, the pork barrel system is operational under a new mechanism, obviously to circumvent the High Court ruling.

Santa Banana, it’s even worse now since congressmen are not limited to P70 million a year, and senators P200 million annually. It’s Malacañang and the Department of Budget and Management that will decide the amount through so-called implementing agencies.Legislators will now go through the heads of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, Public Works and Highways, Health, Labor, Commission on Higher Education and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority. In effect, it’s all under the full control of the President, and there’s no longer any transparency and accountability.

If congressmen and senators want their favorite projects attended to, they must now beg Malacañang to release funds through the departments and agencies just mentioned. This makes corruption of public funds centralized and institutionalized.

* * *

There has always been lingering suspicion why Malaysia is so interested in brokering peace in Mindanao, especially between the Philippine government and the secessionist movement of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Malaysia is partly responsible for arming the independence and secessionist movements in that island. It is also known that even the terrorist Abu Sayyaf foreign mentors pass through Malaysia form the Middle East.

Certainly, Malaysia is not doing the brokering of peace between the MILF and government just for the love of it, or just for the love of Muslims. They must have something up their sleeves, as they say.

This became more pronounced with the recent visit of President Aquino to Malaysia with pledges of economic aid to Muslim communities and more Malaysian investments in Mindanao. The clincher was the fact that the Sabah issue was not in the agenda of the President during his talks with the Malaysian prime minister.

This is why many are saying that we sold out to Malaysia!

It appears to be the case. Not only was the festering Sabah issue not taken up, but President Aquino even endorsed the putting up a Malaysian consulate in the disputed area of Sabah supposedly to attend to the hundreds of thousands of Filipino Muslim immigrants there.

And of course, there’s the fact that Malaysian businessmen will be given priority in Mindanao investments, especially in palm oil production. The fact that the party in power in Malaysia, to which the prime minister belongs, also has business interests makes it all perfect for Malaysia.

* * *

Every time the name of Henry Sy Sr. and his family come out in Forbes list of the rich and famous with the Sy as the richest among Filipinos, I remember the first time I met Henry Sr. on Carriedo Street in Quiapo. It was 1947 and he was selling export surplus and slightly damaged signature shoes.

I was a first year student then at the Ateneo de Manila ruins at Padre Faura taking up Bachelor of Arts.

Soon after, I heard Sy putting up his first “SM” store at the corner of Avenida Rizal and Plaza Goiti. It was called “SM” because the Retail Trade Nationalization Law as then in effect. He had to have a Filipino as majority partner, and that was the late Senen Mendiola.


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