The Senate fracas ain’t over. Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson on Sunday said he had “a complete folder of evidence” to pin down Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago for graft, alleging that she used Senate funds to rent a satellite office in a building owned by her husband.
In an interview over dzBB radio, Lacson said: “I have the complete documents on the rental of the building and I can refer this immediately to the Ombudsman. I consulted this with retired justices and a good lawyer because I am not a lawyer to act as if I know all this stuff. When I showed them my documents, they said it was a clear open-and-shut case … a self-serving contract.”
Although Lacson did not refer to Santiago directly by name, he said he was referring to “the feisty senator who first complained about the alleged P1.6 million cash gift given by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile to senators last month.”
He said he started digging into Santiago’s financial records to determine whether she had the “moral ascendancy” to accuse all of the senators of pocketing the money given by Enrile as part of the savings from the maintenance and other operating expenses of the Senate.
Attack dog, crusading crook
Santiago had called Lacson an “attack dog” of Enrile and Lacson retaliated by calling Santiago a “crusading crook.”
Lacson said he was pursuing this case because the evidence on the office rental was more complete than the case on the use of Senate funds for grocery money or hiring personal maids that he also hinted were being done by Santiago.
“If the beneficial lessee and lessor are one and the same person in the sense that he is the staff of the senator and a staff of the corporation, isn’t that a clear case of graft? The one who paid for the lease and the one who leased it out are the same person and they used government funds. The documents are complete, it’s already in a folder,” said Lacson.
He said his only worry was that some people might be dragged into the anomaly because they were following orders.
Lacson claimed the office space in the building was leased out for P840,000 a year from 2010 and 2014. “This is a current contract so there is no need to rush. But I cannot say the name of the building because then everybody will know it,” he said.
Santiago’s health issues
He said he was willing to wait for some time before filing the case in consideration of the health issues faced by Santiago who is currently on leave after suffering a mild stroke two weeks ago.
“I’m not sure about the state of health or condition of Senator Santiago. We might contribute to the further deterioration of her health. So not yet at this time. I’ve already said what has to be said. But I’m quite definite I will file this,” said Lacson.
Even if she can prove that renting her own building was cheaper, Lacson said she would still be in violation of the law against self-serving contracts.
Santiago and her staff did not respond to the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s request for comment.
In the same radio interview, Lacson said Enrile’s moral authority had suffered a big blow in his bitter public quarrel with Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano last week but it was impractical to try to unseat him with only a few legislative sessions to go.
Big blow for Enrile
“Honestly, I think he (Enrile) took a big blow because of the exchange of words with Senator Alan. I’ll be honest with you, it doesn’t sound good to talk about a dead person in our culture, especially since we are a Catholic country. I don’t know the reason why the Senate President would say that. In my opinion, he should have not said that,” said Lacson in the same interview with.
Enrile dragged the name of the late Sen. Rene Cayetano into his running feud with the latter’s children, Senators Alan Peter and Pia Cayetano, last Wednesday. Enrile countered Alan Cayetano’s attacks by claiming that the elder Cayetano owed P37 million to left their law firm, Pecabar.
The young Cayetano reacted by bringing in the name of Enrile’s chief of staff, lawyer Gigi Reyes, for seeming to wield undue power in the Senate.
But Lacson’s position was that with only six days left before the 15th Congress declares a recess to give way to the election campaign period, it would be impractical to reorganize the Senate leadership and its committees. “This would only further delay the passage of pending bills,” he said.
“It’s better that we maintain the status quo and tackle the change of Senate leadership in the 16th Congress,” he added.
Lacson said that, at best, the group plotting to oust Enrile had 12 votes—still not enough to unseat the Senate President.
He said he felt that the whole Senate was the “loser” in the sordid affair, and it was now up to the senators to find a positive twist to this negative event.
“We really have to take action since we cannot just bury this and forget about it because it’s already out in public,” said Lacson. “The toothpaste is already out of the tube. The best thing we can do is open ourselves up to a full-scale audit by the Commission on Audit on all our transactions up to 2007,” he said.
Originally posted: 9:00 pm | Sunday, January 27th, 2013