Lawmakers implicated in the P10-billion pork barrel scam should either be charged or cleared as soon as possible to preserve the integrity of Congress, which, apart from passing legislation, also functions as a check on the power of the executive branch, Sen. Alan Peter Ceyatano told reporters on Friday.
Congress’ credibility and integrity in conducting inquiries into corruption in government will be severely affected if the issues against the senators and House members implicated in the scandal are not resolved soon, said Cayetano, who is slated to become the next Senate majority leader.
“It’s so important for Congress to have credibility and integrity. Our companions in the Senate and in the House have to understand that,” he said.
An issue of trust
Cayetano said the issue is not about whether the constituencies of the lawmakers concerned needed the allocations given to them under the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or whether the amounts involved were huge or not.
“It’s about, do people trust [the institution] or not… How will you investigate if they think some senators dipped their fingers into the fertilizer scam? So I think it’s very important that in the next few months, those involved should either be held accountable or charged or cleared so the trust can be maintained,” he said.
Though he was coy about confirming the fact, Cayetano is expected to be elected by the new Senate majority as the chamber’s majority leader on Monday.
But he confirmed having met on Thursday on the subject of the Senate’s reorganization with Senators Franklin Drilon and Ralph Recto, the presumptive Senate President and Senate President Pro Tempore, respectively.
Cayetano made the remarks a day after Justice Secretary Leila de Lima announced that the National Bureau of Investigation was building a case against Janet Lim-Napoles, the businesswoman who is alleged to have facilitated the release of billions of pesos in pork barrel funds allocated to certain senators and congressmen to fake nongovernment organizations and similarly spurious projects.
Proposed Senate inquiry
Administration ally Sen. Francis Escudero has filed a bill seeking a Senate inquiry into the PDAF scam, which was first revealed in a series of articles in the Inquirer.
Five senators—Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, Ramon Revilla Jr., Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Gregorio Honasan—were mentioned in affidavits submitted to the NBI by six whistle-blowers as some of the lawmakers whose PDAFs were used to bankroll questionable organizations over the course of a decade.
The senators involved have denied any involvement in the scam and have expressed willingness to have their PDAF entitlements examined in an investigation.
“I think we should support the NBI and make sure that they have everything they need. I also urge my fellow senators and their staff to open their books,” Cayetano said.
“It will be difficult if the Senate will investigate. The first question will be, will anybody believe it? Second, if there are feelings that things are getting personal, many bills will not pass,” he added.
What can be done
Malacañang announced the other day that it was submitting to Congress a list of policy recommendations on how lawmakers’ entitlements under the pork barrel system should be disbursed.
The measures reportedly include limiting the projects that can be funded by PDAF allocations, the accreditation of involved organizations by the Department of Social Welfare and Development and limiting the number of implementing agencies.
Cayetano believed limiting the amount of discretion given to lawmakers in the disbursement of the pork barrel would address many of the issues confronting the PDAF.
He said having the proposed pork barrel-funded projects identified formally and listed in the budget would automatically address the problem.
He pointed out that although in the current system, pork barrel projects are categorized in certain departments, much discretion is allowed the people in charge of them to decide where the funds should go.
If legislators can throughout the year decide which agencies the funds would go to, there will be doubts about how the PDAF is disbursed, Cayetano said.
“[But] if that’s already in the budget, you can’t say I will transfer those funds. I think many of the issues of the pork barrel—not all but many—will be addressed [by listing the pork barrel items in the budget],” he said.