Why is Congress playing deaf to the growing clamor to abolish the annual P24-billion pork barrel?
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said Sunday that with the release of the Commission on Audit (COA) report, the main reason why Congress does not want to investigate the scam has been revealed.
“It is now clear that the reason why there is resistance to an investigation in Congress is because those who are involved are in power,” Colmenares said.
He said, however, that the lawmakers’ involvement should spur Congress to investigate the scam or “risk being accused of making a cover-up.”
The lawmakers involved are either senators or congressmen who received more than their annual Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocations (P200 million for senators and P70 million for representatives) or dealt with dubious nongovernment organizations (NGOs) from 2007 to 2009, according to the 412-page COA investigative report.
The COA team that did the special audit of the PDAF was composed of Catherine B. Petri, Kristina Cleo R. Bigornia, Jennifer A. Sanorjo, Cristina P. Mercado, Ma. Cristina Irene P. Franco, Joselita G. Corteza, George S. Tamayo, Jr., Dondon P. Marcos, Joselito N. Sucion, Rosemarie R. Magtaan, Onofre R. Mores, Lydia R. Dizon, Teresita T. Santiago and Grace T. de Castro.
The team leaders were Joan Agnes N. Alfafaras, Angelita A. Aquino, Cheryll Apalisoc, Leona A. Andriano, and Gloria D. Silverio. The overall leader of the team was Elsielin C. Masangcay.
There are nine incumbent senators in the COA report: Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., Gregorio Honasan II, Lito Lapid, Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Loren Legarda.
Six senators are related by blood to the senators involved in the pork barrel: Juan Edgardo Angara (son of former Sen. Edgardo Angara), Pia Cayetano (sister of Alan), Joseph Victor Ejercito (brother of Jinggoy), Koko Pimentel Jr. (son of former Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr.), Cynthia Villar (wife of former Sen. Manny Villar, although she is listed in the COA report as the Las Piñas representative).
Cayetano, who used to be at the forefront of congressional probes anchored on testimony far less reliable than pork barrel scam whistle-blowers Benhur Luy and Merlina Suñas, has been quick to reject public demand that the Senate investigate the scam, saying it amounts to senators investigating senators.
His wife, Taguig City Mayor Laarni Cayetano, has also been cited in the COA report for exceeding her pork barrel allocation by P8.5 million when she was a representative under the administration of former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Senator Cayetano is also counting on his brother, Taguig City Rep. Lino Cayetano, to hold the same view.
Another political dynasty is in the same boat as the Cayetanos. Makati Rep. Mar-Len Abigail S. Binay also exceeded her pork barrel quota by P47 million from 2007 to 2009, but she could count on her father (Vice President Jejomar Binay), her sister (Sen. Nancy Binay) and brother (Makati Mayor Jun-Jun Binay) for support.
Some of the implicated lawmakers in the pork barrel scam have taken key positions in the Aquino administration: Interior Secretary Mar Roxas (he gave P5 million to a suspect NGO, Kaloocan Assistance Council Inc.), Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, Customs Commissioner Rufino Biazon and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority Chair Joel Villanueva.
More than 40 congressmen implicated in the pork barrel scam are still going strong in the House of Representatives, and they are led by Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II, who has been found to have exceeded his pork barrel allocations by P205 million during the Arroyo administration and has spent P256.381 million of his pork barrel for projects using spurious documents, including 167 transactions worth P28.744 million that have been denied by suppliers.
Gonzales was senior deputy majority leader from 2007 and 2009 when all impeachment cases against Arroyo were nipped in the bud. He has been in office since 1995 (except when he became mayor from 2004 to 2007) and is currently serving his second three-year term.
The scam-tainted lawmakers who managed to get leadership positions in this Congress are Ronaldo Zamora of San Juan City (minority leader), Carlos Padilla of Nueva Vizcaya (Deputy Speaker), Giorgidi Aggabao of Isabela (Deputy Speaker) and Roberto V. Puno of Antipolo City (Deputy Speaker).
Others got juicy committee chairmanships: Isidro Ungab of Davao City (committee on appropriations), Neil Tupas Jr. of Iloilo (justice) Amado Bagatsing of Manila (ecology), Marcelino Teodoro of Marikina (legislative franchises), Arturo B. Robes of San Jose Del Monte City (social services), Herminia B. Roman of Bataan (veterans affairs and welfare), Arnulfo Go of Sultan Kudarat (Mindanao affairs), Victor Yu of Zamboanga del Sur (science and technology), Vicente Belmonte of Iligan (dangerous drugs), Al Francis Bichara of Albay (foreign affairs) and Manuel Agyao of Kalinga (rural development).
At least two incumbents have a direct and bigger participation in the pork barrel scam: Rolando Andaya of Camarines Sur (former budget secretary) and Arthur Yap (former agriculture secretary).
The rest of the incumbent lawmakers cited in the report are Diosdado M. Arroyo of Camarines Sur (whose uncle, the late Ignacio Arroyo, is also implicated), Philip Pichay of Surigao del Sur (whose brother, former Rep. Prospero Pichay Jr., was also listed in COA report), Julio Ledesma IV of Negros Occidental, Isagani S. Amatong of Zamboanga del Norte, Rommel C. Amatong of Compostela Valley, Benjamin Asilo of Manila;
Ma. Theresa Bonoan of Manila, Nelson Dayanghirang of Davao Oriental, Emil Ong of Northern Samar, Ma. Victoria Sy-Alvarado of Bulacan, Czarina Umali of Nueva Ecija, Ferdinand Martin Romualdez of Leyte, Maria Zenaida Angping of Manila, Joseph Gilbert Violago of Nueva Ecija, Nelson Dayanghirang of Davao Oriental, Belma Cabilao of Zamboanga Sibugay;
Wilfrido Mark Enverga of Quezon, Rolando Uy of Cagayan de Oro, Dulce Ann Hofer of Zamboanga Sibugay, Antonio Lagdameo of Davao del Norte, Franklin Bautista of Davao del Sur, Victor Francisco Ortega of La Union, Carol Jayne Lopez of Yacap party-list, Mariano Piamonte of A-Teacher party-list group and Francisco Manuel Ortega of Abono party-list group.
Related by blood, party ties
Some of the incumbent lawmakers are related by blood or party ties to the lawmakers implicated in the COA report: Reynaldo Umali of Oriental Mindoro (brother of now Oriental Mindoro Gov. Alfonso Umali), Karlo Alexei Nograles of Davao City (son of former Speaker Prospero Nograles), Winston Castelo of Quezon City (brother of Nanette Castelo-Daza), Rene Relampagos (cousin of Budget Undersecretary Mario Relampagos);
Eleonor Bulut-Begtang of Apayao (sister of former Rep. Elias Bulut), Carlo V. Lopez of Manila (son of former Rep. Jaime Lopez), Mercedes Cagas of Davao del Sur (mother of former Rep. Marc Douglas Cagas), Harlin Abayo of Northern Samar (husband of former Rep. Daryl Grace Abayo); Gerald Anthony Gullas of Cebu (son of former Rep. Eduardo Gullas), Enrique Garcia Jr. of Bataan (father of former Rep. Albert Raymund Garcia);
Mark Villar of Las Piñas (son of Senator Villar), Magnolia Antonino-Nadres of Nueva Ecija (daughter of former Rep. Rodolfo Antonino), Rose Marie “Baby” Arenas of Pangasinan (mother of former Rep. Rachel Arenas), Rodolfo Biazon of Muntinlupa City (father of former Rep. Rufino Biazon who is now customs chief), Dakila Carlo Cua of Quirino (son of former Rep. Junie Cua), Georgina de Venecia of Pangasinan (wife of former Speaker Jose de Venecia);
Grex Lagman of Albay (son of former Rep. Edcel Lagman), Lani Revilla of Cavite (wife of Senator Revilla), Susan Yap of Tarlac (daughter of former Rep. Jose Yap), Regina Ongsiako Reyes of Marinduque (daughter of former Rep. Carmencita Reyes), Scott Davies Lanete of Masbate (son of former Rep. Rizalina Seachon-Lanete), Felix William Fuentebella of Camarines Sur (son of former Rep. Arnulfo Fuentebella);
Thelma Almario of Davao Oriental (mother of former Rep. Joel Mayo Almario), Jose Ma. Zubiri of Bukidnon (father of former Rep. Juan Miguel Zubiri), Elisa Olga T. Kho of Masbate (wife of former Rep. Antonio Kho), Gavini C. Pancho of Bulacan (son of former Rep. Pedro Pancho), Maria Vida Bravo of Masbate (wife of former Rep. Narciso Bravo Jr.);
Conrado Estrella of Abono (cousin of former Rep. Robert Estrella), Ma. Carmen Zamora of Compostela Valley (daughter of former Rep. Manuel Zamora) and Josephine Veronique Lacson-Noel of Malabon City (wife of former An-Waray Rep. Florencio Noel), with An-Waray Representatives Victoria Noel and Neil Benedict Montejo; Sherwin Tugna and Cinchona Cruz-Gonzales of Citizen’s Battle Against Corruption; and Mariano Michael Velarde Jr. of the Buhay party-list group (brother of former Rep. Rene Velarde and son of El Shaddai leader Bro. Mike Velarde), with Irwin Tieng and Lito Atienza of Buhay.