Former Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, who called for the abolition of the pork barrel system and never touched it during his 12 years in the upper chamber, is being tapped as an independent special investigator in the Senate blue ribbon committee’s inquiry on the fund’s widespread abuse.
Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano said Lacson was the best person to handle the investigation “because of his impeccable record against corruption and his unwavering stand against the pork barrel.”
Former Sen. Joker Arroyo also spurned the use of his PDAF.
In a news conference on Wednesday, Cayetano said that he had drafted a resolution recommending that Lacson be appointed to help in the inquiry beginning next week by the panel headed by Sen. Teofisto Guingona III.
Cayetano said that Lacson could ensure that the inquiry on the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) would be “effectively and credibly” conducted amid allegations that five senators and 23 congressmen were involved in a P10-billion scam and findings by the Commission on Audit (COA) of “appalling” misuse of the pork barrel funds.
He also announced that he would file a concurrent resolution proposing that both the Senate and the House of Representatives abolish the PDAF by removing the lawmakers’ discretion over lump-sum appropriations.
“The blue ribbon committee needs an independent and credible special investigator who can assist it to ferret out the truth, pursue leads, and find evidence so that the guilty can be charged and the innocent can clear their names, while maintaining its credibility and impartiality,” Cayetano said.
To consult Aquino
In a text message, Lacson said he may have to consult with President Aquino “since I have yet to hear a formal confirmation of an earlier announced creation of an anticorruption body to be headed by me which will necessarily deal with a similar or related issue at hand.”
“I laud the effort of Senator Cayetano for pushing what I had always advocated for in the last 12 years—abolish a very corrupt and corrupting system in our political institutions known as pork barrel,” said Lacson, a former chief of the Philippine National Police.
Lacson thanked Cayetano for his confidence “in my ability to assist the Senate in a very sensitive issue hounding several of its members.” The resolution, he said, needs to be adopted by the majority of the senators and that the special investigator’s mandate, scope, powers and functions should be defined.
“Had the 12th Congress reacted positively to my privilege speech 10 years ago, the Senate could have been saved from the wrath and the hatred of the citizenry,” Lacson added, referring to his speech entitled, “Living without Pork.”
The Senate had initially balked at holding an inquiry on the pork barrel scam allegedly engineered by the fugitive businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles using the PDAF of Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon Revilla Jr., Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Jinggoy Estrada and Gregorio Honasan, and 23 congressmen.
Senate President Franklin Drilon at that time cited the ongoing inquiries being conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Justice and the Office of the Ombudsman.
But after the COA issued last week its special audit on PDAF misuse from 2007 to 2009 and the widespread public indignation it generated, Drilon relented.
Clamor for accountability
“Over the past three weeks, our people have expressed shock and dismay over the reported P10-billion PDAF scandal that allegedly involved some members of Congress,” Drilon said in an e-mailed statement Wednesday.
“We heard the people’s loud clamor for accountability from us and they will not be denied. We will hold ourselves accountable,” he said.
“Now that the COA has completed its special audit on the PDAF from 2007 to 2009, it is time for the Senate, through its blue ribbon committee, to conduct public hearings, in aid of legislation, on the utilization of the PDAF …. It is time our people are informed about the details of that special audit,” Drilon said.
“I enjoin my colleagues in the Senate to respond fully to the questions raised by COA’s findings. We are accountable to our people and they deserve no less each than everyone’s full explanations to these questions,” Drilon added.
He said the inquiry would also “review the need to fund the PDAF in 2014 and beyond and to immediately recommend the adoption of strict guidelines in the use of the PDAF, among others.”
Resolution to abolish pork
“The Senate blue ribbon committee should exercise utmost prudence and sensitivity so as not to allow its proceedings to be plagued with questions and insinuations of partiality and conflict of interest since this is the first time it has been placed in a situation where so many of its members have been alleged to be involved in the issue it will be investigating,” Cayetano said.
He said he would file a concurrent resolution—that he hopes the Senate and the House of Representatives would adopt—to abolish the pork barrel system.
“To enable Congress to fully pursue its primary function, which is to legislate laws that will benefit the majority of Filipinos especially the poor and marginalized, the pork barrel must be abolished,” Cayetano said in his draft concurrent resolution.
“In order for legislators to assure their constituents of beneficial and developmental projects and programs, a nondiscretionary and specific line item appropriation system through the General Appropriations Act, that will be equitably distributed across various regions, provinces, legislative districts, cities and municipalities nationwide be developed and implemented henceforth, beginning with the 2014 national budget,” Cayetano added.