No questions to be asked of pork-linked solons in Senate probe

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Nobody can grill the grillers.

That would be the order of the day when the Senate blue ribbon committee meets next week to look into the alleged pork barrel abuse by some members of Congress.

Senators implicated in the supposed P10-billion scam will be given a  chance to answer the allegations against them but won’t be grilled the way other public officials are when they face the committee.

Still, the blue ribbon committee chair, Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, said he expected to find out who were behind the pork irregularities and how these were committed—even if it meant placing fellow senators in a bad light.

“We have to answer those questions. So, difficult as it may be, we have to do our job,” Guingona said in a press interview on Thusday.

No partiality

The hearing to be conducted by the Senate committee on the accountability of public officers and investigations—the formal name of the blue ribbon panel—is scheduled for next Thursday.

Guingona said the hearing wouldn’t be just about improving the system of funds disbursements but also about the liabilities of people involved.

He said this could mean filing cases against people “who are, in the judgment of the committee, found liable.”

Guingona said: “It doesn’t matter who. We can’t be partial to anybody here.”

COA findings

On whether the senators linked to the alleged misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) would be asked to take an oath to tell the truth, Guingona said: “They will attend as senators.”

“They will not be questioned. I’m sure if they have something to say, they will say it,” Guingona said.

“If they want to ask clarificatory questions and if they want to ask the resource person, they can,” he added.

Guingona said the inquiry would take off from the findings of the Commission on Audit (COA) that more than P6.156 billion from the PDAF allocations of 12 senators and 180 House members went to 82 questionable nongovernment organizations.

Truth must out

The first resource person will be COA chair Grace Pulido-Tan.

“There will be a question and answer … I’m sure all senators will have clarificatory questions,” Guingona said.

He added: “The most important thing here is for the truth to come out. What happened? How [did it happen]? Who did it? How can this be prevented?”

Guingona said the inquiry would only deal with senators linked to the alleged misuse of the funds.

“This will not include the [House of Representatives] because of interparliamentary courtesy,” Guingona said.

Lacson’s role

On Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano’s resolution seeking to appoint former Sen. Panfilo Lacson as an independent special investigator, Guingona said: “We recognize the integrity and professionalism of Senator Lacson.”

“However, we believe that the Senate blue ribbon is capable of determining the truth,” he said.

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who earlier suggested an investigation by retired Supreme Court justices, warned that a blue ribbon inquiry could become a “freewheeling talkfest, if not a total three-ring circus as senators vie for TV exposure.”

Santiago, who’s on a medical leave, said the Senate should divide the probe into separate topics “because the scam is so galactic in scope.”

Lacson opposed

 

She mocked Cayetano’s proposal to have Lacson, a former Philippine National Police officer, handle the investigation.

“A policeman cannot be adviser to a Senate committee probing the pork barrel because this is a question of law. He has no clue on how the law proceeds in these cases,” Santiago said.

“After a cop finishes his investigation, a report is submitted to the prosecutor, not the other way around.”

Santiago also indicated that Lacson couldn’t be impartial since he is an ally of Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, one of those implicated in the scam.

She also said Lacson couldn’t be expected to be impartial toward Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr. since Lacson’s son lost to Revilla’s son in the vice gubernatorial race in Cavite.

Corruption charges

Santiago also claimed the efforts to nominate Lacson in the Senate probe were linked to efforts to eliminate Revilla and other senators as candidates in the 2016 presidential and vice presidential elections.

Sought for comment, Lacson said: “She’s nothing but an absentee solon who will soon be facing corruption charges in the Sandiganbayan.”

Lacson said he was referring to a case involving Santiago’s use of Senate funds to lease her own building for use as her Senate satellite office.

Santiago has explained the lease, saying she was allowed by the Senate secretariat to do so.

Lacson backed

Several senators have expressed support for Lacson acting as special investigator.

They include Benigno Aquino IV, Ralph Recto, Antonio Trillanes IV, Grace Poe, Francis Escudero and Juan Edgardo Angara for the majority; and Vicente Sotto III and Gregorio Honasan II for the minority.

Still, President Aquino may tap Lacson as a special investigator in the government’s inquiry on the alleged misuse of the pork barrel.

DOJ’s own probe

“It’s possible,” Aquino said when asked by the Inquirer whether he was open to the possibility that his former ally in the Senate could help in the investigation.

The President was interviewed in Imus, Cavite, where he distributed food packs to flood victims.

Aquino made it clear that the Department of Justice (DOJ) had already launched an investigation into the funneling of the PDAF to bogus organizations identified with businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.

“We’re open [to the idea] but we are waiting for the proposed executive order undergoing study by the executive secretary (Paquito Ochoa),” Aquino said. “I’m still awaiting the findings of [Ochoa].”

Aquino said a lot had happened since Lacson submitted a draft executive order creating an anticorruption body he himself would head.

Aquino also disclosed that there was a little-known Anti-Graft and Corruption Council, composed of the Office of the Ombudsman, DOJ and COA that had been “working together” to build up cases against crooks in government.

“I think [there is an existing] mechanism in government … to tackle this kind of situation,” he said of the council.

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Originally posted at 08:23 pm | Thursday, August 22, 2013

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