Senators pray to keep people’s trust in wake of ‘pork barrel’ scam
MANILA, Philippines – The multi-billion-peso pork barrel fund scam has placed the Philippine Congress, including the Senate, in such bad light that some senators now pray, quite publicly, that their institution regain the people’s trust and survive this crisis.
“Lord Almighty, our country is once again in the midst of a political crisis arising from allegations of misuse of public funds,” intoned Senator Sergio Osmeña III in the prayer he read to open the Senate session on Tuesday afternoon.
With his colleagues bowed in prayer, Osmeña continued, “As we seek justice and search for the truth, free our minds and hearts of partisanship, Lord, so we may listen with dispassion.”
“Heavenly Father, heal our nation and inspire our people so that they might regain their trust in government. May the current challenges serve as a fitting reminder that public office is a public trust,” he continued. “And that for us, public officials, winning and maintaining that trust is paramount.”
Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, who led the opening prayer on Wednesday, also made references to the political controversy brought about by the large-scale abuse of billions of pesos from the congressional Priority Development Assistance Fund over the past decade.
“Thank You, too, for the controversies You send our way once in a while. These remind us of our humanity, our mortality, and of the temporary nature of our membership in this important institution,” Pimentel prayed. “We pray for the gift of wisdom, and Your guidance, on how to best carry out the mandate given to us to serve the Filipino people. We lift up to You the Philippine Senate as well as our individual political careers. Let Your will be done.”
Osmeña is a vice chairman of the Senate committee on the accountability of public officers and investigations, otherwise known as the Blue Ribbon Committee investigating the role of senators and congressmen in the pork barrel fund scam.
Pimentel heads the Senate committee on justice and human rights.
Their prayers came as the Blue Ribbon Committee continued its inquiry into the alleged involvement of senators and House members in the scam allegedly engineered by businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles through bogus non-governmental organizations.
Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile, Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada and Sen. Ramon Revilla, Jr., were identified by former heads of government corporations in Thursday’s hearing as among the lawmakers who endorsed dubious NGOs as conduits for the implementation of supposedly worthy projects using their PDAF allotments.
Agriculture Assistant Secretary Salvador Salacup, former head of Zamboanga Rubber Estates Corp., and Alan Javellana, the former president of the National Agribusiness Corp., in effect, corroborated the Commission on Audit report presented to the same panel two weeks ago by COA chairperson Grace Pulido-Tan.
Enrile, Estrada and Revilla have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing with respect to the disbursement of their PDAF allocations.
It is “very awkward. It’s trying times for us. We hope it’s not true but at the same time we are mandated by our own to investigate,” Osmeña told reporters after he led the prayer on Tuesday.
Osmeña was asked if it did not feel awkward scrutinizing budget proposals of government agencies when lawmakers themselves were being investigated for misuse of taxpayers’ money.
“Until proven guilty everybody must be presumed innocent,” Osmeña said.