Lawmakers linked to pork barrel scam should be jailed, says Santiago

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Senator Miriam Defensor- Santiago. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines — Members of the Senate and the House of Representatives should be suspended once indicted over the P10-billion pork barrel scam and jailed if the evidence against them was strong, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago said on Monday.

Speaking at a conference on hotel management, Santiago said the 1991 Anti-Plunder Act provided that any public officer facing criminal prosecution before a court must be suspended from office.

“If the prosecutor decides to file the case in court, the senator or representative who is accused of plunder will immediately be suspended from Congress,” she said in her speech at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City.

And if the evidence of guilt against them was strong, the lawmakers would have to “stay in jail” during the trial, she added.

Whistle-blowers, state auditors and former heads of government corporations have consistently tagged Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr. and a number of representatives as key players in the scam.

The three senators and more than 20 representatives were found to have allotted portions of their pork barrel, officially called the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), to dubious nongovernment organizations set up by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles. In exchange, the lawmakers received kickbacks equivalent to up to 65 percent of the project cost, according to the whistle-blowers.

The legislators are expected to be charged along with Napoles over the large-scale misuse of the PDAF that has sparked public outrage  and prompted the Aug. 26 mammoth rally at Manila’s Rizal Park and similar protests in other parts of the country and abroad.

Santiago said that while public funds could be transferred to NGOs, the transfer of PDAF to NGOs in the current case appeared to be illegal.

The former trial court judge said the transfer appeared to have skirted a provision of the Government Procurement Reform Act and the NGOs failed “miserably” to comply with the requirement that they should have a track record and be financially stable.

Specifically, she said the submission for the past three years of audited financial statements stamped “received” by the Bureau of Internal Revenue appeared not to have been followed.

“Allow me to emphasize this important principle which in my text appears in bold face: The funds, whether from PDAF or other sources of appropriations, are always released to an implementing agency—which is a department, an agency, or a local government unit—and never to an NGO,” she told the National Student Conference on Hotel and Restaurant Management.

Choosing an NGO should be subject to competitive bidding or through negotiated procurement, and would be the responsibility of the agency head, not the lawmaker, the senator said.

To prevent corruption, it is the job of the agency head to advise lawmakers that choosing a contractor is “illegal,” but this is being done with impunity by lawmakers, according to her.

“When the lawmaker chooses the contractor, that is a crime and a dead giveaway of the lawmaker’s malicious intent to get kickbacks,” she said.

Santiago implied that the crime of plunder—which is defined as the acquisition of ill-gotten wealth in the total value of at least P75 million—could apply in this case.

“If the accused is over 70 years old, his age would be considered a mitigating circumstance. In the case of a convict who is at least 70 years old, he can apply with President Aquino for pardon on the ground that his continued imprisonment would be inimical to his health.  Otherwise, the penalty for life imprisonment does not appear to have any definite extent or duration,” she said.

Fake stories

Without naming him, Santiago blamed an “old” colleague in the Senate for the online publication of news reports implicating her in the pork barrel scam. She said the stories were fake.

“These stories, which very obviously engage in character assassination against me, can only be funded by my arch-enemy.   He is a man who has grown so old in government corruption that I believe he was a waiter during the Last Supper,” she said.

Then she dedicated verses of a poem to her enemies:  “I’m rubber, you’re glue; Whatever you say bounces off me And sticks to you.”

Santiago said her advice to the old man was to get a sex life.

“As a citizen of our republic, like you, I demand justice!  And I demand justice now! Justice delayed is justice denied. Let justice be done, though the heavens fall, though the world perish.

This scandal will be one of the most bloodcurdling crimes in Philippine political history. It should be known as Enrilegate,” she added.

Sought for comment, Enrile waved off his hand, saying “I will not talk about that.”

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