Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda on Wednesday decried the attempt by some quarters to portray Senate President Franklin Drilon as a close associate of businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, the alleged architect of the P10-billion pork barrel scam.
Lacierda did not seem to subscribe to the axiom that a picture is worth a thousand words, when he was asked at a briefing in Malacañang about photos circulating on the Internet that showed Drilon and his wife, Mila, partying with Napoles and her family at Heritage Park in Taguig City.
“I think there’s an attempt to make Senator Drilon guilty by photography. The point is, it’s not so much that the picture should be the basis for judgment,” Lacierda said.
President Aquino’s spokesman insisted that the pictures should not be used as basis to pass judgment on Drilon’s integrity since the more crucial issue was the latter’s “actions” with respect to the release of his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
The pictures, which were posted on several Facebook accounts, have gone viral.
They were taken at Heritage Park, the private cemetery beside Bonifacio Global City in Taguig where Lacierda fetched Napoles before she surrendered to President Aquino on Aug. 28.
Benhur Luy, Napoles’ second cousin and former aide who blew the whistle on the businesswoman’s P10-billion pork barrel scam after being rescued by the National Bureau of Investigation in March, has told the Inquirer that Napoles owned several lots at Heritage Park and a mausoleum for her mother.
It has been said that Napoles would periodically throw lavish parties at Heritage Park, with members of the ruling class and business establishment as her regular guests.
Why Napoles—and her guests—would prefer to party in a cemetery is puzzling to many.
‘Effort to implicate me’
At a press conference in the Senate on Tuesday, Drilon explained his presence in one of these dinner parties.
“I meet her socially in parties. It’s possible there are also pictures there. You know us politicians, we always have our pictures taken with people,” he said.
Drilon said he did not know the business then of Napoles. “(T)here is a clear effort to implicate me and make me appear as guilty by association. I reject such an implication.”
Drilon said the event he and his wife attended was a dinner for visiting Chinese seminarians.
“Insofar as that picture is concerned, Mrs. Drilon and I were invited to a dinner. Mrs. Drilon, being an active Church worker, was invited because the guests were seminarians from China who were here on a study tour,” he said.
Drilon said what was important was that no allocation from his PDAF went to Napoles’ bogus nongovernment organizations (NGOs).
He said “you can go through the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) and COA (Commission on Audit) websites and you can go through it with a fine-tooth comb and you will not see a single peso of my PDAF being assigned to any of the Napoles NGOs.”
“The NGO that I work with is the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry where I have assigned a substantial portion of the PDAF to build classrooms all over the country at half the cost of government contractors to fill in the gap at that time of the classroom shortage,” Drilon said.
A substantial portion of his PDAF, he added, also went to the National Kidney and Transplant Institute, Philippine General Hospital, Philippine Heart Center, Children’s Hospital and other government services where the poor would avail themselves of his PDAF.
Asked if he learned anything from having several pictures taken with someone who has become almost synonymous with corruption, Drilon said: “None, perhaps. You just have to accept it.”
“That’s part of our lives as politicians. People will approach us and have their picture taken with us. You can’t tell them you don’t want to because she’s not pretty. That’s part of the risk that we take,” he said.
Lacierda rejected insinuations that the pictures cast doubt on the integrity of Drilon who, as the Senate President, is tasked by the upper chamber with drafting a new mechanism replacing the PDAF.
“A photograph of him with Ms. Janet Napoles should not be used as a basis to judge whether the actions were taken by the senator with respect to this PDAF,” Lacierda said.
He said the “main issue” in the pork barrel scam was the discovery that “government funds (had been) diverted to the Napoles NGOs,” which he said was “the crux of the matter.”
Asked if Drilon was notified of the impending surrender of Napoles on Aug. 28, Lacierda said:
“When I spoke to Attorney (Lorna) Kapunan, the information was shared only with the President, and in the afternoon, it was shared with (Interior) Secretary Mar Roxas and Executive Secretary (Paquito) Ochoa. So there were only four people involved in that discussion (for her surrender).”
Kapunan is the lawyer of Napoles.
Lacierda said Drilon had never volunteered any information on Napoles’ whereabouts when she was still in hiding. “None that I’m aware of, at least at my level I’m not aware of any,” he said.
Drilon is the vice chair of the ruling Liberal Party (LP).
After Roxas took a leave of absence last year, Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya became the acting president of the LP.
Aquino is the LP chair, while Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. is one of the vice chairs.