PORK BARREL SCAM

Drilon: Ombudsman to decide if Napoles can appear in Senate hearing

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Senate President Franklin Drilon. FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines — Senate President Franklin Drilon said on Monday he was deferring to the Ombudsman to decide whether Janet Lim Napoles could testify at the blue ribbon committee’s inquiry into the P10-billion pork barrel scam.

Early Monday, the committee requested Drilon to approve the subpoena for Napoles in accordance with Senate rules.

Drilon, however, first sought the comment of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales on the request, upon the advice of Senate Secretary Oscar Yabes.

The Senate must respect the jurisdiction of the Office of the Ombudsman over the case and its rules on the publicity of a respondent, Drilon said.

“Under their law, publicity is to be avoided or prohibited where in her judgment can prejudice the case,” Drilon told reporters before opening Monday’s session. “The Ombudsman has to determine the confidentiality of a hearing. Whether or not it can adversely affect a case, that is for the Ombudsman to determine.’’

He quoted Rule 5 of the Ombudsman’s Rules of Procedure which states: “When circumstances so warrant and with due prudence, the Office of the Ombudsman may publicize in a fair and balanced manner the filing of a complaint, grievance or request for assistance, and the final resolution, decision or action taken thereon: Provided, however, that prior to such final action, no publicity shall be made of matters which may adversely affect national security or public interest, prejudice the safety of witnesses or the disposition of the case, or unduly expose persons complained against to ridicule or public censure.”

Drilon’s office sent a communication with Morales Monday afternoon with the request that she act on the matter immediately since the subpoena sought Napoles’ appearance on Thursday. He said he wasn’t aware of any respondent appearing in a congressional inquiry.

He said they would comply with the Ombudsman’s decision.

The Blue Ribbon Committee, chaired by Senator Teofisto Guingona III, requested the issuance of subpoena for Napoles to compel her to bring documents and testify in connection with the scam at its hearing on Thursday.

“The appearance of Ms. Napoles in the Blue Ribbon hearing is important to our investigation as the Filipinos are looking for answers that may shed light on some issues at hand,” Guingona said in a statement.

The National Bureau of Investigation has filed a complaint for plunder against Napoles, Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon Revilla Jr. and Jinggoy Estrada with the Office of the Ombudsman.

Another 34 people were charged with either plunder or malversation of public funds in connection with the racket.

The scam, fanned by news and state auditors’ reports on the large-scale misuse of pork barrel, has riveted the country for months and stirred public outrage that climaxed into mammoth protest rallies.

The outrage has prompted President Aquino to abolish pork barrel, officially called the priority development assistance fund, in the national budget.

Before Napoles could appear on Thursday, the Blue Ribbon Committee invited anew Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and whistle-blowers Benhur Luy, Gertrudes Luy, Marina Sula, and Merlina Suña, among others, to its hearing on Tuesday.

The Luys, Sula and Suña, former staff of Napoles, blew the lid on racket which their boss ran from a unit in a posh hotel in Pasig City, where they churned out letter requests for funds for dummy foundations signed with fake signatures of officials, and made calls with government agencies to release the funds.

On September 12, Benhur Luy testified that lawmakers peddled their pork barrel to Napoles in the hope of getting a kickback of at least 40 percent in a ghost project and an advance of half of the loot.

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