Miriam to Aquino: Probe pork scam

Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago also calls on senators allegedly involved in the reported scam to take a leave of absence

'BABOY TALAGA.' Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago blasts her 5 colleagues for their alleged involvement in the P10 billion pork barrel scam. She calls on President Aquino to form an independent panel to probe them. Photo by Rappler/Ayee Macaraig

MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – Don’t call it PDAF. Call it PNF. The “Pwedeng Nakawin Fund.” (The fund that can be stolen.) 

After a long absence, Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago came firing back at her fierce rival, resigned Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and his allies, this time over their alleged involvement in the P10 billion pork barrel scam.

Santiago turned her speech for National Accountancy Week into a tirade against the 5 senators named in a Philippine Daily Inquirer report on Monday, July 15, as having given a syndicate access to their pork barrel to fund dummy NGOs.

Besides Enrile, the Inquirer report said Senators Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr, Jinggoy Estrada, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, and Gregorio Honasan II, and 23 other congressmen allegedly funded ghost projects of the bogus NGOs in exchange for hefty kickbacks.

Santiago said upon reading the news, her blood pressure shot up. “If I die, it will not be because of my blood pressure but because of my enemies. Biro mo sa diyaryo, 5 senator ang kasangkot, persons of interest, sa isang P10 billion scam. Billion, hindi million, B as in baboy talaga,” Santiago said in her speech in a Makati hotel on Monday. (Imagine, 5 senators are considered persons of interest in the P10 billion scam. Billion, not million, B stands for ‘baboy’ or pig).

Saying her colleagues were fooling the people, Santiago called on all 5 to take a leave of absence “not as an admission of guilt but as a courtesy to the Filipino public so the process can proceed unhampered.”

The senator urged President Benigno Aquino III to appoint a 3-member panel of special prosecutors to probe the scam that will issue a resolution within 30 days.

She suggested that he appoint retired Supreme Court justices like Amorfina Herrera and Flerida Ruth Romero, hailing them as respected individuals without any political motivations.

The pork barrel is officially called the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). Each senator is allotted 200 million in PDAF every year to fund projects for their constituents. These projects are in the form of infrastructure, health, education and social aid packages. Congressmen get a pork barrel of P70 million per year. 

Only recourse

Santiago explained that the panel will be the “only recourse” in the issue because senators cannot be impeached, and are not under the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman.

“Senators are extremely powerful, both with their money and with their influence and contacts in government so we cannot have them investigated by the DOJ because a Cabinet member Leila de Lima, has not even been confirmed by the Commission on Appointments. On that issue, she will be vulnerable,” Santiago told reporters after her speech.

Santiago said the Senate Committee on Ethics is also not the proper venue, citing “social constraints” in investigating senators’ own colleagues. 

Likely Senate President Franklin Drilon agreed with Santiago, citing conflict of interest if the Senate investigates its own. He proposes the imposition of restrictions on the use of the pork barrel, like limiting it to education and health services, saying these can easily be accounted for. 

Sen Francis Escudero though filed a resolution for the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee to investigate the scam. 

READ: Should Senate probe pork barrel scam? 

In a statement Monday afternoon, Enrile said he welcomed an investigation, and called on the Commission on Audit to release its full report to avoid “piecemeal disclosure of parts to serve political or partisan ends.” 

READ: Enrile: Reports on pork selective, incomplete 

Marcos issued a statement saying he does not know Janet Lim-Napoles, who has been tagged as the brains behind the scam. 

“I have never spoken to her and so I have had no personal dealings with her. However, I am more than eager to fully cooperate in the investigation and in any other similar efforts that will reveal the truth on this matter,” Marcos said. 

Revilla called the allegations a demolition job and trial by publicity. 

“I have already been warned by someone in Malacanang that I will be targeted.  Eto na yun. (This is it) This controversy has been engineered by the administration for only one purpose – to demolish the opposition,  especially those who enjoy the popular support of our people,” Revilla said. 

Honasan also said the charges are “obviously politically motivated” and malicious.”

READ: Revilla: Scam a demolition job for 2016

Rappler is still seeking the comment of Estrada as of posting time.

In her speech, Santiago blasted the 5 senators but had special emphasis on Enrile, who she clashed with over the Senate fund controversy.

“The former Senate President, my very good friend, my wedding sponsor who never showed up during my wedding … P641.65 million because he gave this NGO money for ghost projects 21 times. And he prides himself in being an expert in taxation and finance.”

She later said, “Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile. Remember that name? I put it under my pillow entertaining homicidal thoughts.”

Santiago called on the 5 senators to speak the truth, saying many Filipinos have a hard time making ends meet while they are supposedly pocketing public funds.

“Naghahanapbuhay ang ibang tao, umulan, uminit, lalabas ka. Pag-uwi mo, dadaan ka pa sa battlezone, the classic problem in Metro Manila (traffic). Nakikipag-away ka. Kung ikaw naman housewife, mamalengke ka, halos lahat ng bilihin tumataas, wala kang magagawa. What do you have to say about this, niloloko tayo ng mga ito ah!”

(Other people are working hard, rain or shine, they go out. When they come home, they pass the battlezone, the classic problem that is traffic in Metro Manila. They even engage in fights. The poor housewife buys products whose prices are always rising. Now what do you have to say about this, they are fooling us!)

She added, “I wanted to nuke the entire Senate building. That banner story is supported by affidavit, statements under oath. There is prima facie evidence against the senators. Prima facie means on the face. Mukha pa lang, makapal na.” (They have the gall to do this.)

Santiago said she prefers that the 5 senators resign out of delicadeza, but knowing they will not do that, she urged them to take a leave of absence instead.

Enrile’s ‘great conceit’

Santiago then went on to again tackle the Senate fund controversy, which arose in December following the revelation that Enrile excluded her and 3 other critics from receiving additional Senate funds.

She cited the 2011 Commission on Audit report on Senate funds.

“I did some sleuth work among the figures, and I discovered that if the average of office expenses is P63 million a year, if you multiply 23 senators times P63 million, you get the total amount senators control but if you analyze it against the budget, what the senators collectively control is less than 50% of the Senate budget. So someone is controlling the rest.”

“The deep, dark secret is it is the Senate President at least during the incumbency of Enrile who has been controlling over 50% of the Senate budget which means he and he alone without consulting senators can order the disbursement and the release for any purpose of the Senate funds so in effect he becomes a tyrant over Senate funds.”

Santiago said Enrile could not claim that he used his discretion in distributing the funds because the Constitution does not allow “absolute freedom” under legal discretion.

She also said that when Enrile was Senate president, he earned 166% more than the other senators while the other officers of the Senate earned honorarium that gave them an income just 20% more than what an ordinary senator receives.

Citing the COA report, Santiago said Enrile earned P118 million in 2011, the highest earning senator. She claimed that he gave Drilon only P34.9 million in 2011 because Drilon wanted to be Senate President.

Santiago branded Enrile’s use and distribution of Senate funds as “a partisan political act.”

“He has shown that with great power comes great conceit,” Santiago said. 

She then made recommendations for the next Senate:

  1. To remove the Senate President’s power to control over 50% of the total Senate budget
  2. That members of oversight committees not be given honoraria more than 50% of a senator’s salary
  3. That the Senate liquidate funds using receipts and other supporting documents (Editor’s note: Enrile and former Sen Panfilo Lacson have said that Congress already agreed to do this), and that savings be returned to the Senate  
  4. To remove the practice of giving the Senate President discretion to release additional Maintenance and Other Operating (MOOE) funds for each office of the senator. She cited the case of senator-turned-President Aquino whose Senate office’s funds were distributed to other senators as additional MOOE.

“In the hands of a corrupt Senate President, this discretionary power over additional MOOE becomes a tool not only of corruption but also of oppression and of ugly politics,” Santiago said.

The senator said she will support a Senate President who follows her recommendations.

Santiago vowed to deliver privilege speeches against Enrile and Lacson when the 16th Congress opens. “Makikita nila ang hinahanap nila.” (They will find what they are looking for.) 

At the height of the controversy, Enrile defended himself by saying he has discretion over the distribution of Senate funds.

He also said that the distribution of additional MOOE was not a practice that he invented, but a tradition that has been started years ago 

His allies also defended him then by saying that the MOOE is subject to audit, and is used for official expenditures, and is not a “cash gift” that senators pocket. – Rappler.com