MANILA, Philippines – Should the Senate investigate its own?
Senators are divided on whether or not the chamber should investigate its 5 members linked to an alleged P10-billion pork barrel scam.
Sen Francis Escudero filed a resolution on Monday, July 15, directing the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee to investigate the scheme, where lawmakers allegedly give syndicates access to their pork barrel fund in exchange for hefty kickbacks.
The scam was bared in a series of reports of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. It named resigned Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Sen Jinggoy Estrada, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, and Gregorio Honasan II as the 5 senators allegedly involved in the scam, along with 23 congressmen.
“Accountability and transparency in government dictates that this report must be quizzically looked into, not only for the representatives of the people to clarify their respective positions, if some may be involved, but to show to every Filipino as well that neither sacred cows nor the notion of an ‘old boys club’ exists in a government working for change,” Escudero said in his resolution.
While he called for an inquiry, Escudero already hinted that lawmakers should not be blamed for the implementation of projects.
“Legislators do not handle the funds and implement the projects. Their participation is but limited to the designation of beneficiaries and identification of projects, and the implementation is undertaken by government agencies concerned,” Escudero said.
The senator said the scam damaged the reputation of the lawmakers, and the country as well.
“We deserve no less as a people and as a nation, we have to make sure that everyone adheres to the principles of good governance when it comes to public funds. At the same time, we have a responsibility to protect the integrity and reputation of the Senate as an institution and as a pillar of our democracy. This should be non-negotiable,” he said.
“Let the sovereign decide after due hearing and investigation whether to hang Damocles’ sword or not,” Escudero added.
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.
Drilon: There’s conflict of interest
Likely Senate President Franklin Drilon disagreed with Escudero.
In an interview with Senate reporters, Drilon said it is best that the investigation be conducted outside of the chamber.
“It’s better to let the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation), DOJ (Department of Justice) investigate because there is conflict of interest for us senators. We cannot investigate ourselves. Maybe people will not believe the results of the probe because there is conflict,” Drilon said.
Drilon is confident that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima can conduct an impartial probe, even if the Commission on Appointments has yet to confirm her.
Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago though wants President Benigno Aquino III to form a panel of special prosecutors to be composed of retired Supreme Court justices.
Unlike Escudero, Drilon also said senators should check how projects they fund are implemented.
“I suppose that’s innate. It’s the responsibility of each senator to do that. You don’t have to tell them,” Drilon said.
Drilon, the chairman of the Finance Committee, said he wondered why the NGOs were allowed to implement the projects.
“What I know is that the pork barrel passes through agencies of government and from there implementation is done. This is where the questions arise. As for me, senators’ requests pass through me as the Committee on Finance chair, I see their requests for assignment of the PDAF to agencies of government.”
‘Limit use of PDAF’
Drilon, who earlier called for the abolition of the pork barrel, said the proposal may not be feasible.
Instead, he now wants to limit the use of the PDAF to certain activities.
“For example, we just use the PDAF for medical purposes or education. If we can’t abolish it – the reality is we cannot abolish that – but there are still congressmen who use PDAF properly. Let us limit the use.”
Drilon said health and education services will be easier to audit compared to livelihood projects.
“Let us limit where we can use it like in government hospitals, classrooms. For example, in each district of congressmen, there are district hospitals, they can use it there.”
Asked about his own pork barrel, Drilon said it goes to government hospitals like the Heart Center, and to his projects in his home province of Iloilo.
On Santiago’s call for the senators to go on leave pending an investigation, Drilon said: “There is nothing in our rule which would compel them to go on leave. Remember, these are just media reports at this stage.” – Rappler.com