Guingona wins: Whistleblowers to attend Senate hearing
MANILA, Philippines – Senate blue ribbon committee chairman Teofisto “TG” Guingona III will have his way in the end.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima gave assurances that she will be bringing the whistleblowers in the pork barrel scam to the committee hearing on Thursday, September 26.
Guingona openly disagreed with De Lima and Senate President Franklin Drilon last Tuesday over the two’s supposed attempts to block the investigation.
The committee invited the whistleblowers originally for last Tuesday, but De Lima did not allow them to appear, citing the Ombudsman’s confidentiality rule. Senate President, citing the same rule, also initially refused to sign the subpoena to alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles, originally for Thursday.
The justice department, on the behalf of the whistleblowers, has filed with the Ombudsman the first batch of plunder, malversation, and bribery charges against government officials and Napoles.
On Thursday, De Lima said she would clarify with Guingona’s commitee the "direction" that the inquiry would take, and if it is really necessary to have all the whistleblowers appear at the hearings.
She said the whistleblowers’ testimonies will have “repercussions” on the case. The NBI has yet to complete its investigation, and prosecutors have yet to prepare their legal strategy.
“The last thing I would want to happen is to prejudice the case in the Ombudsman and ultimately in the Sandiganbayan,” she said.
There are currently 16 whistleblowers who are coordinating with the National Bureau of Investigation, but only Benhur Luy has been placed under the Witness Protection Program. He appeared at the Senate on September 12.
For Thursday, the blue ribbon committee has specifically invited De Lima, Luy, and 3 others:
- Gertrudes Luy
- Marina Sala
- Merlina Suña
There’s a catchphrase, however – “and other whistleblowers.”
"I have reservations about really compelling all our whistleblowers to appear at this time before the Senate blue ribbon committee. That is an issue that can very go all the way to the Supreme Court. It’s a legal, constitutional issue but is it right to take further issue on that? What will be its effect? It will just divert, sidetrack the case.... Our focus should be the successful prosecution of the case," De Lima said.
In the House of Representatives, Silvestre Bello III, a former justice secretary and now congressman of 1-BAP, backed Guingona on summoning Napoles.
"I agree with the position of Senator Guingona that the mere fact that Ms Napoles is a respondent in a plunder case pending preliminary investigation before the Ombudsman does not deprive the Senate from inviting her for questioning to shed light on the so-called pork barrel scam," Bello said.
He said the Senate hearing will not affect the Ombudsman's investigation because the Senate probe is being conducted for another purpose – in aid of legislation.
Retired Supreme Court Justice Vicente Mendoza, a noted constitutionalist, told Rappler "nothing prevents" the Senate from calling Napoles to its probe. But as a matter of "inter-departmental courtesy," the Senate should notify the court to avoid conflicts in the schedule of hearings.
Rappler will livestream the Senate hearing, which starts at 10 am. – Rappler.com