Consulting again: Drilon to ask senators on Napoles
MANILA, Philippines – After much debate, the entire Senate will now decide on whether or not to summon alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles to the blue ribbon committee hearings.
Senate President Franklin Drilon announced that he will consult his colleagues on the issue after Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said she “submits to the collective wisdom” of the Senate’s members.
Drilon initially said he will defer signing the subpoena for Napoles, but in a statement on Tuesday, October 1, the Senate President said he will now call for a senators’ caucus to discuss the issue when session resumes on October 14.
“In view of the response of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, I will submit the issue whether to issue a subpoena to Napoles to the decision and judgment of the senators,” said Drilon.
Drilon reconsidered his decision after Morales wrote him a second time. Morales maintained that Napoles’ testimony is “not advisable” but said, “That the Senate is supreme in its own sphere was never meant to be challenged. I thus submit to the collective wisdom of its members.”
The Senate President though believes his colleagues will support his initial decision not to summon Napoles for now.
Drilon said he hoped senators “realize the implication if Napoles appears in the Senate before the Ombudsman could finish its initial and fact-finding evaluation of the plunder case filed before it in connection with the P10-billion pork mess."
“I am confident that majority of the senators understand and will support my decision not to issue a subpoena to Napoles 'at this time' in deference to the recommendation of the Ombudsman which is now investigating the case," Drilon said.
“We consider it a matter of prime importance that we should allow the Ombudsman to complete its initial fact-finding evaluation of the plunder case filed before it in connection with the pork barrel scam,” he added.
Drilon has said "prudence and caution" guided his decision, which he said "appears unpopular to the media and a public eager to see Napoles grilled by the blue ribbon committee."
The Ombudsman is handling a plunder complaint filed by the justice department against Senators Bong Revilla, Jinggoy Estrada, and Juan Ponce Enrile, and 35 other individuals for the pork barrel scam. The lawmakers are accused of channeling their Priority Development Assistance Fund to fake non-governmental organizations of Napoles in exchange for hefty kickbacks.
Drilon was dragged into the issue after photos of him and Napoles surfaced in the media. He said she was a mere acquaintance, whom he met “less than 10 times” in social events.
Senators divided on Napoles testimony
In past interviews, senators have clashed on the issue of summoning Napoles.
Blue Ribbon Committee Chairman Sen Teofisto “TG” Guingona III issued the subpoena and asked Drilon to sign it. Guingona said Drilon was wrong in seeking and heeding the Ombudsman’s advice because the Senate’s power to conduct inquiries in aid of legislation is “supreme.”
“The only thing lacking to complete the story is the centerpiece, the main actor here which is Janet Lim Napoles,” Guingona said after the Senate hearing last week.
Guingona and Senator Francis Escudero questioned Drilon’s initial decision not to sign the subpoena. The two said the Senate was not bound by the decision of the Ombudsman.
Legal experts also weighed in, with some asserting the Senate’s authority and independence.
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.
Other senators expressed a different view.
Sen Sergio Osmeña III told reporters on Monday that Napoles’ lawyer Lorna Kapunan already said her client will just invoke her right to remain silent during the Senate probe.
“That is useless because her lawyer, Atty Kapunan, said that she is not going to open her mouth. We will call her to the hearing then she would say, ‘I maintain my right to remain silent. Anything I say will be used against me in a court of law,’” Osmeña said.
For Senator Nancy Binay, if Napoles will not give information helpful to the Senate probe, it may not be worth summoning her considering the cost of transferring her from the police camp in Laguna, where she is detained.
Binay said the Senate may consider just asking for a written statement from Napoles. The senator said she might abstain from any vote on the issue of the subpoena for Napoles.
Administration allies Senator Bam Aquino and Senator Sonny Angara told Rappler last week they understood Drilon’s decision not to sign the subpoena.
“It’s a difficult issue. I see both sides. If these are the wishes of the Ombudsman, I would probably defer to her wisdom.... I hope cooler heads will prevail and we can balance the wishes of the people to continue the blue ribbon hearings and at the same time, the needs of the Ombudsman to have some space to craft the necessary charges,” Aquino said.
Aquino added: “The worst thing is if the Ombudsman is not able to do her job. The end game is for the people who committed these crimes to go to jail.”
Angara said, “It may just be a question of timing but I have no doubt that the people’s desire for justice will be served, whether it is through exacting accountability and punishing corruption by the filing of cases or through having better institutional safeguards over public funds.”
Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III of the Senate minority said he is “neutral” on the issue.
“If [the testimony] is in aid of legislation, then she (Napoles) should be summoned but if it will just create a circus, then Secretary De Lima is right,” Sotto told Rappler. – Rappler.com