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MANILA, Philippines – The Senate’s much-awaited caucus on whether to allow the testimony of alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Napoles was postponed to Wednesday, October 16.
The Office of Senate President Franklin Drilon issued a memo advising senators on the postponement of the caucus initially scheduled for Monday, October 14. The notice said this was “due to the unavailability of some members on account of sickness or official mission abroad.” The memo was signed by Drilon’s chief of staff, lawyer Renato Bantug Jr.
The Senate is set to decide on whether or not to summon Napoles to the blue ribbon committee investigation into the multibillion-peso pork barrel scam. The caucus was supposed to take place at the resumption of the Senate session after a two-week break.
Senators clash on the subpoena, with Drilon against calling Napoles to the Senate while committee chairman Teofisto “TG” Guingona III is in favor of the testimony.
Drilon argued that the Ombudsman should be allowed to finish its initial fact-finding investigation into the plunder complaint filed in relation to the alleged scam. Guingona though said the Senate is not bound by the Ombudsman’s advice and must assert its power to conduct inquiries in aid of legislation.
Among those absent on Monday was Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago, who had been on sick leave since the opening of the 16th Congress in July because of chronic fatigue syndrome. The others who were not present are Sen Ralph Recto (on sick leave), and Senators Bam Aquino, Bongbong Marcos, and Lito Lapid (on official business).
In a statement, Santiago reiterated that she would vote to issue the subpoena if she were present.
“In effect, the Constitution gives this power to the Senate. It might upset the delicate system of checks and balances, if the Senate itself dilutes this power by seeking an external agency such as the Ombudsman, to express a legal opinion,” Santiago said.
Santiago again questioned Drilon’s decision to seek the Ombudsman’s advice on the issue.
“On the one hand, if the Ombudsman opines that we should issue subpoena, then that would set a bad precedent. It would constitute the concession by the Senate to an external agency to determine how we shall exercise our power. On the other hand, if the Ombudsman opines that to issue subpoena would not be advisable, if we go ahead and issue the subpoena, then we show lack of comity (courtesy) to the Ombudsman,” she said.
Santiago said she was initially against a Senate probe on the scam because it will be redundant with the investigation of the justice department and the Ombudsman.
“But the committee chair exercised his discretion to hold the hearing. Following Senate tradition, the Senate should support the rulings of the committee chair,” Santiago said.
There is no session on Tuesday, October 15, because of the Eid’l Adha holiday. – Rappler.com