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MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – After much delay caused by a number of consultations, Senate President Franklin Drilon said that he is finally signing the subpoena for alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles.
Drilon made the announcement at the start of the session on Wednesday, October 16, effectively preempting a caucus he had earlier scheduled for the same day to discuss the matter.
“It is unfortunate that my decision to adhere to the advice of Ombudsman [Conchita] Carpio Morales … has been misconstrued as an effort to hide the truth,” Drilon said. “I have finally decided to sign the subpoena and compel Napoles to appear and testify before the Senate.”
“As the head of this institution, I must lead in restoring the confidence of our people in the Senate. I am therefore appalled that there are talks of cover-up. Mr President, I have never been a part of any cover-up and I will never be.”
As early as September 23, the Senate blue ribbon committee, chaired by Senator Teofisto Guingona III, had wanted to summon Napoles. The committee is investigating the widespread misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), where a number of senators, congressmen, and government officials have been implicated.
The Senate President’s signature is needed before a committee can send out a subpoena. Instead of immediately signing it, Drilon wrote Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales twice to ask for her opinion on the matter. It earned him criticisms from colleagues.
In his speech, Drilon lamented the criticism he got for seeking and heeding the advice of Morales on the issue. When the Ombudsman said in her second response that she will submit to the Senate’s wisdom, Drilon decided to call a caucus to consult his colleagues.
He accused the opposition of using the issue against him.
“My decision to defer the signing of the Napoles subpoena even created an opportunity for certain members of the opposition particularly those who seek to block our anti-corruption reforms, to conduct a media vilification campaign against me and the Aquino administration.”
He said, “The public criticism that came our way has undoubtedly injured the image of the Senate before the public hungry to see Napoles being grilled in the Senate halls.”
Drilon said he met earlier on Wednesday with Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto, Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayeteno, Guingona, Sen Loren Legarda, and Sen Antonio Trillanes IV to inform them of his decision. He said they supported the move.
In an interview, Guingona said, “I’m very thankful the Senate President has changed his mind and is now issuing the subpoena. Now we can go on with our work of searching for the truth.”
Guingona strongly clashed with Drilon on the issue, saying if the Senate President will not stand for the Senate’s authority to hold investigations, he will carry on with the task.
The chairman said his committee will now discuss how to conduct the next hearing and when to schedule it.
Guingona said the subpoena will be issued to Napoles, who will have to ask for the court’s permission to attend. Napoles is facing a separate illegal detention case that the Makati regional trial court is hearing.
“The court has jurisdiction over Janet Lim Napoles. They will petition the court. Let that be the function of Napoles [to ask the court’s permission],” Guingona said.
‘Committed to justice’
The Senate President sought to dispel doubts that his initial decision not to sign the subpoena was indicative that the Senate is covering up for its own members, 3 of whom were implicated in the pork barrel scam.
Drilon himself was dragged into the controversy amid reports that he knew Napoles since 2005 and she was his “biggest financier.”
“With this decision, let me emphasize that the Senate remains committed to the orderly administration of justice. We have a functioning justice system that will clear the innocent and punish the guilty. Our priority is to prosecute those involved and ensure that those who misused public funds will be held accountable for their actions,” Drilon said.
He said that as former justice secretary, “I always believed in the paramount pursuit of justice.”
Drilon vowed that the Senate probe into the controversy will be “relentless in the pursuit of truth.”
“Ensuring that justice is upheld will always be the priority of this administration and that is the reason why we are now working towards holding accountable those who have taken advantage of the loopholes in the system.”
He said, “As your elected legislators, we will see to it that no stone will be left unturned in enacting policy that will guarantee that this multi-billion pesos scam will ever happen again.”
Drilon said that the senators will discuss in caucus how to help victims of the Central Visayas earthquake, Typhoon Santi, and the Zamboanga crisis.
In the pork barrel scam, lawmakers allegedly channeled their Priority Development Assistane Fund (PDAF) to Napoles’ fake non-governmental organizations in exchange for kickbacks as big as 50% of the ghost project.
Among those facing a plunder complaint are Sen Jinggoy Estrada, Juan Ponce Enrile and Bong Revilla.
Not bound by Ombudsman advice
After Drilon’s speech, Estrada took to the podium to support his decision.
“But one thing that is bothering my mind, Mr. President. I am not agreeable to the decision of the Senate President when you yourself asked for the recommendation of the Ombudsman. As I look at it Mr. President, I think we might be surrendering our independence by seeking the advice or seeking the recommendation of the Ombudsman. May you please comment on that?”
Drilon responded, “That is a question of policy that this Senate President decided. Let me emphasize that the decision was simply to defer at this time the calling of Mrs. Napoles, it was not a decision not to call.”
Estrada said, “I just would want to make it clear that we should never be bound by any recommendation coming from the executive branch of government or judiciary in order to preserve the independence of our institution.”
Drilon sought to justify his decision after Guingona and legal experts questioned his move, saying the Senate has the power to conduct inquiries in aid of legislation.
Deputy Minority Leader Vicente “Tito” Sotto III also expressed support for Drilon’s decision. The bloc is headed by Enrile, who was absent in the session.
Sen Sergio Osmeña III, vice chairman of the blue ribbon committee, also supported Drilon but asked if the consensus of the majority is needed when the panel issues a subpoena.
“As a matter of tradition, we support the decision of chair. Yet there are instances [consultation] will be required.” – Rappler.com