MANILA, Philippines – Sen Sergio “Serge” Osmeña III ribbed Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago for saying that the Senate testimony of Janet Napoles may turn out to be a circus.
“What does she mean there will be a political circus? Every time she’s here, it’s always a circus anyway. I don’t know what she means by that,” Osmeña told reporters on Wednesday, October 30.
The senator was reacting to Santiago’s interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer that the testimony of the alleged pork barrel scam mastermind set on November 7 may just become a political circus if she will not be granted immunity to entice her to tell all.
Santiago explained that some of her colleagues may just use the hearing to “turn the spotlight away from the Ombudsman and concentrate it on senators who will be running for president and vice president” in 2016.
Osmeña fired back at Santiago. “Yeah, she would deliver a speech and she would blow her top. That’s a political circus to me. So I don’t know what she means by political circus.”
“[The hearing] is a valid exercise of the Senate prerogative to investigate matters that have been in violation of various criminal laws, exercising the jurisdiction of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee. If she calls that a political circus, that’s very sad to hear,” Osmeña said.
Senate Blue Ribbon Committee Chairman Teofisto “TG” Guingona III also rejected Santiago’s statement. Guingona’s committee is leading the probe into the multi-billion peso pork barrel scam.
“We’ve seen the hearings so far. Would you say there was a circus? The rules were followed. Decorum was followed so I don’t see any circus. We’ve already had 5 hearings and this will never happen under my watch.”
Guingona pointed out that Santiago had supported his stand to summon Napoles to assert the Senate’s power to conduct inquiries in aid of legislation. “So she has been consistently supporting my stand.”
Napoles is accused of being the brains of an intricate web of corruption where lawmakers allegedly channeled their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to her fake non-governmental organizations in exchange for millions of pesos in kickbacks.
She is currently in detention at a police camp in Laguna for a separate serious illegal detention case.
Kapunan resignation not a good sign
Senators also reacted to the sudden resignation of Napoles’ lawyer Lorna Kapunan reportedly due to a difference in strategy in the illegal detention case.
Osmeña said the move does not bode well for Napoles, as it appeared her lawyer abandoned her.
“That means that you’re not united in the strategy to be carried out. And that’s probably the reason why Atty Lorna Kapunan resigned,” Osmeña said.
Senate President Franklin Drilon refused to comment on the issue, calling it a private matter.
Kapunan or no Kapunan, Guingona said the Senate is preparing for Napoles’ testimony by reading the transcripts of past hearings and the affidavits and documents from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
Napoles will testify along with her former aides-turned-whistleblowers led by her cousin, Benhur Luy.
“They can confront each other as well but the questions are controlled by the senators and the committee chairman. We won’t allow [a squabble]. We will maintain order,” Guingona said.
The committee chairman also reiterated that the Senate cannot grant immunity to Napoles to encourage her to reveal all that she knows because only the court has this power.
Osmeña said he does not expect Napoles to answer his questions. “I am pretty sure she will protect herself because she knows that it may and will be used against her.”
For Guingona, the Senate will assess “whether there is a proper invocation of the right against self-incrimination after she invokes it and after the question is asked.”
Napoles end of Senate probe?
After Napoles testifies, Guingona said the committee will have to assess how to proceed with the probe.
The senator said the committee will next probe the Malampaya fund scam, where the P900 million allotted to the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) allegedly went to the bogus NGOs of Napoles for ghost projects.
Guingona was asked whether the Senate will also summon personalities like Liberal Party member and Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) Chairman Rene Villa, who admitted to lawyering for Napoles in 2006 when he was out of government.
Guingona hinted that the pork barrel scam probe may end with Napoles’ testimony.
“We must remember the goals are different from that of the Ombudsman. Therefore the quantum of information we need is not the same. Our goal is to find out what happened, how it happened, who was responsible, how to avoid it.”
“Once we answer that and the information is with us, that’s enough. If it were a criminal investigation like the Ombudsman, then you have to be very thorough,” he said.
The senator clarified that the Senate probe into the administration’s Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) will fall under the finance committee headed by Sen Francis Escudero.
The administration drew flak over the DAP, with Santiago, former Sen Joker Arroyo and legal experts calling it unconstitutional. The spending acceleration program is now the subject of a case before the Supreme Court. – Rappler.com