From ‘pork’ to Malampaya: Senate Napoles probe still on
MANILA, Philippines – The Senate will not drop its probe into alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles, this time focusing on the supposed loss of P900 million intended for typhoon victims.
Senate Blue Ribbon Committee Chairman Teofisto “TG” Guingona III said his panel’s investigation into Napoles will continue next year, shifting the focus from the multi-billion peso Priority Development Assistance Fund [PDAF] scam to the Malampaya scandal.
Guingona told reporters on Thursday, December 12, that the probe will tackle “policy issues.”
“[We will discuss] the registration of NGOs so we would have the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Cooperative Development Authority and other entities that register NGOs,” he said.
Guingona said like the PDAF probe, the inquiry into the Malampaya fund scam aims to answer what happened, how it occurred, who should be held accountable, and what should be done to prevent it.
“We have the same goals but in Malampaya, the way I see it, is more on local governments and the use of the funds of the Department of Agrarian Reform,” he said.
Napoles is facing plunder complaints for several corruption scandals involving high-ranking government officials. She is accused of creating bogus non-governmental organizations that became conduits to funnel billions of pesos in taxpayers’ money into the pockets of lawmakers and private individuals.
In the pork barrel scam, she allegedly connived with lawmakers to siphon off their PDAF to her fake NGOs.
In the Malampaya fund scam, the P900-million allocation of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) from the Malampaya fund was allegedly channeled to her NGOs for ghost projects.
The Malampaya fund represents royalties from the oil and gas operations in the waters off Palawan. The money released to the DAR was meant to help farmers who were hit by Typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng in 2009.
Guingona said the blue ribbon committee will not yet issue a report on the PDAF scam because it is connected to the Malampaya controversy.
Senator Francis Escudero however does not believe the Senate should already wrap up its probe into the PDAF scam. He asked the committee to look into the 62 other NGOs that had the same “modus operandi” as the Napoles ones.
“We can do that after the Malampaya [probe],” Guingona said.
Escudero has also said that more resource persons should be invited to shed light on the pork barrel scam, including Napoles’ husband, Jaime, and bank officials. Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano asked that senators’ staff also be summoned.
“It’s a question of priority on the part of the committee, I guess. It’s okay with me [if we take the PDAF up later] and focus on Malampaya now,” Escudero told Rappler.
The Senate probe into the pork barrel scam coincides with the Ombudsman’s preliminary investigation. The Ombudsman ordered the senators implicated – Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr, Jinggoy Estrada, and Juan Ponce Enrile – and the other accused to respond to the charges.
Miriam questions ‘served purpose’
Guingona also responded to the statement of Enrile that the committee allowed Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago to use its November 7 hearing as a venue to criticize him.
In that hearing, Santiago pressed Napoles to reveal that Enrile is supposedly the real mastermind behind the scam. This prompted Enrile to deliver a rebuttal via a privilege speech against Santiago on November 27. Santiago retaliated on December 4 with her own privilege speech calling him a "hypersexualized serial womanizer" and "the drama king of corrupt politics."
“Actually I think more was said during the plenary speech, privilege speech [than the hearing],” Guingona said. “[Santiago’s questions in the hearing] served the purpose, especially in asking Mrs Napoles to come out with the truth. Although she was not successful, it served the purpose.”
Guingona supported calls for the Senate ethics committee to look into the spat between the two senior senators.
Santiago wrote Senate President Franklin Drilon to organize the committee, which has yet to have a chairperson and members 5 months after the start of the 16th Congress. In the meantime, she filed her complaint against Enrile before the Senate rules committee.
Santiago is accusing Enrile of masterminding the pork barrel scam, running a smuggling and gambling empire in Cagayan, and of command responsibility for deaths and disappearances during martial law, when he was defense minister.
Drilon has admitted that senators were reluctant to accept chairmanship of the committee because it is “so sensitive.” He said the Senate will organize the panel but did not say when.
Guingona agreed that the panel must be convened, saying anybody can take on the chairmanship.
“It should be convened because that’s a regular committee of the Senate. The Ethics Committee is there for that reason, for complaints against peers and it has to be organized and it has to hear whatever complaints from whatever parties,” Guingona said.
Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III offered to lead the ethics committee but Drilon shot down the proposal of Enrile’s deputy and close ally.
“He is certainly qualified, but the perception of the public is that he may not be impartial due to his association with Senator Enrile. That is the reality. I am not saying that he is not qualified, I am saying that he is qualified, but perception of persons is very important today and questions may be raised as to his ability to be impartial,” Drilon said on Monday. – Rappler.com