MANILA, Philippines – Blame unlucky number 13.
Senator Jinggoy Estrada turned superstitious during the New Year, connecting the plunder complaint he faces over the pork barrel scam in the past year to the number 13.
In his New Year message on Wednesday, January 1, the senator said the number 13 “is especially controversy-laden” for him and the Estrada political dynasty.
He said that his father, former President now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, assumed office as the 13th President of the Republic in 1998 but his term was cut short by an impeachment in 2000, and an ouster in 2001.
“Thirteen years after, I am now the one charged by the Department of Justice,” Estrada said.
“This year has been a very challenging time for me and my family. I, together with my two colleagues in the chamber, have been unfairly accused in connection to the so-called pork barrel scam. I trust that in due time, the truth will come out and my name will be cleared.”
Estrada, his close ally Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile and his friend and fellow actor Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr face a plunder complaint before the Ombudsman for allegedly funneling their pork barrel funds to fake non-governmental organizations of Janet Napoles in exchange for millions of pesos in kickbacks. (VISIT: Pork Tales: Cast of Characters)
The pork barrel scam is the biggest corruption scandal to hit the Philippines, and was one of the major stories of 2013. (VISIT: Pork Tales, Rappler’s interactive year-end special)
Estrada maintained his innocence in the controversy, blaming implementing agencies and state auditors for the loss of taxpayers’ money. An opposition senator, he delivered a privilege speech in September blasting what he called the Aquino administration’s “selective justice.”
The senator said he looks forward to 2014 as “a more auspicious period marked with resolution and absence of controversies.”
The Ombudsman ordered him and his fellow accused to respond to the allegations against them as it conducts preliminary investigation. In 2014, it will be known whether or not the agency will find grounds to file a plunder case against the top lawmakers before the anti-graft court, Sandiganbayan.
If the Ombudsman files a plunder complaint, it will not be Estrada’s first. The senator faced plunder charges 13 years ago along with his father for alleged corruption during the Estrada administration. Unlike the former President, he was cleared.
In his statement, Estrada hinted that he will not heed calls for him to resign in the wake of the controversy. Netizens have said that he, Enrile and Revilla should follow the example of former Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon, who stepped down after being implicated in the pork barrel scam.
“I am fully committed to making the best out of my remaining two years in office as a Senator. I shall continue to become the representative of the masses in the Senate, as I have introduced myself to the electorate in earning my mandate. I will work even harder and double and triple my efforts to serve the people and the masses,” Estrada said.
The senator, initially reported to be eyeing higher office, also looked back to what seemed to be a reversal of his fortunes in 2013.
Estrada noted that at the start of the year, President Benigno Aquino III signed laws he pushed for as chairman of the Senate labor committee, including the Kasambahay law that aims to protect domestic workers. He said he was among the “most prolific legislators” for having filed the most number of bills at 525.
Before the start of the 16th Congress, Estrada even occupied the highest Senate post when he became Acting Senate President following Enrile’s sudden resignation. He also called for an investigation into the so-called sex-for-flight controversy where embassy and labor officials in the Middle East allegedly promised female migrant workers that they will be prioritized in repatriation in exchange for sexual favors.
Yet the pork barrel scam soon caught up with Estrada, and he ended his year having to respond to the Ombudsman’s order to file a counter-affidavit, and lamenting that he was already “guilty in the eyes of the public.”
‘No darkness, gloom’
Estrada’s political ally, Senator Nancy Binay, also wished for a 2014 without controversies.
“Let us discard the negatives of the past, the darkness and the gloom of yesterday and let us positively welcome the new day, the new year,” Binay said in a statement on Monday.
“In 2014 we face the daunting yet achievable task to rebuild and rehabilitate communities and lives. Through our collective strengths and a common vision, we will triumph,” she added.
Another neophyte senator, Sonny Angara, also said that rehabilitation after Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) will be the focus of 2014. He wished for “the quick rehabilitation of the disaster-stricken areas so our countrymen will go back to living normal, if not better, lives in the coming 2014.”
“As for the government, which was beleaguered with controversy after controversy in 2013, I am confident that with the leadership of our President, it can restore the lost faith of its people to further sustain our economic growth,” Angara said in a statement on Tuesday.
What are your wishes for the country and expectations of the government for the New Year? Let us know in the comments section below. – Rappler.com