Drilon: Let Omb, not ethics panel, probe PDAF senators
MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Franklin Drilon turned down the call of Senator Jinggoy Estrada and his allies to convene the Senate ethics committee to investigate the senators allegedly involved in the pork barrel scam.
Estrada made the suggestion as he decried the alleged prejudgment of Senate blue ribbon committee chairman Teofisto “TG” Guingona III of his guilt in the controversy.
Drilon said the Senate leadership is trying to convene the ethics panel but has so far failed to find a “neutral senator” who will agree to lead the committee.
“We’re exerting every effort to form the ethics committee with senators who have no opinion on this point. My personal preference is an independent body, the Ombudsman, is already investigating this,” Drilon told reporters on Wednesday, February 19.
The Senate chief said that the Ombudsman is the best venue for the probe because its preliminary investigation is already underway, and the agency is expected to decide on whether or not to file court charges soon.
Drilon added that the Senate needs to focus on the legislative agenda it agreed on with the House of Representative before Congress goes on break on March 15.
“In the next 3 weeks, we will try to finish pending bills on the Sandiganbayan, graphic warning on cigarettes, tax exemption on Christmas bonus, Freedom of Information bill. That is our priority and we have only 3 weeks to do this,” he said.
“Our first duty is to show the reforms to the people through bills that we are discussing,” Drilon added.
Drilon though said that it is up to Guingona to decide whether or not to conclude the blue ribbon committee’s investigation into the scam.
On Monday, Estrada called on the Senate to convene the ethics committee after criticizing Guingona’s statement that the testimony of pork barrel scam bagman Ruby Tuason was a “3-point, buzzer-beat shot.” Guingona made the remark even before Tuason testified in a Senate hearing last Thursday.
Estrada’s ally, Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, backed his suggestion on Tuesday.
“Public accountability hearings may continue focusing on the scandal and the scam and probably perhaps the whistleblowers, resource persons that will aid us in coming up with better legislation to address this kind of a problem. If we are going to focus on any member of the Senate, it should be the committee on ethics,” Sotto said.
Guingona said he was amenable to the suggestion.
Estrada, Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr face a plunder complaint before the Ombudsman for allegedly endorsing fake non-governmental organizations of scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles as recipients of their pork barrel funds. In return, the 3 supposedly got millions of pesos in kickbacks.
A co-respondent in the case, Tuason testified that she personally gave bags of cash to Estrada and Enrile’s resigned chief of staff, lawyer Jessica “Lucila” Gigi Reyes.
‘Tuason did not approach my office’
Drilon also responded to the statement of Estrada that Tuason “peddled” pork barrel deals to senators other than him and Enrile.
“She did not approach my office. Hindi po lumapit iyan sa opisina,” Drilon curtly said when asked about the claim.
The Senate President said he only knew Tuason through her work for former President now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada. “I knew her during the time of Erap as I knew a lot of people. I knew her as a social secretary during the time of Erap.”
Drilon was also asked whether or not the Senate sergeant-at-arms will release CCTV footage of Tuason’s supposed visits to the other senators. Last week, Estrada requested the Senate to release video of Tuason’s alleged cash deliveries to him at the Senate to clear his name.
Drilon said, “We have directed the sergeant-at-arms to make available whatever CCTV footage there is. We are not hiding anything. Whether the video is of visits of Ruby Tuason, video of the Senate media, we will release it.”
Did Drilon also hire Tuason as a caterer, like Estrada said he did?
Drilon laughed and responded, “No, Mrs Drilon caters.” – Rappler.com