MANILA, Philippines – Embattled Senator Jinggoy Estrada said he will block the long-delayed confirmation of Commission on Audit (COA) Commissioner Heidi Mendoza.
The senator, who faces a plunder complaint over the pork barrel scam, said he will invoke the rule of the Commission on Appointments (CA) that effectively defers an appointment.
Estrada made the statement a week before Mendoza is set to face the CA again on Tuesday, March 4.
“Haharangin ko si [Heidi] Mendoza. Maraming argumento, kahit na walang argument. I-invoke ko ang Section 20 kapag kakailanganin para mapigilan ang confirmation,” Estrada said in a phone interview with reporters on Thursday, February 27.
(I will block the confirmation of Heidi Mendoza. There are many arguments, or even if there’s no argument, I will invoke Section 20 if needed to block her confirmation.)
Last year, the COA came out with a special audit report that the justice department cited as evidence in the plunder complaint against Estrada, and senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr over the multi-billion-peso scam.
Estrada has since been criticizing the agency, accusing COA chairperson Grace Pulido-Tan of “selective justice” during the COA budget hearings.
Estrada said even before the pork barrel scam was exposed, he already saw many “valid issues” against Mendoza when he was the chairman of the CA committee on constitutional commission and offices in the 15th Congress. Estrada led the panel that oversaw the confirmation hearings of Mendoza.
The senator said, that back then, there were already oppositors to Mendoza’s confirmation, and he saw their complaints as valid.
“Maraming nalinlang sa kanyang pag-iyak at kaartehan,” Estrada said. (Many were fooled with her tears and acting.)
Appointed in 2011, Mendoza is among the Aquino appointees whose confirmation the CA has repeatedly bypassed. Other officials whose appointment is not yet confirmed are Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje, and Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla.
In 2012, oppositors, including former auditor Arturo Besana and lawyer Mariano Sarmiento, accused Mendoza of “incompetence, arrogance, and untruthfulness” and of “deviating in observing due process” in investigating government officials.
In response, Mendoza cited her 20 years as auditor, and her audit work that led to the filing of cases against government officials. She was known for testifying in congressional hearings on corruption in the military, particularly the case of former comptroller Carlos Garcia.
Back then, the camp of Vice President Jejomar Binay accused Mendoza of “projecting herself” in testifying before the Sandiganbayan that the bidding for a furniture deal during the term of Binay’s wife, former Makati Mayor Elenita Binay, was rigged. Binay’s camp said the “projection” was aimed at securing Mendoza’s confirmation at the CA.
Sarmiento is a senior partner at the law office handling Mrs Binay’s Sandiganbayan case.
Vice President Binay branded Mendoza an “attack dog” in a demolition campaign against him.
Reports then said that Mendoza’s role in auditing deals under the Binays’ leadership in Makati was a factor behind her bypassed confirmation. As Senate President, Enrile was then the chairman of the CA while Estrada led the CA committee. The two are close allies of Binay.
Estrada then denied that the Vice President was blocking Mendoza’s confirmation. “I have not discussed [this] with the Vice President. Besides, he does not meddle in the affairs of the CA.”
Cunanan waiver ‘game-fixing’
In the interview Thursday, Estrada also questioned the offer of possible state witness Dennis Cunanan to sign a waiver to open his bank accounts to prove he did not benefit from the scam.
“Luto na iyon. Game-fixing na iyan,” Estrada said, making another addition to the long list of basketball references used to refer to the scam. (They cooked that up. That’s game-fixing.)
Estrada reiterated his and Revilla’s claim that Cunanan was only admitted as a provisional state witness to pin them down.
“Malakas ang loob na ipabukas ang bank account kasi naayos na iyan. Naluto na iyan. Eh wala naman ‘yung una. Si Senator Revilla, kilala niya. Ngayon ako naman.”
(He is confident of signing a waiver opening his bank accounts because they already fixed that. They cooked that up. Before, he was not a witness. He said he knows Senator Revilla. Now, he is also dragging me into the scam.)
Estrada also asked why Cunanan remains a director general (on leave) of the Technology Resource Center (TRC) even after he was implicated in the scam.
In his affidavit, principal whistleblower Benhur Luy said Cunanan was among the heads of implementing agencies who received kickbacks from scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles.
“Iyong original affidavit ng mga whistleblower, dapat sinibak na siya nang tuluyan.” (After the whistleblowers’ original affidavit, he should have been fired.)
‘A sham, all lies’
Estrada and Revilla sought to discredit Cunanan’s testimony but their colleagues said they want to hear from him in the Senate inquiry.
Senator Francis Escudero said Cunanan’s testimony was valuable as he is the only government official to admit talking to the senators to verify their signatures and endorsement letters.
Estrada turned back on his initial statement that he might confront Cunanan in a Senate hearing on March 6.
“Sa tingin ko, hindi na ako a-attend sa Senate. Lokohan na lang. Panay kasinungalingan na iyan.” (I think I will no longer attend the Senate hearing. It’s a sham. It’s all lies.) – Rappler.com