MANILA, Philippines – “The nerve.”
This was how Budget Secretary Florencio Abad verbalized how he felt about the allegation of Janet Lim Napoles that he had mentored her on the multi-million peso pork barrel scam.
In an interview with ANC’s Headstart on Wednesday, May 14, Abad reiterated his denial of any involvement with Napoles and her alleged scam hroughout his public service career as a lawmaker and a Cabinet official. He said “no evidence” could ever support the allegation.
Asked about the claim of Napoles that Abad had, in effect, tutored her on what was to become the pork barrel scam, the budget chief said, “I think she’s hallucinating. She’s been in bad shape for some time.”
Abad said he had never met Napoles, more so acted as her “mentor” in the pork barrel scam as she claims.
“That’s why the nerve to be calling me a mentor. I mean, [being] a mentor is a relationship. If you compare our lifestyle from early on to this day, you can very well see that I will be very poor compared to her,” he said.
Abad said he had been told by his staffmembers that Napoles had repeatedly tried to secure an appointment with them, but was turned down each time.
Asked if any of his staffmembers had ever dealt with Napoles, Abad said, “No, I don’t think so. Although I have heard that a number of times she had tried to have an appointment but my staff simply said no.”
He said any Commission on Audit (COA) probe would show that all of his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) went to his home province, Batanes, which had been transformed from one of the country’s 20 poorest provinces before he joined Congress, to being just outside the top 10 provinces in terms of human development index (HDI) ranking.
Strategy to get immunity
He said his inclusion in the list is apparently part of Napoles’ strategy to become a state witness to get immunity, by establishing that she is not the mastermind of the pork barrel scam. But Abad believes that this might have backfired.
“I really think that she is vigorously trying to get immunity from this and she has been throwing around names she feels can put pressure on the government to consider her application as a state witness. But there is no way that she can get that, I think,” Abad said.
On Tuesday, Rehabilitation Secretary Panfilo Lacson furnished the Senate with Napoles’ supposed list of past and current lawmakers and officials, and private brokers, who had allegedly benefitted from the pork barrel scam.
Lacson's version of the Napoles list contains the names of 99 individuals, including 12 current and former senators and 69 incumbent and former representatives.
Politics at play?
Responding to questions, Abad said he suspects his inclusion in the list could be politically motivated but declined to attribute this to the camp of Vice President Jejomar Binay. Some have made the observation because Napoles was hospitalized at the Ospital ng Makati, which is Binay’s turf.
“I really don’t know and I can’t say for sure [if it’s from the Binay camp]. What I can say for sure, this is not the first time that I am being vilified in the media, together with the President, repeatedly. Those who have really been adversely affected by the reforms we are introducing have been repeatedly trying to undermine the credibility of this administration,” Abad said.
He said that since the political foes of President Benigno Aquino III have failed to make a significant dent on Aquino’s public approval of and trust ratings, they have begun targeting his aides, in this case, the primary official supervising the disbursement of public funds.
“If you look at the trust and approval ratings of the President, the people do not believe these people. And now what they’re trying to do is to get down to the people who are close to the President and try to see if they can undermine us, and probably they can eventually get to the President,” Abad said.
Abad said the President does not take the Napoles list seriously, which the Chief Executive had indicated in a recent interview with Filipino journalists in Myanmar, at the sidelines of the 24th ASEAN Summit.
“The President doesn’t really take seriously this list, especially coming from a polluted source,” he said.
Abad said he has told the President not to worry about him since he has “more important things to worry about than a list.”
In response, Abad said Aquino told him, “We should not be distracted by all this insinuations, innuendos and let’s just focus on the work that we have to do for the remaining two years.”
He said he would not step down just because of his inclusion in the list, saying this is “premature because these are allegations that are baseless.”
Abad added: “I have 6 cases filed with the Ombudsman, 4 of them [are for] plunder. I’m being accused of involvement in Malampaya when I was not Secretary of DBM. I’m being accused of being involved in the P10-billion PDAF scam when I was not a congressman from 2007 to 2009. So many of these are baseless.”
Malacañang had said that Aquino continues to trust Abad and another Cabinet official included in the Napoles list, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala.
When asked, the budget chief said he would not waste his precious time on a libel or slander suit against Napoles.
“She’s in deep trouble already. I only have 2 years, I wouldn’t want to waste a second, filing a case against her,” Abad said.
Distance from De Lima
On whether he had discussed the list with De Lima, Abad said he had chosen not to, since she is handling the case.
“I’m sort of at an arm’s length [from her}, respectful of her role as the Secretary of Justice and don’t want to influence or whatever, insofar as this case is concerned, so I have tried to keep a distance,” he said.
Abad said he does not fault De Lima for even dealing with Napoles, a move that has been criticized by others who believe that by even agreeing to meet with Napoles, the justice secretary had given credence to her story that she is not the mastermind of the pork barrel scam.
“The instruction always to Secretary de Lima is to follow the evidence where it leads you and I think her instincts as a prosecutor, as a lawyer, I guess drove her to consider the offer of Napoles to present new evidence. I think she thought, and she still thinks, that some of the information that may be taken from her may be useful. It’s her call as Secretary of Justice,” he said.
As for Lacson, he said the former senator’s decision to make public his version of the Napoles list has “not really” affected their professional relationship.
“As far as I’m concerned, I feel innocent about this thing. This list is just a list. And unless this list is fortified by evidence, it’s really nothing. I believe that there’s no way that they can get any evidence to implicate me here because really nothing happened between us and Napoles,” he said.
Abad also said that although the list is unverified, the fact that it is being played up by media is likely to persuade some people to think that everyone in the list is guilty.
“That’s the injustice about this thing….But in fact there is more than one list, there are 4 lists and these are unverified, unsubstantiated with facts and names are being dragged and families are involved here," he said.
Abad added, "Our appeal to our people is to closely monitor this, study the situation, and not just believe everything reported on radio and TV as the truth."