Out today: Senate 'pork' probe report

MANILA, Philippines - Senate Blue Ribbon Committee Chairman Teofisto "TG" Guingona III will release the findings of the Senate probe into the pork barrel scam, where his colleagues are accused of plundering taxpayers' money.  

Senate sources told Rappler that the committee will likely recommend the filing of charges against Senators Jinggoy Estrada, Juan Ponce Enrile and Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr, who were accused of funneling their pork barrel funds to fake non-governmental organizations in exchange for millions of pesos in kickbacks. 

Guingona will hold a press briefing on Tuesday afternoon, April 1, to announce the findings of the 8-month long investigation into the biggest corruption scandal in recent Philippine history. 

Sources who spoke on condition of anonymity refused to say what the charges are, leaving it to Guingona to make the announcement.

Senator Bam Aquino, a member of the blue ribbon committee, told Rappler that he has not yet seen or signed any final committee report. 

"You can ask Senator Guingona's office. I don't want to steal their thunder," Aquino said. 

Another member, Senator Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III, told Rappler that the report has not yet been circulated, and he has not signed any report. 

Yet he said members have been advising Guingona to release a report soon. "We have been telling him that a report is due because it won't be forever that a new name [of a witness] will come up. I also advised him that it is better to have documentary support than merely testimonial evidence [in the report]." 

Pimentel added that the report might include recommendations to improve the system, and how to avoid a repeat of the scandal. 

Pimentel refused to give more details. "I don't want to steal his lightning and thunder. This is his show."

In past weeks, other members of the committee hinted that Guingona may release the report soon before the Ombudsman files charges against the 3 senators and other accused before the Sandiganbayan. In September 2013, the justice department filed a plunder complaint against them before the Ombudsman but the anti-graft body has yet to file charges in court. 

Over the weekend, Revilla left for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land but vowed to return to face the allegations against him. 

If the blue ribbon report does recommend charges against the 3 senators, it will be a rare instance where the Senate will issue findings against its own members. 

The Senate probe into the pork barrel scam is one of the most controversial investigations in the chamber, dragging on for 9 hearings and causing a rift among senators. 

Estrada has accused Guingona and Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano of bias and prejudgment in conducting the probe, saying it was "an inquiry in aid of 2016," in reference to the presidential polls.  

Conflict also reached the Senate leadership. Guingona clashed with Senate President Franklin Drilon, who initially refused to sign a subpoena for alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles. Drilon then said he will follow the advice of the Ombudsman not to summon Napoles but later changed his stance following criticism that his alleged ties to her barred him from signing the subpoena. 

Amid all the controversy, Guingona admitted that he had a difficult time leading a probe where his colleagues are accused. The senator said in a previous speech that he was only seeking the truth.

"Isang malaking hamon ang paghahanap ng katotohanan – lalo na kapag ang sangkot ay ang interes ng sambayanan .... Anupaman ang hirap ng tungkuling ito, maaasahan ninyo, na “trabaho lang po … at walang personalan," Guingona said. (Finding the truth is a big challenge, especially when the interests of the public are at stake. No matter how difficult this task is, you can expect that this is just our job and nothing personal.) - Rappler.com