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MANILA, Philippines – After delivering what his allies described as a “scathing privilege speech,” Sen Jinggoy Estrada clarified that he was not accusing anyone of offering and receiving bribes.
Instead, Estrada said an unnamed individual merely “appealed” to him to convict former Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Estrada made the clarification during an interpellation with Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile after a break following his one-hour speech on Wednesday, September 25.
In his speech, Estrada said he received a “private and confidential letter memorandum” from staunch administration ally Senate President Franklin Drilon, saying that those who voted to convict Corona were “allotted an additional P50 million.”
Drilon was the chairman of the Senate finance committee at the time of Corona’s impeachment. He was accused of pushing for Corona’s conviction then, and for being biased for the prosecution.
Yet upon questioning from Enrile, Estrada denied making bribery accusations. He said somebody approached him asking for Corona’s conviction but did not promise any reward.
“I would rather keep [the person’s identity] to myself since I was never swayed by the influence of this particular person who called on me since I’ve told you I based my decision to convict the former Chief Justice based on the evidence presented during the impeachment trial. If you really want to know who the person is, in due time, who called me and drove for me [to] Malacañang, [now] I will just keep it to myself.”
At this point, Drilon butted in. “But categorically, you can state it was not a bribe?”
Estrada responded: “It was not a bribe. It was never a bribe.”
Enrile asked, “It was simply an appeal?”
Estrada replied, “It was simply an appeal. There [were] no talks of giving a reward.”
Enrile, the Senate president who presided over Corona’s trial, said he only wanted to clarify the matter “because I want to preserve the integrity of the Senate as an impeachment court.”
In his speech, Estrada blasted the alleged selective audit and investigation targeted at opposition senators. He delivered the speech a week after the justice department filed a plunder complaint against him and allies Enrile and Sen Bong Revilla for allegedly endorsing fake non-governmental organizations as recipients of their pork barrel funds in exchange for hefty kickbacks.
Drilon: I haven’t seen letter
In a statement, Drilon said he did not see the letter Estrada referred to in his speech.
Rappler asked Estrada’s staff for a copy of the letter, but was told that Estrada “declined” to give a copy.
Drilon said in his statement, “I have yet to see that letter mentioned by Sen Estrada but if the insinuation is that the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and I gave out additional PDAF (pork barrel) funds as incentives to those who voted to convict then Chief Justice Renato Corona, that is not true.”
The Senate President added, “In fact, after his privilege speech, Sen Estrada told me at the senator’s lounge that he did not mean to say that the additional PDAF was a ‘bribe.’”
Drilon quoted Estrada as saying that he was not influenced “by any supposed incentive” and that the additional PDAF “came after the fact of the conviction.”
The Senate leader said, “I maintain that the senators voted according to their conscience and their impartial evaluation of the evidence presented during the Corona trial.”
Twenty out of 23 senators voted to convict Corona in May 2012, including Estrada. Only Senators Miriam Defensor Santiago, Joker Arroyo, and Bongbong Marcos voted for acquittal.
‘No double standard for senators’
Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano said he was also not aware about the supposed P50 million.
“I did not see anything, I don’t remember anything when we passed the [reproductive health] and sin tax bills and when we convicted Chief Justice Corona that there was additional [PDAF] but the best evidence is the records. The DBM should release the records if the pork of other senators exceeded [the allocation],” Cayetano said in an interview during the break.
In his speech, Estrada said it was widely known that Malacañang was using pork barrel funds to push for pet bills like the sin tax and reproductive health laws. He said he did not receive a special allotment release order (SARO) because he did not vote for these two laws.
Cayetano also responded to the criticism of Estrada against senators for their conduct in the Senate probe into the pork barrel scam. Estrada slammed Cayetano and Sen Teofisto “TG” Guingona III for asking witnesses to repeat his name and that of Revilla and Enrile during hearings.
“What he is asking for is a double standard,” Cayetano said. “If it’s an ordinary witness who is here, we grill them but if it’s a fellow senator, we shouldn’t ask them to name names? The standard should be the same, whether it’s a senator or not so the public will know the whole truth.”
To committee on rules
Cayetano also responded to Estrada’s statement citing the Commission on Audit report that the majority leader has questionable transactions with local government units that violated the procurement law.
Estrada said along with Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago, Sen Francis Pangilinan, and former Sen Manny Villar, Cayetano’s questionable transactions amounted to P1.2 billion.
Cayetano said: “The word ‘irregularity and anomalous’ is wrong. He is confusing it with the PDAF anomaly. In my case, there is no question that P348 million and P2.8 million, 100% of it went to the people. What COA is asking is if the item is authorized. If they attended the COA hearing, they would have known the explanation.”
To address the issue, Sen Vicente “Tito” Sotto III suggested that an independent body be formed to investigate the allegations. If not, he said convening the Senate into a committee of the whole would suffice.
The Senate referred his suggestion to the committee on rules.
The session then suspended as the Senate goes on break. It will resume on October 14. – Rappler.com