MANILA, Philippines – Amid lawmakers’ protests about damage done to their reputations, Senator Sergio “Serge” Osmeña III defended Senator Teofisto “TG” Guingona III’s decision to release the so-called Napoles list to the media.
The vice chairman of the Senate blue ribbon committee took the cudgels for chairman Guingona over the release of the signed list of officials implicated by alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles.
Osmeña responded to Senator JV Ejercito’s request for an apology after Napoles' lawyer said that the neophyte senator's inclusion in the list was an encoding mistake. Guingona decided to make the list public immediately after Justice Secretary Leila de Lima submitted it to him last week.
“If that’s what he wants, I’ll apologize but I do not know what else we could have done,” Osmeña told reporters on Tuesday, May 20.
“There was no malice there. We did it in the interest of transparency and we have to commend Senator Guingona for doing that.”
Guingona refused to comment on the issue, dodging reporters for two days now.
Osmeña though said that it was inevitable for the committee chairman to release the list.
“Naiipit din ang blue ribbon kasi kung tinago ni Senator TG ang listahan, sasabihin kaagad ng mga tao, ‘Aba, sina-sanitize ang listahan.’ It is impossible for us to vet a witness. This information comes from Napoles. We cannot tell Napoles what to say or not say.”
(The blue ribbon is also in put in a difficult position because if Senator TG concealed the list, people will immediately say, ‘Oh, he is sanitizing the list.’)
Osmeña responded to De Lima’s statement that errors like Ejercito’s inclusion in the list were the reason why she appealed to the Senate not to release the list pending the submission of Napoles’ affidavit. De Lima has until Thursday to submit the affidavit.
“The difficulty there is that she was the first one who came out with the list. After she interviewed Napoles up to 2 am, she was the one who said, ‘I have a list but I won’t release it yet,'" Osmeña said. “Why did she have to say she had a list?”
Osmeña stood by the committee’s decision to make public both the lists De Lima and Rehabilitation Secretary Panfilo Lacson gave the Senate.
In response, Ejercito thanked Osmeña but clarified that he was not demanding an apology. “What I want is for the committee or whoever released the list to correct the mistake. Because the camp of Napoles made a move to correct it. The damage was done to me and it’s painful to be accused for one week [of involvement in the scam] when I had nothing to do with it.”
Ejercito added that he will no longer file a case against Napoles for his inclusion in the list. “We are Filipinos and we are quick to forgive.”
Over the weekend, Napoles’ lawyer Bruce Rivera quoted his client as saying that Ejercito was not supposed to be included in the list because she was referring to the senator’s half-brother, Senator Jinggoy Estrada.
Not buying Napoles’ excuse
Osmeña did not fault Napoles for the mix-up, saying it was “natural” for her to make a mistake in trying to recall her transactions with many officials. “For somebody to remember 200 names without a mistake is for me close to a miracle.”
The senator though rejected the statement of Rivera that Napoles is applying to be state witness because she is not the scam mastermind.
“Her main excuse is she is not the one who is most guilty; it’s the one who invented the scam, the brains who is the most guilty. The law doesn’t work that way. In reality, that’s not the way the world works. We have laws against murder. So if I murder somebody, I’ll say, ‘I’m not the most guilty because Cain and Abel invented murder,’” Osmeña retorted.
Senator Ralph Recto echoed the call of Ejercito and other lawmakers for the public to be circumspect about the lists, and to look at supporting documents.
“We should look at the evidence. The list may be true or not. Everyone is lumped up together with everyone else who possibly have clear evidence against them.”
Recto also shot down Napoles’ request for the senators she implicated to inhibit themselves from the hearing where she is set to testify. “In our justice system, you have a right to confront the accuser. That’s better so everyone will face each other.”
‘Fertilizer scam precursor of PDAF scam’
With the Senate set to continue the pork barrel scam investigation and open the P900-million Malampaya fund scam hearings, Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano wants the chamber to look into a past controversy: the fertilizer fund scam.
Cayetano filed a resolution Tuesday asking the Senate to reinvestigate the P728-million scam where agriculture funds were allegedly used to fund the 2004 presidential campaign of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
The Senate had investigated the scam in past Congresses and recommended charges against agriculture officials. Still, Cayetano said, “There might still be out there things that remain for them unknown or uncertain.”
Cayetano said the investigation should be reopened after the pork barrel scam principal whistleblower reportedly said he has information about the fertilizer fund issue. The majority leader also pointed out that Napoles and her co-conspirators were not charged over the scam and evaded the Senate hearings.
The senator added that earlier this month, the Ombudsman cleared Arroyo of charges involving the scam.
“It becomes imperative for the blue ribbon committee to reopen its investigation …in order for the Filipino people to finally know the complete truth behind the scam and to sustain this comprehensive battle towards the eradication of graft and corruption in government,” Cayetano said. – Rappler.com