Senate invites De Lima, whistleblowers to PDAF probe

MANILA, Philippines – Will senators establish if the pork barrel funds went to the pockets of their colleagues?

This is the goal of the Senate blue ribbon committee as it invites Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and the whistleblowers in the multi-billion-peso pork barrel scam to its next hearing on Thursday, September 12.

Committee chairman Teofisto “TG” Guingona III sent letters to De Lima on Monday, September 9, inviting the justice chief to attend the hearing and to facilitate the appearance of the whistleblowers at the Senate inquiry.

The senator’s office said the executive branch has yet to respond to Guingona’s invitation.

De Lima’s department and attached agency, the National Bureau of Investigation, have been investigating the scam and working with the whistleblowers. The whistleblowers are former aides and workers of Janet Lim Napoles, the alleged mastermind in the scam.

Guingona also requested the whistleblowers to bring with them documents relevant to their testimonies. The senator has said they will be asked to testify only if they submitted affidavits, forming the basis of the money trail from the government to the fake non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

The pork barrel scam is an alleged intricate web of corruption involving Napoles, lawmakers, and fake NGOs. In exchange for hefty kickbacks, senators and congressmen allegedly endorsed bogus NGOs to implementing agencies to receive their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel.

The agencies that cornered big chunks of the PDAF, however, admitted it was them that failed to vet the NGOs to which they released the funds. 

Last week, Guingona said the testimony of the whistleblowers will be key to establishing how the money was transferred from the government to the fake NGOs to Napoles and the lawmakers. The whistleblowers are led by Benhur Luy, Napoles’ former aide and cousin.

“We already established that the NGOs are fake. What is lacking is establishing how the funds went to the legislators. The story is unfolding,” Guingona said.

In past hearings, Commission on Audit Chairperson Grace Pulido-Tan testified that Senators Bong Revilla, Juan Ponce Enrile, and Jinggoy Estrada and several representatives signed endorsement letters for the transfer of their PDAF to the fake NGOs linked to Napoles.

Guingona has yet to say if the Senate will also invite Napoles to the probe, but Sen Francis Escudero indicated that the panel will eventually do so. 

Napoles is detained in a police camp in Laguna province for serious illegal detention charged that Luy filed. –