Senate summons Benhur Luy records

MANILA, Philippines – Following confusion over different versions of the so-called Napoles and Luy lists, the Senate ordered principal whistleblower Benhur Luy to submit his records of the pork barrel scam to the chamber.

Senate President Franklin Drilon announced on Thursday, May 15, that he signed a subpoena from the blue ribbon committee for Luy to produce a copy of his digital records of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scandal.

The subpoena dated May 14 and addressed to Luy orders the former finance officer of alleged scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles to submit a “soft copy of your digital records relating or relevant to the PDAF scam” on or before Wednesday, May 21.

The order comes after the Philippine Daily Inquirer published a series of stories based on Luy’s digital files. The report named 25 former and current senators including Drilon as supposedly having transactions with Napoles.

Luy’s lawyer Raji Mendoza though said on Wednesday that his client cannot confirm the authenticity of the files that Luy's parents reportedly gave the Inquirer. Luy’s former lawyer Levito Baligod said the digital files were submitted to the justice department back in May 2013, and amounted to a printout of 2,700 pages.

The subpoena follows an order the committee issued for Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to submit by Thursday a copy of the affidavit and list of lawmakers Napoles implicated in the biggest corruption scandal in recent history.

De Lima is set to meet with committee chairman Teofisto “TG” Guingona III on Thursday afternoon reportedly to ask for an extension.

In a press briefing on Thursday, Drilon again denied having any deals with Napoles after the Inquirer reported that in the Luy files with an allocation of P5 million as chairman of the Commission on Appointments (CA) in 2005. The report said the documents involved a “list of cash advances.”

“I have no cash advances. There is not a single SARO (special allotment release order), NCA (notice of cash allocation), MOA (memorandum of agreement) or document bearing my signature,” said Drilon. “Why should I make a cash advance as chairman of the CA?”

Drilon refused to entertain questions about the conduct of the Senate probe into the controversy. He reiterated that it is up to Guingona to call the shots.

“I have no personal opinion on that because I am the Senate President,” Drilon said.

The release of at least 4 versions of the list of lawmakers and executive officials Napoles implicated in the scam sparked confusion and speculation.

President Benigno Aquino III, Rehabilitation Secretary Panfilo Lacson, whistleblower Sandra Cam and media outlets have said they also have copies of the list, with the names and numbers varying. Napoles’ lawyer Bruce Rivera though said that there is only one list, the one she submitted to De Lima.

Senators to be suspended for only 90 days

A former justice secretary, Drilon also explained the circumstances surrounding the likely arrest of Senators Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr, Jinggoy Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile once plunder charges are filed against them over the scam.

Drilon said that while the plunder law states that the 3 will automatically be suspended once charges are filed against them, jurisprudence shows the duration of the suspension is limited.

“Under the Supreme Court decision, the preventive suspension is for 90 days. That is the prevailing jurisprudence as outlined in the case of [former Zambales] Governor [Amor] Deloso. The Supreme Court said it is not correct to have a perpetual prevention suspension because if you suspend perpetually, you are in fact dismissing the public official,” Drilon said.

The Ombudsman is about to decide on the appeal of the 3 opposition senators after finding probable cause to charge them for plunder.

Revilla, Estrada and Enrile are accused of conniving with Napoles by repeatedly endorsing her bogus non-governmental organizations as pork barrel fund recipients, and getting millions of pesos in kickbacks in return.

Political crisis? ‘No, no, no’

With most senators under question, Drilon said, “The Senate is not in crisis. As an institution, the Senate remains strong. It will not collapse.”

He said the chamber continues to do its work by having 5 bills signed into law, passing 6 bills on 2nd and 3rd reading, and ratifying 3 treaties before the Senate adjourns in June.

The stalwart of the ruling Liberal Party denied that the pork barrel scam caused a political crisis. “No, no, no. There is no political issue involved. This is about implementing the anti-graft law. I am confident the judicial system will properly respond to these allegations about the pork barrel scam. Walang pulitika dito.” (There is no politics involved.)

Yet in the same breath, Drilon said the release of several versions of the Napoles list was tied to politics and the 2016 elections. 

“Kasama na iyan sa black propaganda, paninira ng ibang tao. Pero ito ay dapat natin tingnan nang husto and be discerning about these efforts to muddle the issue, inject politics because to my mind, this is a violation of anti-graft law which if proven, appropriate penalties should be meted out.” (That’s part of black propaganda, destroying other people. But we should be discerning.) – Rappler.com