MANILA, Philippines – A few days before he left for the United States, Senator Jinggoy Estrada told Rappler he does not expect much from the appearance of Janet Lim Napoles before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on Thursday, November 7.
"She will not say anything. What will she say? She will be like [military comptroller Carlos Garcia], 'I invoke my right [to remain silent.]' She will be like, may his soul rest in peace, [former Congressman Ignacio] Iggy Arroyo," Estrada said.
Both men were asked to appear in 2011 before the blue ribbon committee – Garcia to talk about corruption involved in the "pabaon" or send-off system for retiring chiefs of staff, and Arroyo to shed light on the alleged anomalous sale of helicopters to the Philippine National Police in 2009.
Napoles, the alleged mastermind of the pork barrel scam that involved lawmakers, fake non-governmental organizations, government implementing agencies, and individuals, is detained at Fort Sto Domingo in Sta Rosa, Laguna. It took a while for Senate President Franklin Drilon to agree to sign the subpoena for her, as he initially sought the advice of the Office of the Ombudsman.
Estrada – who has been named in sworn statements by whistleblowers as being a beneficiary of rebates and cash advances from Napoles in exchange for use of his Priority Development Assistance Funds by fake Napoles NGOs – said he was confident he will be able to prove them wrong.
He – along with senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Bong Revilla – has been included in the first batch of lawmakers charged with plunder over the alleged misuse and abuse of pork barrel funds. (This was his second time to be charged with plunder – the first one was for a scandal that involved the illegal numbers game, jueteng. In that case, he was cleared by the Sandiganbayan.)
In the interview, Estrada also said that the basis of the charge against him is all hearsay. "Can they prove that we received money from the PDAF, from our own allocations? We did not. They can't prove it."
He added that he did not know any of the whistleblowers, including key witness Benhur Luy. "I don't even know any single whistleblower. Even if they ramble on, even if they continue talking. Did they give me money? They did not give me money. I don't even know anyone of them."
Asked if what he meant was that his accusers can't prove that the so-called witnesses personally delivered the money to him, Estrada replied in the affirmative. He dismissed allegations that it was Napoles who gave him commissions. "That never happened," he said.
Estrada left on Saturday, November 2, for the US to seek a second opinion regarding his wife Precy's medical condition. The trip, according to him, had been scheduled a long time ago. His wife will be following him on Monday, November 4.
They are seeing an American doctor in San Francisco whom they will consult about the lump in his wife's breast.
He promised to be back before the Senate resumes session on Monday, November 18.
Q and A
Estrada said he has had enough of the pork barrel issue and had, in fact, been advised by his lawyers to refuse interviews.
Rappler shares the brief Question and Answer with Estrada below. He talks about wide-ranging topics that span the pork barrel scam, its purported mastermind Janet Napoles, his fears and concerns, and even his disaffections. He speaks with Aries Rufo and Angela Casauay:
Let's start with the most basic question. It has been 3 months that the issue has been playing out. How do you see everything playing out in the next few months?
I don't know where this will lead to. Secondly, maybe, even if there's really no evidence against me or against us, I think they are hell-bent on pursuing this case until they see us rot in jail.
Hell-bent? Do you see political motive in this?
Well, selective. Selective.
You stressed this during your privilege speech...
[Justice] Secretary (Leila) De Lima promised in her press conference that the National Bureau of Investigation or the Department of Justice will press charges on November 1. Let's just wait for it. (Note: De Lima said the filing of the second batch will be delayed by another week.)
So you expect more names to appear?
Yes, of course.
In particular, whose names are you expecting to appear? Those you mentioned in your privilege speech?
Well, the basis of why the 3 of us are being pinpointed, their basis before, is the testimonies of the whistleblowers. Now, there are 82 NGOs identified by COA and 8 NGOs identified with Napoles, that was the concentration of the COA report. The 74 remaining NGOs, when I asked Grace Pulido Tan if the remaining 74 NGOs were bogus or not, she said most of them were bogus. Why did they not investigate also the other NGOs? Why did they investigate only the Napoles-linked NGOs?. If they're really fair...
Will that be the center of your defense? That there are 74 other NGOs [that the DOJ should also pursue]?
No. That is not a defense naman e. That is not a defense... My defense is that I did not commit plunder. That's the truth anyway...
How do you assess the impact of this scandal on your political career?
Well they succeeded in, you know, destroying a reputation but I'm still very confident that in the days to come, or that in the months to come, we're going to prove them wrong. Their basis is only the testimonies of the whistleblowers, it's all hearsay. Can they prove that we received money from the PDAF, from our own allocations? We did not. They can't prove it.
In spite of the fact that there are many witnesses?
In spite of the fact. I don't even know any single whistleblower. Even if they ramble on, even if they continue talking. Did they give me money? They did not give me money. I don't even know anyone of them.
Your point is that they can't prove that they personally delivered the money.
That’s right. They are saying it's [Janet] Napoles who was giving us the money. That never happened.
Did you make any plans before the pork barrel scandal played out?
No, because I know I'm not doing anything.
When this first erupted in July, you did not see this...
Exploding? Yes, I said, "This is only hearsay." Of course, the power of the media, we were already convicted by the power of public opinion, convicted by publicity, convicted by trial by publicity.
So you miscalculated...
Not really. I said, if they sue me, then let's fight them in court.
Does this mean you did not anticipate or you ignored the advice of your advisers, if you had any, to at least address the issue head on?
Me, I did not keep quiet. When our friends from the media interviewed me, I answered them. When I was asked if I knew Napoles, from the very start, I said yes. And I will not deny it. It's hard when there's a picture of me with Napoles or if there's a picture of Bong Revilla with Napoles, we're guilty right away, guilty by association. But if it's with different personalities, no. (We’re) guilty by photography.
Did you ask for advice from your father?
Do you have a circle of advisers?
None. Lawyers, I have.
And what did they tell you so far?
Actually, "Don't grant interviews." That's why I'm defying their orders.
When was the last time you saw Napoles in person?
It has been a while. Of course, before all of these came out.
What was your impression of her?
Bubbly. A cheerful person. I knew she was a businesswoman but I didn't know… I knew she was a businesswoman.
You don't know her background at all?
All I knew was she was a businesswoman.
Other than that, you didn't know she’s behind a number of NGOs?
No. Definitely not. It's very elementary. Which crazy senator would give his PDAF to a bogus organization? Me, if I knew, had I known that it was bogus, of course, I will call the attention of the implementing agencies. Had I known. They are the ones who accredit. They are the ones who ascertain the legitimacy of the NGO. COA [Commission on Audit] – what's COA's role? They knew that a huge amount of money was coming in, millions. The resident auditor should have cautioned the implementing agency that "Hey, you should stop this now. They have not liquidated," just for example. The least that the implementing agency could have done was to inform the senator concerned.
Yet they didn't?
They did not. They were still accepting the money. What were we supposed to do? We thought they were giving them to the beneficiaries. Then they find out it's bogus. Why blame the senators? Blame the implementing agencies. They didn't inform us.
Had you found out these were bogus NGOs, what would you have done?
I would sue them. I would summon the head of the implementing agency.
When you learned that your Priority Development Assistance Fund was misused, how did you feel?
I felt bad. Because it did not go to the intended beneficiaries. I really felt bad. Some naman, some NGOs are giving reports naman. There are matching pictures.
To back up their claims?
Yes. I forgot which NGOs. Me, I was confident. But towards the end, if they really knew they were bogus, the resident auditor should have told the implementing agencies, "Stop accepting them."
During budget deliberations, didn’t you see any red flags?
I think COA saw a red flag before. I don't know what happened.
You didn't know these NGOs were just fronts for Napoles?
She did not tell you?
No. No. Of course not. If she told me then I would have scolded her, "Why are you doing that?"
Did you feel betrayed?
I really felt bad that [the PDAF or Priority Development Assistance Funds] did not go where they were supposed to go, as many people are mired in poverty.
A normal human reaction is to feel anger when you find out that someone betrayed you. Did you feel that?
It was more of I felt really, really bad because they did not give it to the proper beneficiaries. At the same time, I was sort of pissed off on why they used my money elsewhere. Ah, it's not my money no? It's money intended [for the people].
If you see Napoles, what would you tell her? She put you in trouble.
It started, I think, because of her rift with Benhur [Luy]. We have nothing to do with that. Because, I think, I don't know what's the inside story, I think Benhur wanted to build a parallel company. They were discovered. I don't really care about that. That started everything.
You're out of their personal issue.
Yes. I don't know why we were dragged into this, why we were pinpointed. Just because we frequent their parties? That's not enough basis. Just because we have close association, is that the basis? That does not mean that we transact business.
You just know that she's a businesswoman?
Yes, she's my wife's friend because of those PTAs [Parent-Teacher Associations]. It goes way back, actually.
Any plans to recover lost ground?
I'll just divulge my plans when the time comes. I'll cross the bridge when I get there.
Do you think President Aquino is behind all these?
I do not know. I do not have evidence to bolster my claims.
Who do you think is behind all of these?
Maybe somebody who desires to become the leader of this nation (laughs), who desires or who aspires.
What's your position on the pork barrel?
The position of the minority, although Manong Johnny [Senator Juan Ponce Enrile] wanted a total abolition of pork barrel in the 2014 General Appropriations Act. That is his position but is not binding among his colleagues, meaning we can change our position or join him. During our caucus, Enrile suggested the total abolition, 2014 budget of PDAF but some senators said, "Can we identify, for example, we can reallocate it to the military, hospitals, schools, for scholars."
What are your initial thoughts?
My initial thoughts are, modesty aside, there are always lots of people in my office, who are always asking for medical assistance. If you were to liken it to a movie, my office is a FPJ-Joseph Estrada blockbuster. Because there are lots of people asking help for PGH [Philippine General Hospital], Heart Center. If that gets cut, then that would be a pity. Me, personally, I want the pork, PDAF, if there's still any, to be allocated to hospitals. Government hospitals like PGH, Kidney Center, Heart Center, Jose Reyes, San Juan Medical.
What about PDAF on infrastructure projects?
I still receive a lot of requests from many LGUs [local government units] regarding infrastructure projects but if there are too many issues then never mind.
In the past, how did you process your PDAF?
For hospitals, scholars, because sometimes I serve as a guest speaker for state universities. I always promise that I will give, for example, P2 million for scholars. "O, Mr Principal, you're in charge of this as long as you identify the poorest of the poor in your province so they can study."
Is there a need for Janet Lim Napoles to appear before the Senate Blue Ribbon?
Some senators say that there is a need. Ako, whatever she says is okay with me.
What are expectations on November 7? (Napoles is scheduled to appear before the Blue Ribbon on this day.)
She will not say anything. What will she say? She will be like (military comptroller Carlos Garcia), "I invoke my right [to remain silent.]" She will be like, may his soul rest in peace, [former Congressman] Iggy Arroyo. "I invoke my right."
You can't compel her to incriminate herself.
You cannot. That is her right. But there's a way to ask questions. If I was there….
How do you assess the Blue Ribbon now handling the case?
I don't want to comment on that. I don't want to judge the performance of my peers. But some senators are using that forum to portray themselves as very clean, as holier than thou. Some are using it at our own expense.
Do you feel you're being used intentionally or unintentionally?
You answer that based on the second Blue Ribbon hearing. If you have a tape, you review it.
Do you hold grudges?
You know what, I told my colleagues, during the caucus, since I became a senator in 2004, I saw to it that all my colleagues, everyone I would be working with in the next 6 years or so, I want to have a harmonious relationship with them and until now I want to maintain that relationship. Up to now, I don't have enemies even those senators who betrayed my father. I said that. I told them that.
And what was their reaction?
Nothing. They were listening. And I said, I want to maintain that relationship up to the end of my term. Me, I don't have any enemies. Ask even Sen Alan [Peter Cayetano.] He even said I'm so sweet. It's true.
Will you push for a probe of the other NGOs?
No, just let it be. They might say… maybe not any more. That's the job of the Blue Ribbon committee. If they want to expand it, probe it, investigate the remaining 74 NGOs di ba. I will still inhibit because if I see anything, they might just say that "You're just looking for company."
What’s your biggest concern on the pork barrel issue?
I'm very particular about public perception. My fear is that the anger of the people will be sustained because of the continuing attacks against me.
Do you see any signs of that?
Right now, no.
Your trip to the US, is that vacation or for medical treatment?
Medical treatment [for my wife, Precy.]
Yes, it's been scheduled long ago. When we had dinner with other reporters, my wife was there. She was even telling them that she has a lump. At that time, news about the passport cancellation had not erupted yet. It came out on Thursday. I even interpellated Sen Pia [Cayetano] on breast cancer and I cited that lump so they can't blame me if there's a scheduled medical treatment.
Are you coming back?
Yes. Of course. – Aries Rufo and Angela Casauay/Rappler.com