Napoles scam revives interest in right of reply bill

Posted at 05/20/2014 4:21 PM | Updated as of 05/20/2014 8:35 PM

MANILA - Some members of the House of Representatives are now contemplating on revisiting the Right of Reply bill after a Philippine broadsheet included their names in an alleged list of lawmakers linked to the pork barrel scam of Janet Lim-Napoles.

Deputy Speaker Giorgidi Aggabao said the inclusion of their names in the newspaper report, without providing their sides to the story, is making congressmen consider reviving the bill.

Aggabao said the newspaper published his name without even verifying from him how the fund being questioned was spent. He showed media a list of his priority development assistance fund (PDAF) allocations, which were released under the name of the provincial government of Isabela.

"It's a good thing na naitabi ko listahan ng lahat ng SARO (Statement of Allocation Release Order) ko with SARO numbers and in no instance did I deal with DOTC (Department of Transportation and Communications) or any other agency," he said.

Batangas 3rd District Rep. Sonny Collantes, who was also included in the list, said he was appalled that a supposedly responsible newspaper printed an unverified article against responsible people.

"Tinext nila ako, tapos inilabas nila denial ng lahat ng congressman. Tapos, yung sa akin hindi," he said.

Oriental Mindoro 2nd District Rep. Reynaldo Umali said a lawsuit to rectify the mistake is not an option for them at this time.

"Ang hirap mag-file ng charges ngayon kasi yung issue, gugulo," said Umali, whose name was also included in the published article.

Umali supposedly allocated funds to Kaupdanan para sa Mangunguma Foundation Incorporated, a non-government organizations (NGO) linked to Napoles.

Umali confirmed the transaction with Kaupdanan but said the allocation happened only once before he even knew that the NGO was founded by Napoles.

"Kung kasama talaga ko sa racket na yan, eh di sana lahat na lang ng PDAF ko doon ko idinaan," the congressman said.

Agggabao said it will be difficult to undo the damage caused by the publication of the list.

"When you ring a bell, you cannot undo it. The bell has already been rung," said Aggabao.

He said the House of Representatives leadership is leaving it to the House ethics committee and Senate Blue Ribbon Committee to investigate the issue.

"It's useless to investigate all members of the House. Because whatever is the outcome, whether we exonerate or pin them down, the people will not listen."

HOUSE DIVIDED

Meanwhile, the House independent minority bloc is taking a different stand on the issue.

Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza is seeking an immediate filing of cases against the people involved. Atienza said the statements provided by witnesses since last year should be given weight.

The party-list lawmaker said the PDAF scam should be discussed in the courts where the accused can have the opportunity to answer all the accusations and not through public debate.

"Simple logic will tell you they should have filed the cases after the confession of Napoles," said Atienza.

Atienza also questioned the integrity of Justice Secretary Leila De Lima following her refusal to release the details of her 5-hour conversation with Napoles.

He suggested that President Benigno Aquino III create a body of unquestionable integrity to undertake the investigation of the people indicted in the PDAF scam.

The independent minority bloc also said it supports President Aquino's rejection of state witness status for Napoles.

"We are in total agreement with the President that it was next to impossible for Napoles to say she's not the most guilty in the scam since she was the link to all those allegedly involved in the scam," Leyte 1st District Rep. Martin Romualdez said in a statement.

Romualdez said they hope that the President will personally order a probe on the conflicting copies of the Napoles list as well as the alleged sources of the list.

"We find this latest pronouncement of the Napoles camp as nothing less than their continued attempt to blackmail people into helping her get what she wants - immunity from prosecution," he said.

The Leyte congressman reiterated their group's call to the House leadership for an immediate inquiry on 'Napo-list' and the pork barrel scam.