Miriam backs PNoy: Jail plunderers first
MANILA - Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago is backing President Aquino's position that the first item of business in the P10 billion pork barrel scam is to jail lawmakers found guilty of plunder.
"President Aquino’s priorities are correct. For purposes of deterrence, it is more efficient and bloodcurdling to send senators to jail, if they are guilty of plunder. Analyzing and retrofitting the pork barrel system should come later, because it will take more time and requires highly technical skill," Santiago said in a press statement.
She said that she expects more senators to face plunder charges in the pork scam once Justice Secretary Leila de Lima finds the National Bureau of Investigation reports to be sufficient in substance.
Three senators - Bong Revilla, Jinggoy Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile - are facing plunder and malversation charges before the Office of the Ombudsman for funneling billions of pesos in pork barrel funds to allegedly bogus non-government organizations set up by Janet Lim Napoles.
The complaint said Revilla earned more than P224.5 million in kickbacks from Napoles, followed by Estrada (P183.79 million) and Enrile (P172.8 million).
Two other lawmakers accused of plunder are former Rep. Rizalina Seachon-Lanete, who allegedly earned P108.4 million, and former Rep. Edgar Valdez, P56 million.
"The senators suspected of plunder have lost their moral right to steer the debate from the [priority development assistance funds] to the [Disbursement Acceleration Program]. I myself believe that the DAP should be abolished for being unconstitutional. But I will not allow my colleagues to deflect their criminal liabilities concerning PDAF by harping on the DAP system from which they themselves profited,” Santiago said.
President Aquino earlier defended the DAP, saying that it should not be likened to the much maligned Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). He said the DAP was launched by his administration as a stimulus program to induce spending.
He also said his political enemies may be behind attacks against the DAP, the bonuses being given to the Social Security System (SSS) board, and plan to reform the Bureau of Customs after charges were filed against politicians over the misuse of pork barrel funds.
"Since I am in a room full of journalists, perhaps I can leave it to you to connect the dots: All of these attacks came after plunder cases, among others, that were filed before the Office of the Ombudsman against a few well-known politicians. And perhaps, again because I am in a room full of journalists, I do not need to remind you of the true issue that has seemingly been drowned out by all the background noise. And so I ask you: Let’s keep our eye on the ball," he said.
The issue of the DAP came out in a privilege of Sen. Estrada right after the filing of the plunder case against him and several others.
Miriam to PNoy: Pork barrel must go
In her statement, Santiago urged public support for the Ombudsman in resolving the preliminary investigation so that if merited, criminal cases can be filed in court this year. She said persons linked to the scam "are availing of the hoary courtroom tactic by the defense to delay the case, so that the endgame will never be reached."
“If the public supports her, the Ombudsman can actually finish the preliminary investigation in only two or three months. The justice secretary should no longer entertain any motion for reconsideration, because the justice department already reviewed at length the NBI evidence. And if public pressure continues, the moment the persons in interest are charged in the Sandiganbayan, it can immediately order their suspension from office and bail hearings can begin right after new year," she said.
Asked whether preventive suspension might disable the Senate from constituting a quorum, Santiago said: "Dura lex sed lex. If that is what the law provides, the lack of a quorum is not a reason for disobeying the law. The Senate itself can change the rule on quorums to enable the Senate to function."
On the other hand, the senator differed with the President on the retention of the pork barrel.
She said that to help the best and brightest get elected to public office "it is not necessary to convert the office of the congressman into a local DSWD with freebies for all constituents."
"That is a matter for campaign finance reform. Ideally, government should finance and strictly regulate campaign advertising. In other words, government should subsidize campaigns, to make sure that candidates do not resort to vote-buying using pork barrel which are public funds,” she said.
Santiago said there is no provision in the Constitution stating that distribution of freebies in the community is part of the function of a lawmaker.
"Candidates should win on the basis of academic excellence and professional excellence. They should not win reelection by using pork barrel to bribe voters. That system is corrupt and breeds a culture of dependency on the person rather than on the institution of government,” she said.