Palace: 'Pork scam' won't be set aside
MANILA - There will be no sweeping of the pork barrel scam and other controversies under the rug despite their potential threat to the gains of the administration, Malacañang said yesterday.
In an interview over radio dzRB, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said it’s still to be seen whether the controversies would set back the achievements of the administration under President Aquino.
“Let’s wait to see what happens. Maybe what's important for the side of government, when there are anomalies like these that come out, they are investigated immediately and appropriate action is taken, they are not set aside or ignored,” Valte said.
A whistle-blower earlier detailed how congressional pork barrel funds amounting to billions of pesos ended up in bogus non-government organizations, with lawmakers’ blessings. The congressional pork barrel is officially called Priority Development Assistance Fund.
At the center of controversy is businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, now detained at Fort Sto. Domingo in Sta. Rosa for a serious illegal detention case filed by her former employee and main whistleblower Benhur Luy.
Valte said the pork barrel scam is one of the challenges the administration has to tackle by the horns because the issue threatens to overshadow positive developments in the country, particularly on the economic front.
“There are many pieces of good news to find and hopefully, the investors can look. We can see that investors continue to have an eye on the developments in the country,” she said.
The way the administration deals with the pork barrel issue and other controversies highlights its commitment to good governance, she said.
“This is not a challenge that was unknown to the President,” she said, adding that the administration is determined to uncover “landmines” planted during the previous administration.
“And in the process of doing that (cleaning government), in the process of appointing competent and trusted and honest people to government offices that serve as part of the checks and balances of government, we see these kinds of things. And certainly, it’s a challenge that we face and that we accept,” Valte said.
She said getting those involved in the pork barrel scam prosecuted and punished would earn for the government greater public trust.
But she said cases to be filed should be based on solid evidence. She said that while the President wants to see a conviction within his term, he is totally against interfering in the judicial process. “It's not within the powers of the executive to acquit or convict,” she said.
On efforts by some quarters to link the pork barrel issue to the 2016 elections, Valte said those concerned should consider the unraveling of facts and face the issue head on.
She raised the challenge in response to Senators Ramon Revilla Jr.’s and Jinggoy Estrada’s giving political color to their being linked to the scam. The two denied involvement in the anomaly, saying the allegations were part of a demolition job meant to derail their possible bid for elective positions in 2016.
The opposition United Nationalist Alliance has also been accusing the administration of providing funds to Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II purportedly for his programs and projects. The group expressed belief the funds were meant to boost Roxas’ chances in the 2016 presidential elections.
The National Bureau of Investigation and the Inter-Agency Anti-Graft Coordinating Council are wrapping up their investigations into the pork barrel scam.
Valte said even Cabinet members like Roxas would have to face inquiries, too, in the interest of fairness.
On UNA spokesperson and Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco’s confronting Roxas about the latter’s involvement in the relocation of squatters, Valte said Memorandum Order No. 57 issued by President Aquino empowers the DILG chief to deal with housing concerns for informal settlers.
She said the problem involved not just housing but support system like livelihood and other basic services as well. She added the families relocated must also be kept safe.
“So let's not make this simplistic just so we can have something for press release,” she said.
“We welcome criticism as long it is constructive. The President always says this repeatedly – that criticism is welcome and we are always open to hearing alternative solutions to issues that concern both the majority and the opposition,” Valte said.
“We can sit down, we can talk about your proposed solution,” Valte said.
Meanwhile, 1BAP party-list Rep. Silvestre Bello III said the Commission on Audit should also be investigated for not doing enough to stop the anomalous disbursements of pork barrel funds.
“It’s clear that COA did not properly monitor the release of congressional funds. They should have exposed the anomaly way back in 2006 and not only after those whistleblowers came out,” he told The STAR. But he said COA Chairperson Ma. Gracia Pulido-Tan appeared blameless considering her being a relatively new appointee.
Bello said he does not believe that state auditors had simply overlooked the irregularities in the disbursement of pork funds and that investigators should dig deeper into the matter.
He said the opposition is not only supporting the call for the abolition of the pork barrel, but is pushing for the prosecution of those involved in the scam as well.
Bello’s statement came after COA Commissioner Haydee Mendoza admitted delays in the serving of notices of disallowances to entities linked to the pork barrel scam.
Mendoza had said that with the large volume of questionable transactions, it may take up to six months to complete the delivery of notices of disallowances of expenditures. – with Raymund Catindig