Blue Ribbon not ready to summon senators on 'pork'
MANILA, Philippines - As more senators were implicated in the pork barrel scandal, the head of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee said yesterday the panel is not yet ready to summon his colleagues.
Committee chairman Sen. Teofisto Guingona III refused to provide a categorical statement on whether his colleagues would be formally invited to attend the hearings.
“The story is still unfolding. This is not yet the time. After the next three hearings, until we see the whole story, then we will make the necessary call,” he said.
In its continuing probe, the Senate committee has sent invitations to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and the whistle-blowers under the custody of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) for tomorrow’s hearing on the pork barrel scam.
More senators, however, are being dragged into the controversy.
They were involved in the use of their pork barrel funds that went on from the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to the Aquino administration. Most of them, however, chose to remain silent.
The Senate committee has started its investigation into the scam but so far, none of the senators whose names have been mentioned have indicated any interest to appear in the hearings.
When the issue of the pork barrel scam involving businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles and her non-government organizations (NGO) broke out, five senators were implicated, namely Ramon Revilla Jr., Jinggoy Estrada, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Gregorio Honasan II and Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile.
With the release of the special audit report of the Commission on Audit (COA) on the use of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) from 2007 to 2009, the annual audit reports on select local government units and information contained in the website of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), more senators were found to have released their pork barrel funds to the NGOs linked to Napoles.
The other senators who were implicated in the issue included Loren Legarda and Vicente Sotto III.
Enrile, Honasan, Estrada and Marcos have all decided to inhibit from the hearings.
Guingona said the implicated senators could attend the hearings at any time to air their side if they want to.
Estrada has denounced the apparent focus of the Blue Ribbon committee on the period of 2007 to 2009 where his name, as well as those of his fellow minority bloc colleagues, Enrile and Honasan, have been mentioned repeatedly.
“They precisely focused on the alleged bogus NGOs linked to Mrs. Napoles. I would like to suggest that they expand the investigation to include the other NGOs, the 74 other NGOs according to the COA report. We don’t know if there are others that are engaged in the same scheme,” Estrada said.
“They are ganging up and focusing too much on the three of us. There are some colleagues of ours who are intent on repeatedly mentioning our names,” he added.
Estrada maintained he was innocent of all the allegations against him and he can defend himself from whatever charges that may arise from the probe.
Revilla has declined to grant any interviews regarding the issues raised against him but has hired lawyer Joel Bodegon to issue statements on his behalf.
Bodegon said in previous statements that Revilla has hired handwriting experts to check on the authenticity of his signatures that appear on documents submitted to the COA.
He also aired the sentiment of Revilla that the allegations against him were all lies.
Sotto, for his part, said he has conducted his own investigation into the reports implicating him, particularly the COA audit report and information contained in the DBM website related to PDAF releases in 2012.
Sotto said his source in the COA revealed there were no irregularities reported in their audit of the projects.
“Regardless of which NGOs were able to ask for projects there (LGUs), as far as my projects are concerned, if it’s Napoles or the police or whoever (who handled the funds), what is important is that they were delivered, there were no irregularities. That is what’s important,” Sotto said.