No sacred cows in PDAF probe - Belmonte
MANILA - House Speaker Sonny Belmonte on Tuesday said he will not shield any congressman from the Ombudsman investigation on the P10 billion pork barrel scam.
"Friendships aside, this is a blot on all of us," he said.
A total of 38 individuals, including former and incumbent lawmakers, are facing plunder and malversation charges before the Office of the Ombudsman.
Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago earlier said legislators accused of plunder should be automatically suspended.
Belmonte said incumbent lawmakers who were tagged in the case filed before the Ombudsman or cited by the special audit on the pork barrel will not escape accountability.
"My stand is the same whether I know the person or I don't know, we will be fully cooperative with authorities. If they talk to me, I will give a sympathetic ear. Still, I'd let the wheels of justice go," he said.
The Speaker said the House of Representatives no longer has power over former congressmen charged in the scam.
He said the House ethics committee may take action on incumbent congressmen.
"With respect to the ethics committee, we're still discussing at what point can we take action. We have to carefully study that. We are almost going into unchartered territory."
Belmonte said people who repeatedly abused the PDAF cannot claim good faith. He said those who violated the rules on the PDAF will have to be held accountable.
Sympathy for Enrile
The Speaker also expressed sympathy for Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile who is among the lawmakers charged in the scam.
"As a personal friend, I like to commiserate with him. I have no intention of interfering or doing anything. I am really sorry for him. He was somebody I worked with, our working relationship is very well," he said.
Belmonte said of the congressmen charged, he only knows one personally, former congressman Constantino Jaraula. He said he has not talked to Jaraula and the latter has not tried to contact him
The Speaker said the pork barrel scam has cast a pall on the budget deliberations.
'Lawmakers need to be a little epal'
Belmonte encouraged lawmakers to be a little "epal" by putting up small but tasteful signs on projects funded by their pork barrel allocations.
He said the signs are done in the spirit of transparency.
"Epal or not, mas mabuti nalalaman ng tao saan nilagay pera. Small but tasteful signs," he said.
The Speaker said lawmakers may be asked to itemize as many as 5-6 infrastructure projects each as part of the reforms on the PDAF.
Previously, Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II said lawmakers will definitely be asked to itemize their pet infrastructure projects for inclusion in the proposed budget as line items though he still was not sure on the number of projects that will be allowed per congressmen.
Belmonte said congressmen may itemize as many as 5-6 infrastructure projects but clarified that the number of projects is still not final and up for deliberations.