IT has been a very challenging year in so far as the members of the opposition in the Senate are concerned because after being investigated by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) controversy in 2013, they were charged, arrested and suspended in 2014.
Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, members of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), were charged with plunder and graft at the Sandiganbayan by the Office of the Ombudsman during the first half of the year.
The filing came several months after the Blue Ribbon committee chaired by Sen. Teofisto Guingona, on April 1, released its partial committee report recommending the filing of plunder charges Enrile, Estrada and Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr. in relation with the multibillion-peso pork barrel scam.
The committee, according to Guingona, has found sufficient basis to recommend the filing of plunder and other criminal cases against the three senators as well as Janet Lim Napoles, widely believed to be the scam’s mastermind.
The three senators maintained their innocence and denied any knowledge or participation in the transfer of their PDAF to anyone other than to the legally intended beneficiaries.
Two months after the recommendation of the Ombudsman to file plunder complaint against the three lawmakers, the Sandiganbayan issued warrants for the arrest of Revilla and Estrada. The warrant for Enrile was issued in July.
All three were detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center in Camp Crame after they turned themselves over to the authorities.
The Sandiganbayan also issued a 90-day suspension order against the three senators. Enrile and Estrada’s suspension was lifted last month, while Revilla’s will be lifted in January 2015.
Crippled minority bloc
The detention of Enrile and Estrada has weakened the Senate minority bloc’s role as fiscalizer.
The minority group is left with two senior members—Vicente Sotto 3rd and Gregorio Honasan 2nd and two neophytes—Senators Joseph Victor Ejercito and Nancy Binay.
But Ejercito and Binay, even with their limited experience as senators, managed to perform their role in the minority especially during inquiries and other functions in the plenary.
Ejercito even delivered a contra-SONA (State of the Nation Address) which focused on issues that President Benigno Aquino 3rd must address during the remaining months of his presidency, particularly the problem on unemployment.
He also claimed that the economic growth President Aquino boasted in his SONA has not trickled down to the ordinary citizen.
After its investigation of the three senators, the Senate, through a resolution filed by Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th, started its investigation on Vice President Jejomar Binay, who is deemed as the strongest presidential candidate in 2016.
Trillanes, in a resolution filed on August 11, 2014, asked the Senate blue ribbon committee to investigate the alleged overpricing of the 11-storey Makati City Hall building 2 and related anomalies purportedly committed by former and current local government officials of the city.
In response to the Trillanes’ resolution, the blue ribbon created a sub-committee to lead the investigation on the corruption allegations against the Vice President that reportedly happened while he was still mayor of Makati City.
Guingona appointed Pimentel to head the sub-committee and invited the Vice President, Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin Binay and other Makati city officials to attend the first hearing on August 20.
The Makati mayor attended the first hearing but refused to go back. He later questioned the jurisdiction of the panel in investigating the issue.
The Vice President also refused to attend the hearings saying he might be disrespected during the proceedings.
The older Binay belittled the hearing as part of a concerted effort to destroy the opposition and weaken his chances in 2016.
From the alleged overpricing of the Makati City Hall building 2, the investigation shifted to other issues like the agricultural estate in Rosario, Batangas, allegedly owned by Binay.
The Senate also turned its attention on Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Alan Purisima, who is facing three plunder complaints before the Office of the Ombudsman.
Sen. Grace Poe, chair of the Senate Committee on public order and dangerous drugs, invited Purisima to shed light on various issues including the controversy involving the gun license courier system, questionable construction of the PNP chief’s residence or the “White House” and his failure to declare in his statement of assets liabilities and net worth several properties, including his resthouse in San Leonardo, Nueva Ecija.
The blue ribbon committee also looked into the alleged overpricing of the P700-million Iloilo Convention Center (ICC) which was partly funded by Senate President Franklin Drilon’s PDAF and Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).
Senator Miriam Santiago, Drilon’s province, filed a resolution to investigate the alleged anomalous public works projects awarded to Hillmarc’s Construction Corporation, the same firm that constructed the ICC and the alleged overpriced Makati City Hall Building 2.
Former Iloilo province administrator Manuel Mejorada filed plunder complaints against Drilon, Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr.; Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson and six other government officials and private individuals in connection with ICC controversy.
Santiago also pulled a surprise when she admitted that she was diagnosed with lung cancer.
She said that as of November, 90 percent of the cancer cells in her left lung were gone and that she may consider joining the 2016 presidential race if she makes a full recovery.
Despite her illness, Santiago still found time to attend important Senate inquiries and Commission on Appointments (CA) proceedings.