The allegation is that five senators—Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., Vicente Sotto 3rd, and Lito Lapid—and a number of congressmen have signed over their pork barrel allocations to spurious non-government organizations (NGOs) for non-existent projects.
According to a COA report Enrile, Estrada, and Revilla funneled P857.83 million of their pork barrel allocation, officially known as Priority Development Assistance Fund, to three NGOs set up by Janet Lim Napoles of the JLN Group of Companies.
There were no projects, the requests for assistance from the mayors and governors were spurious, and the signatures of the supposed beneficiaries were forged. The NGOs and the legislators, the observation goes, just divided the whole amount among themselves.
If that shocks people, the latest revelation in this sordid affair sends them into apoplectic fury. It now turns out that Quezon City Congressman Matias Defensor Jr. released P99.5 million of his PDAF to Matias Defensor Sr. Foundation, where he is an incorporator, member of the board of trustees, and stockholder. He in effect awarded government money to himself.
The revelation has prompted calls for the administration to monitor the way PDAF is spent. Demands for its outright abolition are gaining momentum, with a rally scheduled to coincide with the celebration of the National Heroes Day at the Quirino Grandstand on Aug. 26.
Amidst all this, nobody’s saying anything about filing cases against the legislators. Clearly it is a case for plunder. The amount involved is tenfold more than the threshold prescribed: P50 million.
Commissioner Grace Pulido-Tan has enumerated the legislators, the manner by which the crimes were committed, and the amount involved in this wholesale thievery. Now it is Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s call.
But all we hear from the feisty lady—and we assume this is the official stand of the administration—is the continuing search for the woman in the eye of the fake NGO storm, but only to make her answer for the charge of serious illegal detention, filed against her by her cousin and, until their falling out, confidante.
She did say the NBI will soon wind up its investigation in what is proving to be the biggest scam involving government funds and file the appropriate charges, but not a hint about plunder as a case.
The reticence is understandable. It takes an iron nerve to charge the legislators with a crime so serious that it affords no bail. Actually, the big decision rests not with Justice, or the Ombudsman for that matter. It is for the Sandiganbayan to issue the arrest order for plunder—if it dares—or downgrade the crime to graft or—this is not so far-fetched as one might think—throw it altogether.
At least a hundred legislators, from the Senate and the House of Representatives, are involved in the scam. To arrest that many politically powerful people will send the nation into a tizzy.
Never mind Napoles. She is dispensable, to the prosecution as well as to the defense. In fact, those involved in the crimes naturally want her silenced forever. At this stage she can only pray that her co-conspirators in the scam do not strike a deal with the prosecution, which is to say the government. If so her goose is cooked. She can only get in the way, so it would be better for both if the never surfaces.
We’ve never had the experience of locking up a sitting senator, let alone six or seven. And when you throw in a hundred congressmen—there could be more depending on the result of the investigation—a decimated Congress is a distinct possibility. The Senate and the House of Representatives won’t be able to function since it cannot raise a quorum.
It will be a traumatic national experience, but, as lawyers love to quote, “Let justice be done though the heavens fall.”