There’s one thing I’m sure of when the Senate yellow ribbon committee starts tomorrow its inquiry into the alleged P488-million overprice of the Iloilo Convention Center (ICC): Sen. Teofisto “TG” Guingona 3rd, the committee chairman, will not be calling any testimony against Senate President Franklin M. Drilon (FMD) “a buzzer-beating three pointer that won the game.” Guingona reserves such comments only for testimony against the likes of Sen. Jinggoy Estrada.
The highest distinction in a particular field is usually described as a “blue ribbon.” The Senate had such a committee until Guingona came and turned it yellow, a panel that believes anything that smacks of graft is possible only with those who aren’t with the administration of President BS Aquino The Last, I mean, The Third.
The decision of the yellow ribbon to look into the charges against FMD (the initials stand for Franklin Magtunao Drilon, not Foot and Mouth Disease) by his former consultant, Manuel Mejorada, doesn’t mean it has already shed its yellow leanings. Senator Jinggoy has challenged Guingona to show the same enthusiasm in investigating the alleged overpricing of the ICC as he did in inquiring into the alleged pork barrel scam involving Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Bong Revilla and him. Jinggoy must be asking for the moon, based on previous decisions and actuations of Guingona.
When “whistle-blower” Ruby Tuason testified against Jinggoy before the yellow ribbon, Guingona merely read the questions contained in Tuason’s sworn affidavit, and Tuason answered by reading her answers in the same document. He never went beyond that document, didn’t even ask how much “payoffs” from pork-funded projects did Tuason give to Jinggoy and to the staff of JPE. He didn’t even ask about Tuason’s decision to return P40 million that she claimed to have received as her 5-percent share in the pork scam. As our perceptive columnist Emeterio Perez pointed out, that meant she had worked for the release of P800 million in pork. And yet, she never mentioned anything about P800 million, to whom did she give it to and what were the projects involved.
Despite such incomplete testimony by Tuason, Guingona was all praises for her after hearing her. He went on record as describing her testimony as a “buzzer-beating three-point shot that won the game.” I don’t blame the indicted senators for feeling that Guingona had already prejudged the cases against them. This was amplified by Guingona’s refusal to call further key officials of the Department of Budget and Management and the Commission on Audit to the “inquiry” although he had always maintained that he was in search of the truth.
Guingona also showed his yellow streak when he inquired into the alleged corruption at the military and the plea bargaining of military officers with the Ombudsman. In his partial report (normally, committee chairmen give a report only after the inquiry is done), he said that Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez was guilty of betrayal of the public trust and she should either resign or be impeached. Then Senate President JPE asked Guingona to concentrate only on the alleged corruption in the military, the real subject of the inquiry. JPE wisely reminded Guingona that the report would place the Senate in an awkward position once it conducted impeachment trial of Gutierrez, who had just been impeached by the House. (Gutierrez resigned so the Senate dropped the Articles of Impeachment against her.)
Going back to the case against FMD (again, it’s not for Foot and Mouth Disease), he may be innocent but the referral of the resolution to Guingona could make the public suspicious of any decision by the panel. I expect no hard questions to come from Guingona. Drilon welcomed the probe but it would boomerang against him should Guingona clear him even before the inquiry is over.
Last year, when I visited Iloilo City at the invitation of a friend, Michael Plana, I went to the Esplanade, a pet project of Drilon. I gushed over the project and told Drilon so. I also told him of my admiration for the clean river near the City Hall and how squatters near the river had been resettled. Drilon replied that the Esplanade is an example of the proper use of the PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) and that Ilonggos were proud of the project.
He also said that they were expanding the Benigno Aquino Avenue to complement the Esplanade in preparation for the hosting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference and the Ad Congress “with a P500-million new convention center.” Now, Mejorada claims that the Esplanade was overpriced as well.
Drilon has denied the charges by his former consultant whom he had fired for allegedly using his Facebook account to attack Mejorada’s political enemies.