A lawyer-friend tells me that the Senate pork-barrel scam inquiry would be less frustrating if Blue Ribbon Committee chairman Teofisto Guingona III would only focus the inquiry on establishing facts like the existence and commission of a crime or crimes
Instead, he has been running in around like a headless chicken. He has usurped the powers of the executive in investigating the scam. He has allowed the hearings to be dominated by publicity seekers, so-called whistle blowers, kiss-and-tell witnesses seeking to avoid prosecution, and grandstanding colleagues.
After nine hearings, six months and 16 days, Guiingona still cannot say what specific crimes have been committed, how much money has been stolen, and who are the culprits that must be held to account and charged.
A clear-cut and mission-specific inquiry
When the inquiry started, its goals were clearly cut and mission-specific. On August 20, 2013, Senator Guingona issued the following statement:
“I would like to announce that the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee will now begin a formal investigation of the issues and allegations now hounding the management and disbursement of the priority development assistance fund (PDAF).
“Earlier, the Committee, based on the consensus of the Senate as a whole, had decided to put on hold the probe of the said issue. This was to give way to the on-going investigations being done by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the National Bureau of Investigations (NBI). It was our view that the preliminary findings by the DOJ and the NBI can serve as a basis for the Blue Ribbon Committee’s probe.
“A recent development, however, has allowed the Blue Ribbon Committee to proceed with the investigation even before the DOJ and the NBI have completed their investigation.
“I refer to the recent disclosure by the Commission on Audit (COA) of its own findings regarding the alleged misuse of the PDAF. The COA findings can now serve as a basis for the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee to begin its probe.
“The Senate Blue Ribbon will hold its first hearing this Thursday, Aug 29, at 9am. The first resource person who will testify will be Commissioner Grace Pulido-Tan of the Commission on Audit.”
The statement clearly shows that the Senate initially recognized the importance of letting the Department of Justice and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) complete its investigation. It also underscored the need to investigate the management and disbursement of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
The committee decided to move forward based on the disclosure by the Commission on Audit of its findings of alleged misuse of the PDAF. But instead of letting the COA report speak for itself, and allowing the Ombudsman to file charges based on the COA findings, Guingona decided to undertake his own investigation.
Instead of letting the Ombudsman move on its own, Justice Secretary Leila De lima sought to take back the center stage by putting her whistleblowers up front in the Senate inquiry, claiming to have truckloads of evidence. And she has tried to sustain public interest in the scam by coming up with Ruby Chan-Tuason as a new witness who would provide “slam dunk” evidence to nail culprits.
PDAF management and disbursement
The most striking omissions and commissions in the inquiry are.
1.While ostensibly investigating the management and disbursement of the PDAF, Guingona totally refused to subpoena Budget Seceretary Florencio Abad and other DBM officials, to shed light on how PDAF funds were disbursed and to whom, or how much money has been stolen. Not a single question has been thrown to the DBM by the Blue Ribbon committee.
While the COA report clearly implicated both administration and opposition legislators in the misuse of PDAF, the inquiry chose to focus only on three opposition senators, Senate minority leader Juan Ponce Enrile, Senator Jinggoy Estrada, and Sen.Ramon “Bong” revilla Jr. The plausible theory of many is that Guingona does not want to go this way because this would implicate members and cohorts of the Aquino administration. To date, DBM is still withholding all pertinent documents of PDAF disbursements during the period covered.
Some startling facts
After watching Tuason’s testimony at the Senate hearing, it occurred to us that the following startling facts must now be faced:
1. Even if Ms. Tuason is willing to return P40 million of her commissions to the government, there’s still no basis for the state to take or confiscate the money.
2. Although it has been alleged that Ms. Janet Lim-Napoles is the mastermind of the entire scam, no facts and documents have been produced that would enable the government to file charges against her. She is in detention not for the scam but for an illegal detention charge.
3. Even if the COA report shows that some senators and congressmen gave their PDAF allocations to themselves and their own foundations, the justice department and the Ombudsman remain reluctant to file charges against them.
4. The Department of Budget and Management bosses have a lot to explain in the anomaly, but Abad surely will not volunteer their cooperation. They have to be hauled to the hearing if need be.
My lawyer friend says that since the Blue Ribbon inquiry is not tackling a specific piece of legislation, Congress can do better in this investigation by appointing a select committee, like what they do in the US Congress. Such a committee can freely investigate, and subpoena whoever it likes, including Secretary Abad.
“Nakakaloka” (maddening) was the comment of one woman about Tuason’s testimony and the whole inquiry.
Her testimony could not hang together under questioning from Senators Antonio Trillanes and Alan Cayetano, and despite the efforts of Senators Miriam Defensor Santiago and Guingona to prompt her and portray her as a star witness.
The senators strained to make sense of her testimony,
and in the end no one could say that the Senate inquiry had found a corpse whose killing needed to be investigated.
The only thing going for the inquiry is the fact that the public believes that crimes have been committed. The enormity of the numbers being dropped as having been stolen make people believe instantly that crimes were surely committed. Ordinarily, Tuason’s readiness to return P40 million should persuade the skeptical that she must be telling the truth.
But Ruby Tuason sounded like a person confessing to a crime that has yet to be established.
A Work of Genius
Whatever the holes in the work of the Blue Ribbon committee, the nation is faced here by a criminal act of colossal scale and audacity that must be fully unraveled.
After watching the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem for war crimes, the English historian Hugh Trevor-Roper commented: “…it needed something like genius for a mere SS lieutenant-colonel to organize in the middle of war…and in fierce competition for essential resources, the transport , concentration and murder of millions of people.”
The theft of billions of public money in the pork barrel scam leads me to the same conclusion. The sheer audacity and scale of the scam is awesome and mind-boggling.
Janet Lim- Napoles has to be a genius to conceive and execute the whole scheme, to commit the crimes she is accused of, to have ensnared wily senators and congressmen the way she did, to have made the budget department a willing tool, and to assemble her team of accomplices which included socialites from Makati’s posh villages.
Even if some legislators admit to having taken money from Napoles, we probably still have no crime to charge her with. Generosity is not a crime.
In frustration, the administration will probably try playing its all-purpose Arroyo card. It would be truly providential and would divide the nation, if in the course of this pathetic Senate inquiry, the Aquino government stumbles on something to pin down President Arroyo.
Miracle of the swine. To conclude this piece, let me cite a passage from Holy Scriptures, which recounts a miracle that is tantalizingly appropriate to our frustrations with the pork barrel and the DAP.
I refer to the story of the Gadarene swine recounted in the \o “New Testament” New Testament in \o “biblegatewaykjv:Mark 5:1-13” Mark 5:1-13, \o “Jesus” Jesus meets a man who is \o “Possessed (page does not exist)” possessed by \o “Devil” devils. Jesus orders the devils to come out of the man. They beg him to send them into a nearby herd of 2000 pigs. Jesus does so, and the swine immediately jump off a cliff into the sea, where they drown.
Some have said that the Savior was not very kind to the pigs in putting the devils into them and sending them into destruction
Gadara was the ancient city of Palestine southeast of the Sea of Galilee that was subsequently destroyed. The name was later adopted by a district east of Jordan and called Gadarenes, or Gergesenes. It is said to be the site of the miracle of the swine.
Perhaps we are witnessing a comparable miracle of the swine here in the Philippines. With the expose of the pork barrel scam and the DAP, the nation will finally be rid of all the swine in government.