To assign infamy where infamy is due, nine incumbent senators (some up for reelection next year) invented the brazen stratagem of using insertions in the budget to neutralize and bypass the emphatic Supreme Court decision on November 19, 2013, which ruled that the Priority Developmenrt Assistance Fund (PDAF) is unconstitutional.
Let’s call them the Intrepid Nine (like the magnificent seven and the dirty dozen in the movies) because it takes bravado and insolence to defy a ruling of the Supreme Court. To get away with the maneuver you need the guile and smarts of James Bond. In the Filipino milieu, you need, in addition, a thick face (kapal ng mukha).
Behold the Intrepid Nine
To get to the point, the Intrepid Nine are:
1.Alan Peter Cayetano
2. Pia Cayetano
3. Antonio Trillanes
4. Lito Lapid
5. Ralph Recto
6. Miriam Defensor-Santiago
7. J.V. Ejercito
8. Ramon “Bong” Revilla
9. Jinggoy Estrada.
When I first beheld the list, it was an “aha moment” for me, because I honestly could not believe that they would defy the court.
High among the surprises is the inclusion of Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, because she has often preached rectitude among her Senate colleagues. Did she, I wondered, lend her legal smarts to this brazen maneuver?
Eyebrow-raising but not surprising is the inclusion of Alan Peter Cayetano and Antonio Trillanes, since they are the most strident accusers for graft of vice President Binay in the ongoing senate blue ribbon inquiry.
Deserving an asterisk is the inclusion of J.V. Ejercito, because he had just been elected to the Senate in the May 2013 elections. His seat was not yet warmed, and here he was already engaged in collaring his share of Senate pork.
In a major blow to political dynasties, two pairs of siblings figure prominently in the list: senators Alan Peter Cayetano and Pia Cayetano; and senators J. V. Ejercito and Jinggoy Estrada.
From detention in Camp Crame for their misuse of PDAF, Bong Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada command attention, but not much sympathy.
Lito Lapid, who hopes to move to another elective position in the 2016 elections, will discover that he is not anonymous after all.
Ralph Recto, the Senate president pro tempore and no. 2 man in the chamber, may not be ready yet to take over from Senate president Franklin Drilon.
Who brought this group together? Who were the brains behind the insertions scheme?
I have my suspicions, but I will keep them to myself, unless I’m summoned to the Senate to guess and testify.
Ernie Maceda scooped the media
Perhaps not surprisingly, it was a former senator who scooped all journalists on who and what the senators were cooking to bypass the SC decision. I refer to former Senator Ernesto Maceda.
In his column in the Philippine Star, Maceda wrote on January 11, 2014:
“Despite the Supreme Court ruling declaring the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) unconstitutional and despite President Aquino’s declaration that it is time to abolish the PDAF, 9 Senators have retained their P200 million pork barrel in the 2014 budget by realigning them to different departments in the General Appropriations Act.
“The 9 Senators are Alan Peter Cayetano, Pia Cayetano, Antonio Trillanes, Lito Lapid, Ralph Recto, Miriam D. Santiago, J.V. Ejercito, Ramon “Bong” Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada.
“Congressmen are complaining why they have not been allowed the same privilege.
“The President did not veto the senators’ insertions, thus allowing this form of pork barrel to remain.”
The dates of the promulgation of the SC decision and Maceda’s expose are significant. They show that within weeks of the SC ruling, senators were already plotting to preserve and protect their illegal pork entitlements.
With a crocodile statement, Senate President Franklin Drilon welcomed the SC ruling, saying that it only affirmed the Senate’s position that PDAF must be abolished.
“The Senate will see to it that henceforth, all officials shall adhere to laws and rules and regulations governing the use of public funds,” he said.
The Supreme Court could not have been more emphatic in its ruling. It voted 14-0-1 to strike down the congressional pork barrel, and spelled out category by category what it was proscribing, leaving no room for doubt.
Following the SC ruling, Senator Santiago claimed that the pork barrel scandal had caused her failing health. She said: “I fell ill with chronic fatigue syndrome and have been suffering the ailment for nearly a year…. Getting sick over the pork barrel scandal was well worth it, now that the Supreme Court has validated my position…There’s a God, after all.”
But then after all the moralizing, she joined eight Senate colleagues in using insertions in the budget to bypass the SC decision.
Insertions conspiracy expanded
After the evidently successful insertions maneuver with the 2014 budget, the Intrepid Nine were joined by their other colleagues in making insertions in the 2015 budget.
It is these new insertions, which form the subject of Senator Ping Lacson’s recent expose. He has caught everyone’s attention with the claim that the insertions and lump sum appropriations total P424 billion in all.
With the nine who originated the insertions scheme already named here, I submit that media inquiry and public vigilance must now move into exposing the names of all senators who have participated in the operations on the 2015 budget.
As Senate finance committee chairman Sen. Francis Escudero should be compelled as a matter of public duty to disclose the names of the senators, and how much each has inserted into this year’s budget. With the claim of Sen. Serge Osmena that there are some senators who were allowed to make insertions from P1 billion to P2 billion, the nation should now demand that they be unmasked.
This is a challenge that all journalists who are covering the Senate should strive to investigate. We must join together in ensuring that this bypass operation is expunged from our political system.