The claim of Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada that Malacañang conspired to give each senator who voted to convict former chief justice Renato Corona P50 million in additional pork barrel “requires an incredible leap in logic that is ill-justified by fact,” Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said on Thursday.
In his privilege speech on Wednesday, Estrada said the Palace offered lawmakers bribes or rewards to get them to support the President’s agenda in Congress.
In a statement, Abad said Estrada’s claim of a P50-million bonus for Corona’s conviction was “completely baseless and untrue.”
“In his speech, (Estrada) portrayed the Administration as a sly and coercive force that imposed undue influence over Congress, so that lawmakers were ‘bribed’ or offered rewards in exchange for their support for President Aquino’s own priority legislation.”
“I cannot say this enough and with any more clarity: The accusations that Senator Estrada leveled against me and the Administration are not true,” Abad said.
He denied knowledge of a supposed confidential letter from Sen. Franklin Drilon, who was chairman of the Senate finance committee during the Corona trial, authorizing the release of the P50 million to the senators.
”His conclusion—that I would somehow be involved in the distribution of the letter and the course of action outlined in it—requires an incredible leap in logic that is ill-justified by fact.”
He denied that the administration ordered extra pork barrel releases for the passage of two controversial bills that had languished in Congress for over a decade—the responsible parenthood bill and the sin tax bill.
”The President, his Cabinet, and his allies in the Administration coalition worked long and hard to achieve the measures that we lobbied for in Congress, and in no way or manner did we resort to extra-legal or dishonest means to ensure the success of our causes,” Abad said.
”We in the Aquino administration do not and will not bribe any group or individual—whether these ‘bribes’ are offered officially or otherwise—all for the sake of getting our way, or for the sake of gaining political leverage over parties that may oppose us,” he said.
Abad said the Aquino administration never stopped legislators from scrutinizing the proposed 2014 budget, just so the budget will be passed on time.
”We cannot do that. To suggest this is an insult to the country’s lawmakers, as well as to Congress as an autonomous branch of government,” he said.
Estrada blasted the Budget department for being “silent” on the pork barrel controversy.
But Abad said they had been cooperating with the Commission on Audit (COA) in securing the documents” to get to the truth of the matter.”
“We are as interested as the public is in the question of how public funds were spent and managed—whether these funds were released in the previous or current Administration—even as we continue our work of crafting and implementing the National Budget with full transparency, accountability, and openness,” he added.
Another Palace official, Strategic Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang, said “we respect Senator Estrada’s right to air his opinions, but what is important is investigation moves ahead and there is going to be a process to make whoever is guilty accountable.”
He also denied P50 million was given to senators to oust Corona.
”As a matter of fact, the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) withheld the releases of PDAF [Priority Development Assistance Fund] so that it would not be misinterpreted or misconstrued. You can check the records yourself,” Carandang said.
“Several months after the impeachment, there were PDAF releases. But the PDAF releases, both for senators who voted to convict Corona and acquit Corona. The records will bear that out,” he added.
The secretary also stood by the COA special audit report, saying it was complete and not selective, contrary to Estrada’s allegations.
“Some allegations to the members of the LP [Liberal Party] came from the COA report. The COA’s release is not selective. The COA report is complete and it included observations even about administration lawmakers,” Carandang said.