Pork barrel probe fails test of probity and gravitas

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BEFORE the nation gets deluded by the proposal in Congress for the renaming of the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport in Clark-Angeles, as the Cory Aquino International Airport (thereby turning our two international airports into his-and-hers aviation terminals), I submit that the Philippine Senate would do better to focus first its attention and energies on a more popular renaming project.

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This is the proposal of some journalists and bloggers that the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee be officially renamed as the “Yellow Ribbon Committee.”
Outstanding service to yellow cause

My colleague Efren Danao lays a strong case for rechristening in his column (“Yellow ribbon panel to freeze ball on Abad, pork,” February 28, Manila Times).

This proposal is more meritorious than the capricious name-change for the Clark airport, and can be more easily effected on the following grounds.

First, “blue ribbon” is just a nickname and not the committee’s official name, which is “Committee on the Accountability of Public officers and investigations.” Thus, substituting yellow ribbon for blue ribbon would just be a color change.

Second, renaming it as the yellow ribbon committee will formalize what committee chairman Sen. Teofisto Guingona 3rd has already done, which is to focus on shaming three senator colleagues who are members of the opposition to the exclusion of other senator colleagues who also have been named in the Commission on Audit report on the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

McCarthyism in Philippine Senate

As the blue ribbon committee prepares to resume on Thursday, March 6, its inquiry into the pork-barrel scam, we cannot overstate the need for the inquiry to meet the test of probity and gravitas.

Probity in the sense of confirmed integrity. And gravitas in the sense of moral seriousness and authority.

In his book Integrity, Stephen Carter defines integrity as consisting basically of (1) discerning what is right and what is wrong; (2) doing what is right, even at personal cost; and (3) saying openly that you are acting on your understanding of right and wrong. This is sometimes shortened to say, “Real integrity is doing the right thing.”

In my view, the integrity of the pork barrel inquiry has been impugned by the fact that it has usurped and continues to usurp a function of the executive branch of government, and gone beyond the function of the legislative, which is to legislate.

According to US congressional historians and political pundits, the real sin of Sen.
Joseph McCarthy, during the infamous chapter of McCarthyism in US history, was not in falsely accusing persons in the US government of being communists. It was his flagrant abuse of the constitutional right of Congress to investigate. The abuse of that right was unchecked because the US Senate did not observe faithfully its constitutional obligations.

As Walter Lippmann commented: “The Senate was not investigating anything that is its business as a legislature which makes the laws and then inquires into whether they are faithfully and efficiently and honestly administered and enforced.”

In the pork barrel case here at home, we should apply the same test.

Judged purely on what is the right thing to do, the Guingona committee fails the test of probity and gravitas. Saying that the theft and plunder of public funds is a crime is not sufficient justification for the committee’s actions. The guingona committee must answer why it focused only on three opposition senators?

By displaying partisanship in the probe, the inquiry fails the test of gravitas or moral seriousness, whose meaning includes the vital quality of impartiality in the probe.

A probe on the theft of billions, with no less than senators and representatives as the possible culprits, must rise to a high level of seriousness and expertise, so that there can be no question about its competence and authority.

It should be authoritative, so that when it submits its report, there can be no doubting the soundness of its conclusions and recommendations

This late in the day, although it’s been insisted over and over that Janet Lim Napoles is the mastermind of the pork barrel scam, the inquiry has laid no basis for charging her in court. If she provided the money to bribe the senators, why has she not been charged?

If the committee can only mouth “the truckloads of evidence and slamdunk evidence” of Secretary de Lima and cannot offer a rationale for conducting its own investigation, it should end its inquiry.

The time and the money of the people should no longer be wasted on this crap inquiry, which only serves as the soapbox of senators seeking reelection and higher office in 2016.

The most insistent on a Senate inquiry besides Guingona is Sen. Francis Escudero, the author of the Senate resolution calling for the inquiry. If so, he should answer us why the Senate should insist on investigating when the DOJ and the NBI have already filed charges with the Ombudsman.

Since he is keen on an inquiry, Escudero should amend his resolution to mandate the Guingona committee to investigate the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).

Because he is one of the biggest recipients of DAP funds (P99 million according to some reports), it would be putting his pork where his mouth is.

Media are watchdogs not echo chamber

If Guingona persists in his misguided inquiry, I believe private media should stop its broadcast on live TV and its coverage of the proceedings. Let the government TV network provide the coverage; it should start earning its budget anyway.

Media coverage is oxygen for the Guingona hearings, Without it, the inquiry will die a natural death and Guingona will be forced to abort this seven-month extravaganza.

Media’s role is to serve as watchdog over the government; it is not to serve as echo chamber of politicians and public officials.

The grandstanding senators should find another place where they can grandstand.

Media as watchdog means that they should be aggressively involved in seeking the truth of public issues and national decision-making.

Why Abad must testify

The failure to call Secretary Abad as witness is a glaring omission of the blue ribbon committee, as I argued in detail in an earlier column (“Like probing a murder without a corpse,” February 15, Manila Times)

Guingona has admitted that no anomaly in the pork barrel could have taken place and can take place without the involvement of the Department of Budget and Management and the Commission on Audit. Yet he has refused to call Abad. He never questioned Benhur Luy’s claim that nobody from the DBM was involved in the pork scam. This is investigative incompetence.

Thursday’s hearing will bring to the witness box Dennis Cunanan, director general on-leave of the Technology Resource Center who, like Ruby Chan-Tuason, has been charged with plunder and seeks to escape his just desserts by entering the Witness Protection Program.

Senator Santiago has demanded the right to be first in questioning Cunanan, perhaps anticipating that Guingona will throw softballs at him and hail his testimony as another three-pointer.

Will one senator of the land come out and demand that the committee call Secretary Abad to testify? Will anyone finally deviate from the script of this sham inquiry?

Abad and the Palace will claim executive privilege to prevent Abad from being forced to testify. That excuse was used by the men of President Richard Nixon in the Watergate hearings, but in the end they were all forced to testify, and most went to jail.

The Senate should move swiftly on the Abad subpoena, because any time now, the Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality of the DAP.

If as the nation prays and expects the High Court to rule that the DAP is illegal and unconstitutional, Abad will likely resign his post to save face and hair for President Aquino. Then he will be on the run from the law.

Senate’s opportunity to recapture dignity

It has been strangely overlooked that the Senate today is the Senate of the 16th Congress, and it is different from the Senate of the15th Congress. Each has its own history and composition, and each has its own failings to account for.

Although the present Senate has among its members many senators who were members the earlier Senate, it is idiocy for it to disappear into the ignominy of its predecessor. It can rescue some dignity for itself and the institution by saying that the sins of one are not the sins of the other. And it can assert its identity and integrity by doing the right thing with respect to the pork barrel inquiry and by making it a real search for the truth.

Now may be the last opportunity for the Senate to call secretary Abad to the stand to shed light on what really happened to PDAF and DAP.

By slavishly submitting to the wishes of President Aquino in the impeachment of
former chief justice Renato Corona, the Senate of the15th Congress damaged gravely the chamber’s cherished tradition and history of independence.

By being embroiled in a scandal involving the plunder of the senatorial pork barrel, the Senate has sank to its lowest level of trust and popularity with the public.

By ending the blue ribbon inquiry forthrightly and on a note of courage and public service, the Senate could start to turn around this humiliating chapter in its history and hold its head high again.

yenmakabenta@yahoo.com

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7 Comments

  1. Clear as day! We the people are shackled to the bones by these corrupt and evil administration. Only the supreme court can save us from these bedeviled leader.
    God almighty, please help our Nation, have mercy on our people rid us of this evil plague hanging over us.

  2. victor hernandez on

    There is alkways room for improvement. Quality that reflects caliber of a higher, if not highest rank. Renaming already name edifice and streets is definitely not one of them, at most it reflects a parochial mind.
    After so many months of special hearing on the pdaf scam, the senate has shown nothing in terms of legislative proposal or resolution as to address prevention of scam, or the like.
    It was the Supreme Court, with the pleadings of concerned citizen, notably Mr. Griego Belgica (there must be a good reason why he lost in his senatorial campaign), that produced immediate result. How about the Senate? Is the Blue Ribbon Committee doing its job in aid of legislation or in aid of someth?
    Honourable Senators of the Republic, please do not waste people’s money, and time.

  3. Siony Camacho Bana on

    Thanks for your writings in elevating freedom of the press with so many important and pressing problems this President and his agency failed to address, starting from much delayed rehabilitation of Yolanda victims lack of job creation for the poor thru infrastructires, funds wasted by ( pork barrel scammers , DAP scam, extra-judicial killings of journalists -Ampatuan case, unsolved Dacer/Corbito case, rampant riding in tandem daylight robbery ,law enforcement ineffiicences in protecting the many, unsafe road and poor regulations leading to many bus accidents/ death of many,. Where is the priority??? Wang wang is not a priority,

  4. Another enlightening piece. This gungona committee should be called “YELLOW RIBBON COMMITEE”

  5. Very correct.
    But I am still hoping Sen. Guingona will get converted into someone as Godly as he used to be–someone as solidly ethical as his father, former VP Teofisto Guingona.

    C. Malifier
    Marikina City

  6. Hi Yen,

    I really appreciate your opinions and I value them so much. But, sometimes, when you really hit the issues “on the nail’s head” I become speechless and dumbfounded. I guess it happens even to your other readers and that is the reason we are not able to respond to your column.

  7. Your suggestion that Escudero should have amended his resolution in the Yellow Ribbon Committee to investigate the pdaf funds and include investigation of DAP funds is just wishful thinking. The reason is that the demeanor of Escudero in his own committee betrays his possible answer to your suggestion.

    Note that JV Ejercito filed his resolution number 287, calling for the senate to investigate the DAP funds. He filed it in October 2013. The resolution is significant because Ejercito was a former congressman and of course, one of those who partook of additional DAP funds over and above his pork allocation, ostensibly to impeach CJ Corona. Ejercito’s motive for filing such resolution cannot be questioned. Instead of referring it to the Yellow Ribbon Committee owing to the nature and gravity of the scams involved, the senate referred it to the Committee on Finance chaired by Escudero, Ejercito’s resolution has been languishing and hibernating in Escudero’s committee until now. Perforce, don’t even think for a second that Escudero will amend his pdaf investigation resolution in the Yellow Ribbon Committee to include DAP scams investigation.