On the face of it, abolishing the hated pork barrel system and throwing to jail senators and congressmen who stole taxpayers’ money using the scheme could have been President Aquino’s great achievement, his legacy to the nation.
More than that, it is a masterstroke that could put an end the presidential and vice presidential ambitions of opposition Senators Ramon Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada. Senator Juan Ponce Enrile is politically finished to be a leader that could rally opposition senators against Aquino’s man Senate President Franklin Drilon.
There’s a hitch though, a big one that could even engulf this administration. Aquino himself is getting entangled in the pork-barrel controversy, and is emerging as another suspect politician who has benefited from the alleged schemes of Janet Napoles to siphon government money to his pocket. Worse, he may have known of Napoles’ illegal schemes but has allowed her to operate after he assumed power in mid-2010.
The photo of Aquino smiling with Napoles’ Jeane daughter in what Malacañang mouthpieces admitted was taken in a private function in Cebu belied the Presidents’ claims that he didn’t know Mrs. Napoles unless, he claimed, he was getting senile. The photo is going viral in social media. I was surprised that in my Facebook account with less than a hundred “friends”, the photo was posted over two dozen times by different people, many with the comment “buking” (roughly a slang for “exposed”).
There were several reasons why few believed his spokespersons’ claims that Jeane Napoles was just one of many people the President hardly knows but who managed to be photographed with him, and that he doesn’t know Mrs. Napoles at all.
The first is the fact that it was the President whom Mrs. Janet Napoles wrote April 17—four months before The Philippine Daily Inquirer broke the pork-barrel scam story—to protest the National Bureau of Investigation’s arrest of his brother for the alleged kidnapping of Benhur Luy, who would turn out to be her principal accuser.
Why would Napoles, a very rich woman who can afford a phalanx of high-priced lawyers, write the President himself, when she could have asked the help of lower ranking officials, especially Justice Secretary Leila de Lima under whom the NBI falls?
There are only two kinds of people who write the President directly.
One consists of crackpots and idealistic ordinary citizens, mostly from the poor and the lower classes, who believe that the Chief Executive has the time to read the hundreds of letters sent to him.
The second is on the other end of the spectrum: elites who directly bring to the attention of the President an issue that concerns them, or people who warn him of something, They are confident the President will read their letter since they know him personally, or that the President owes them something, usually for electoral campaign contributions.
Napoles’ letter to the President is intriguing. While its tone is official, it contains too much detail, as if Napoles were narrating something to a friend who needs to know these details:
“Thereafter, Atty. Levito Baligod, lawyer of the Luy family, together with a Retired General Rodulfo Diaz, demanded P38 million from us in exchange for the dropping of said false charges and bad media publicity, which they started on first and second of April 2013 at Interaksyon, Manila Bulletin and Philippine Star stating false accusations against us. In addition, on 27 March 2013, I met with Atty. Baligod and this time he demanded a higher amount of P250-300 million, excluding their other demands such as: issuance of Canadian visas for the Luy family members including himself; pocket money of US$1.5 million; and the opening of a legitimate pharmaceutical business with a capitalization of P30 million to be given to the youngest sister who will be left in the Philippines.” (emphasis mine)”
The details of the demands seem to make Napoles’ claims credible. How could she have thought of such a demand as the setting up of a drug store for Baligod’s sister? Napoles’ reference to the threat of “bad media publicity” is certainly prescient, as she has become the hated poster girl for the pork-barrel scam.
Napoles’ claim that a huge amount of money—up to P300 million—was demanded of her and her reference to “bad media publicity” if she doesn’t pay off would be only understandable if she was actually sending the message to Aquino that her problem is of such magnitude that could result in bad publicity that he himself wouldn’t like. The President therefore needed to act on her complaint.
Even the closing of Napoles’ letter isn’t the type one uses when writing a President (such as, “Respectfully yours,”). It’s a more familiar closing one would use for a friend or an associate: “Thank you very much and God bless.”
Atty. Baligod in a television interview claimed— surprisingly—that an indication that Napoles had a hot line to Malacañang was the fact that Justice Secretary de Lima was asked the very next day to investigate the NBI regarding Napoles’ allegations.
(According to one interpretation, after de Lima asked the NBI to explain, Baligod and the NBI officials who were his accomplices decided to retaliate—as their careers were put at stake—by leaking the allegations on the pork barrel scam to media.)
Another reason why many believe that Aquino knew Napoles and of her scams is the way he accepted Napoles’ surrender, meeting with her at one of Malacañang Palace’s receiving rooms, where presidents even meet foreign dignitaries and other important guests. Why did Aquino have to meet her and even escort her to the Philippine National Police headquarters across the city? What did they talk about in their meeting in Malacañang and in the presidential car, which took over 45 minutes?
A third reason why Aquino has become suspect is that the Commission on Audit’s special report on lawmakers’ use of pork barrel was incredibly selective. The report explained this bias by the fact that the Department of Budget and Management—headed by Aquino’s political strategist and ideologue Florencio Abad—“did not provide the Team, despite repeated requests, with complete schedule of releases per legislator from PDAF for soft project.”
Only P8 billion of pork barrel funds were in fact audited, or 30 percent of the total P21 billion allocated from 2007 to 2009. It doesn’t seem to be coincidental that the pork barrel funds which were extensively audited were that of Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Estrada Revilla, and surprisingly though, also that of Senator Edgardo Angara.
How did Aquino use his pork barrel funds, and did he use Napoles’ or Napoles-type arrangements? In one statement, Aquino says he remembers using his pork-barrel for some road repairs in Tarlac. In another, he says he didn’t receive any pork-barrel at all when he broke away from then President Arroyo’s camp, which I’m sure isn’t true.
The COA audit itself lists under his name P40 million in pork barrel fund released. But the DBM has refused to release documents to show how this P40 million was used.
If this pork-barrel issue is to mean one of the most important anti-corruption projects in our history, Aquino must come clean with regard to his own pork-barrel use and have the DBM release the documents it has withheld from the COA.
www.rigobertotiglao.com and www.trigger.ph