Who’ll believe any report by the Senate on its inquiry into the three lists where 11 incumbent senators are alleged to have received kickbacks from their pork barrel funds? The chamber has been tarred and feathered by the lists, and has lost all credibility. It can regain some of its lost luster only by concentrating on its primary job, lawmaking, and giving up the inquiry into the pork issue.
The Senate blue-ribbon committee lost its sheen when it turned yellow under Sen. TG Guingona, who doesn’t believe that anomalies like those in the previous administration could happen under the “tuwid na daan” of President BS Aquino 3rd. It’s already a foregone conclusion that none of the close allies of BS Aquino will ever be recommended for prosecution by this administration’s faithful in the Senate.
Guingona’s yellow panel has in its possession the lists of alleged “pork commissioners” from Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and former Sen. Ping Lacson. Now, it wants to get a third list from whistleblower Benhur Luy, who has through his lawyers denied having prepared any list. Oh my! The inquiry, if not tragic, could turn into a comedy like those featuring “Mr. Bean!”
The President has decided to stand by his three Cabinet members mentioned in the alleged Benhur Luy list—Budget Secretary Butch Abad, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and TESDA Director General Joel Villanueva. He said that the three are entitled to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. I guess he makes such presumption only for his faithful, not for the infidels. Now, this is no longer guesswork—he doesn’t believe that members of his Cabinet should be, like Caesar’s wife, above suspicion.
A story in Plutarch’s “Life of Julius Caesar” cited rumors of adultery being committed by Caesar’s wife Pompeia. Caesar said he knew nothing about her rumored adultery but divorced her just the same because his wife should be above suspicion. Indeed, suspicions of his wife’s adultery could sully Caesar’s social and political reputation and prestige. Ah, but BS Aquino is so lily-white that not even suspicions of hanky-panky by members of his official family could sully him. Previously, he stood by Local Government Secretary Rico Puno who was then embroiled in the jueteng and hostage-taking controversy.
BS Aquino’s protective attitude towards his Cabinet members reminds me of another president with a similar mindset—Ferdinand E Marcos. Standing by your men is a sign of of good leadership—but only if you pick your men well. Marcos had filled his Cabinet with men of undeniably outstanding skills, leadership, intelligence and vision—Rafael Salas, Blas Ople, Juan Ponce Enrile, Bong Tanco, Claudio Teehankee, Carlos P. Romulo, Kit Tatad, Cesar E.A. Virata and OD Corpuz, to name a few. Even those in the sub-Cabinet level were achievers like Aber Canlas, Jose Conrado Benitez, Eduardo Soliman, Sonny Escudero, and Ismael Mathay Jr. Now, who among the members of the Aquino Cabinet could hold a candle to those in the Marcos Cabinet?
But I digress. Going back to the Senate inquiry, the senators in the list are ill-advised to confront Benhur Luy and Napoles when the yellow ribbon panel resumes its “inquiry.” They shouldn’t appear to be browbeating resource persons who’ll testify against them. They might only intimidate their guests into playing it safe in a hostile environment.
Luy’s lawyer, Raji Mendoza said in a roundtable at the Manila Times last Thursday that it’s unfair to ask his client to explain a list that he didn’t prepare. He refused to authenticate the list supposed to have been made by Luy but intimated that it could have been extracted from the voluminous documents of Luy in the possession of somebody else. At the same time, he said that Luy is prepared to substantiate documents on the alleged involvement of Napoles in the P728-million fertilizer fund scam.
This scandal was previously investigated by the Senate Committee on Agriculture headed by Sen. Ramon Magsaysay Jr., which recommended the prosecution by the Ombudsman of several agriculture officials, including Sec. Cito Lorenzo and Undersec Joc-Joc Bolante. The Ombudsman did not act on the Senate recommendation, prompting lawyer Frank Chavez to file a complaint against Lorenzo, Bolante and then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Last week, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said there was no “factual or legal basis” to charge GMA.
I remember that Magsaysay didn’t recommend GMA’s indictment for the fertilizer fund scam. He even held a hearing at a hospital where former Budget Secretary Emilia Boncodin was confined for terminal cancer. Boncodin said that she never received any instruction from GMA to release the fertilizer fund. This clearance of GMA by Boncodin, a member of the Hyatt 10 group of cabinet members who turned against Arroyo, was enough reason for Magsaysay to exclude GMA from those he had recommended for prosecution by the Ombudsman.