The speech Senator Jinggoy Estrada delivered the other day was a big letdown.
Mr. Estrada complained that he and two other senators—Juan Ponce Enrile and Ramon “Bong” Revilla—are being singled out for prosecution when, he implied, other legislators had done the same thing. But that’s the line he’s been saying all along.
The NBI last week filed cases for plunder and malversation of public funds against 38 people including the three senators and their respective chiefs of staff, three former congressmen, and a number of executives of government-owned corporations.
Also named respondent was Janet Lim Napoles, the woman who is said to have set up those non-government organizations (NGOs) whose purpose was to take care of the documentation to show that projects financed by the legislators’ pork barrel allocations had been completed when there were none at all.
Mr. Estrada accused the administration of bribing the senator-judges to ensure the conviction of Chief Justice Renato Corona in the impeachment trial, but he offered no solid proof to support the allegation. He also chided DOJ and COA for their shortcomings, but he lacked passion. It is as if he did not believe the charges he hurled against them.
Instead of offering evidence in his defense, Mr. Estrada claimed there are other lawmakers who also funneled their Priority Development Assisstance Fund (PDAF) to non-existent NGOs. Again, he did not offer proof. If he did, he could be sure the people would also call these officials to account, if only before the bar of public opinion.
Mr. Estrada lamented he is being subjected to trial by publicity. He should be thankful the people did not resort to something more drastic. The people brought down the government twice. They can do it again, and given their mood, they will demand this time that the military—the only force capable of stepping into the vacuum—hold a summary trial. He will not like the outcome.
The three senators do not dispute that the pork barrel fund they released to fake NGOs has been stolen. All they are saying is that they have nothing to do with the theft.
Mr. Estrada said elsewhere—not in the privilege speech—that it was the lookout of the implementing agencies to make sure that the NGOs getting the money are authentic. If they are not and they steal the money, that’s only too bad.
For his part, Mr. Enrile issued a statement, through his lawyer, that he had never authorized anybody to release his PDAF allocation to any NGOs or local government units. He was saying in effect that his former chief of staff, Atty. Lucila Jessica “Gigi” Reyes, signed the release without authorization.
Mr. Revilla issued a blanket denial. Charged of authorizing the release of his PDAF to fake NGOs 22 times, he is now saying he knows nothing about it. He is hiring a handwriting expert to study his signatures for the sole purpose of—here we can only conclude—declaring them spurious.
The speech was not without merit. Mr. Estrada chided Congressman Neptali “Boyet” Gonzales Jr. for spending P6 million of his PDAF, supposedly for the purchase of Chickenjoy lunch boxes.
Mr. Gonzales acknowledged he did spend that amount for constituents celebrating their birthdays, but he explained he did it over a two-year period, not in one blow.
It is not clear whether DOJ will hale Mr. Gonzales to court, but it should. He has no business footing the bill of private parties using public funds. Or did he really?