The Senators linked to the P10 billion Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam would be in a better place if they keep their silence instead of ventilating their sentiments in the halls of Congress.
Reps. Rodolfo Fariñas of Ilocos Norte and Giorgidi Aggabao of Isabela made the observation in light of the continued Senate Blue Ribbon Committee probe on the P10 billion PDAF mess wherein the fund was allegedly funneled to the bogus entities owned by Janet Napoles in exchange of kickbacks for lawmakers.
“A person enjoys presumption of innocence, and it is the state’s obligation, in this case the prosecution, to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt. An accused has the right to remain silent and such right means that there could be no inference of guilt if one chooses to remain silent,” Fariñas, the Deputy Majority Leader of the powerful Commission on Appointments, said in a text message.
“A congressional investigation is in aid of legislation. It is not the place for the hearing of the merits of a criminal case. It could be good or bad for the prosecution, but always bad for the respondent or accused as his constitutional rights are at stake and might be jeopardized,” Fariñas added.
Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, one of the 38 people charged with plunder and graft-related charges by the Department of Justice before the Office of the Ombudsman, has earlier questioned the credibility of the government witnesses implicating him in the P10 billion PDAF scam in his privileged speeches. Estrada, however, has skipped the Senate Blue Ribbon panel hearings which was attended by his accusers such as Benhur Luy, Ruby Tuason and Technical Resources Center Director Dennis Cunanan.
Aside from Estrada, other Senators charged in connection with the PDAF controversy are Juan Ponce Enrile and Ramon “Bong” Revilla, Jr.
“A congressional probe is a useless venue to defend oneself from criminal charges. Anything said during the probe is not evidence that will be binding upon the Ombudsman. The venue to prosecute or defend a member of Congress from alleged criminal conduct is before the Ombudsman, not the halls of Congress,” Aggabao, one of the House’s Deputy Speakers, said in a separate talk.
Reps. Sherwin Tugna of Citizens Battle Against Corruption party-list and Marcelino Teodoro of Marikina agreed with Fariñas and Aggabao, but clarified that elected officials also owe the public an explanation on how they spent the public funds such as the PDAF which used to be the discretionary fund of lawmakers.
The PDAF was outlawed by the Supreme Court in November 2013.
“As an elected Senator of the Republic wherein people reposed his trust in him, he should at least, address and explain the liquidation of the allegations of diversions of his PDAF in his privilege speeches. He owes an accountability to the public,” Tugna, a lawyer, argued.
“It is incumbent upon elected representatives to act lawfully and to be accountable under the law at all times, whether among their peers,” Teodoro, Chairman of the House Committee on Legislative Franchises, added.
While he has skipped Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearings, Estrada has resorted to privilege speeches and even accused Sen. Alan Cayetano of using the Senate probe to gain mileage for the 2016 Presidential polls.
Cayetano, however, countered that the Senate probe is done in aid of legislation and because elected officials are accountable to the public that elected them to office.
Cayetano then cited that Estrada also somehow forced the late Angelo Reyes and former military official Jacinto Ligot to answer the corruption allegations against them before the Senate Blue Ribbon panel back in 2011.
After he showed up in the Senate probe, Reyes committed suicide before his parents’ tomb in February 2011. LLANESCA T. PANTI