Sen. Teofisto “TG” Guingona 3rd, head of a misnamed Senate panel, piously said that his inquiry into the alleged pork barrel scam was impelled by his quest for the truth. That’s a most commendable intention. Now, if only he could make his actions and utterances dovetail with this noble aim!
In last Thursday’s hearing, the testimonies of witnesses Dennis Cunanan, former director-general of the Technology Resource Center, and whistle-blower Benhur Luy contradicted each other. Cunanan said he never received any kickbacks from the almost P900-million worth of pork-funded projects approved by the TRC. Luy said he prepared P960,000 for Cunanan as “SOP” for heads of agencies involved in projects awarded to NGOs of Janet Lim Napoles. Luy added that he later saw Cunanan leaving Napoles’ office carrying the bag where he placed the P960,000.
Obviously, one of them was lying. This should not be tolerated in any self-respecting oversight hearing that demands witnesses to swear to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. The chairman of such a committee should have warned both Cunanan and Luy that telling lies in the hearing would make them liable for perjury. However, Guingona is not such a chairman. A witness’s lying before his committee is of no moment to him. Despite his avowed “search for truth,” he didn’t hammer away at the inconsistent testimonies of the two. Instead, he asked Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to iron out the conflicting testimonies. Hey, isn’t he the one investigating? Who’s calling the shots?
Guingona refused to say if Cunanan was lying. He said that the committee will have to evaluate his testimony. This is a correct reply. I wonder why he didn’t find such a procedure proper when he peremptorily gushed over the testimony of Ruby Chan Tuason as a gun-beating three pointer that won the game. He made the evaluation even while the committee was still to conduct more hearing.
When a Senate reporter asked him if he could evaluate Cunanan’s testimony as a senator and not as chairman of the panel, he replied that he couldn’t separate the two personalities. Again, that’s a very correct reply. A committee chairman isn’t supposed to make any prejudgment on any ongoing inquiry. And again, he saw things differently when Sen. Jinggoy Estrada lamented his statements on Tuason’s testimony. To Senator Jinggoy’s lament that it was improper for a committee chairman to prejudge a case, Guingona said that he was merely giving his personal opinion on the testimony of a witness. So, he could separate his two personalities when it suits him.
Guingona is a far cry from his father and namesake, former Vice President and former Sen. Teofisto “Tito” Guingona Jr. During martial law, I interviewed Tito a number of times at his office along E. Rodriguez blvd, Quezon City, in front of the Christ the King Church. That was the time when he was calling himself a “Bolshevik.” After EDSA 1, I covered his stint as chairman of the Commission on Audit and later, at the Senate.
One of my most cherished souvenirs is a short note from Tito after he was elected vice president by the Senate praising me for performing my job well as a journalist.
Considering that I have been very critical of the younger Guingona, I don’t expect to receive any “thank you” letter, from the incumbent senator I mean. This reminds me of a pledge I once made to a newly elected congressman representing my district. I told this congressman that he may expect me to write a news report about every commendable thing that he would do. Well, I was true to my promise. Three years went by and I wrote nothing about him. By the way, that congressman lasted only one term.
Going back to that Thursday hearing, I was disappointed with Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago for also ignoring the contradictory testimonies of Cunanan and Luy. I can’t understand why she merely shrugged those contradictions off, saying the Senate panel should just let it go. I guess this is because she’s more interested in getting into the record testimonies against Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile.
I’m also wondering why Sen. Bong Revilla bothered to send questions to the Guingona panel after saying he would stay off the hearings. He should have personally asked Cunanan those questions if he believed the answers would make the public doubt the witness’ credibility.
Kudos go to Senators Grace Poe, Koko Pimentel and Chiz Escudero for their more rational questions and points raised at the hearing.