MANILA, Philippines - More witnesses will be coming out to spill the beans and bolster the testimonies of whistle-blowers in the multibillion-peso pork barrel fund scam, President Aquino disclosed Wednesday.
Aquino told reporters he watched the Senate proceedings last Thursday and found Ruby Tuason credible when she divulged that she herself delivered alleged kickbacks to senators.
“The more important thing is that it was personal knowledge on her part, and she was able to narrate it – how did she receive the money, to whom she delivered it and who benefited from it,” Aquino said.
But he said it would be best left to prosecutors to elicit the information needed to convict an accused in court.
Inquiries in the Senate are always in aid of legislation, the President added.
Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the investigation on the pork barrel fund scam will not end with the alleged bogus non-government organizations of Janet Lim-Napoles but will include NGOs of politicians.
“That would be traced through the normal financial audit of COA (Commission on Audit),” he said. “It would surely be covered in the COA audit if they are absorbed in the flow of funds of a national government agency.”
Coloma said the Inter-Agency Anti-Graft Commission (IAAGC) has not yet finished its investigation.
“They continue to search and investigate if other NGOs are involved,” he said.
The IAAGC is comprised of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales and COA Chairman Grace Pulido-Tan.
No date to resume Senate hearings
The Senate Blue Ribbon committee has not yet set any specific date for the resumption of hearings of the pork barrel investigation after Sen. Jinggoy Estrada brought out on the floor his concern on the apparent bias of committee chairman Sen. Teofisto Guingona III on the testimony of Ruby Tuason.
Speaking to reporters yesterday, Guingona said: “We will still evaluate so there will be no announcement yet, we are reviewing everything.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Francis Escudero said the investigation must now shift from the senators to the other fictitious NGOs that the COA has identified in a special audit report.
“I will submit to the decision of the chairperson, but what about the other NGOs?” he said.
Escudero said he sees no problem if the Senate committee will also start to tackle the alleged misuse of the Malampaya fund.
“It’s okay with me, but I leave it up to the chair (Guingona) on how he wants to handle/approach the inquiry, as long as the inquiry proceeds,” he said.
Sen. Nancy Binay wants another hearing to follow up on the documents that she had requested from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).
“I think its time to move on to the other findings in the COA re PDAF,” she said. “Especially transactions not related to the Napoles case. There are still pending matters like documents that I requested for a subpoena duces tecum to DBM.”
Sen. Grace Poe wants the Blue Ribbon hearings on the pork barrel to continue as she wants to question more resource persons, particularly Dennis Cunanan who headed the Technology Resource Center.
“I did not know they were ending it when I requested to subpoena another person. I will have to discuss this with the chair of the committee,”
she said. “We will perhaps request the DOJ to look further into the alleged involvement of some personalities.”
Deputy Minority Leader Sen. Vicente Sotto III, however, said it’s time to wrap up the hearings since enough information has already been gathered to come up with proper legislation.
“It’s not my call or intention, nevertheless if the committee decides to. I’m sure they have enough to come up with a recommended piece of legislation to address the issue,” he said.
Estrada said it will be up to Guingona to decide whether he will pursue the pork barrel investigation.
“That’s the call of Sen. Guingona,” he said. “Whether they continue or they conclude it, it’s fine with me.”
Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV said he will also leave the decision to wrap up the hearings or not to Guingona.
In a manifestation in plenary, Sotto said any matter that involves impropriety on the part of a senator should be addressed through the ethics committee.
“We all want to arrive at what is the truth but I have difficulty in putting together a public accountability investigation and investigating a senator,” he said.
“I really feel and I want to get your reaction on my thinking that if we are going to focus on a member of the Senate, don’t you think it should be the committee on ethics to look into this?
“We have this before, there have been investigations to this effect. Don’t you think that should be the proper venue? The public accountability hearings may continue, focused on the scandal or the scam and probably perhaps as we have witnessed, the whistle-blowers or any witnesses or any resource persons that will aid us in coming up with better legislation to address this kind of problem.”
Guingona said that he has no problem with the suggestion of Sotto so that the Blue Ribbon committee “can focus on accountability,” while the ethics committee would handle the allegations against the senators.
The ethics committee has not been convened since the 16th Congress started its work in July last year.
Senate President Franklin Drilon was cool to the recommendation of Sotto to allow the Senate ethics committee to handle the pork barrel case relating to the implicated senators.
“It is not that there is nothing significant happening on the pork barrel investigation since the Ombudsman is looking into it,” he said.
“We expect the Ombudsman to act on it as soon as possible. On the other hand, we will not be able to wrap it up if we will investigate (through the) ethics committee. I doubt it very much if we can have any substantial work by the time we go on a break by March 15.”
Drilon said he prefers to concentrate on the legislative agenda based on what they agreed with the House of Representatives.
“My first preference is an independent body, the Ombudsman, is already investigating this,” he said.
Drilon said that the Senate leadership is exerting all efforts to organize the ethics committee, starting with finding an acceptable person to serve as chairman.
Finding someone considered neutral is very difficult, he added.
Drilon said the organization of the ethics committee is not a priority at this time because the Senate is busy trying to pass several important pieces of legislation.
“It is difficult to find a chair of the ethics committee so for our sessions, which would end on March 15, the next three weeks we would work to finish the pending bills such as the Sandiganbayan bill, the graphic warnings on cigarettes, the tax exemption on Christmas bonuses and the FOI (freedom of information),” he said.
‘Probe will restore trust in Senate’
Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara said yesterday the series of hearings on irregularities, including the pork barrel scam, will help restore the people’s trust and confidence in the Senate.
Speaking during the 35th founding anniversary of Aurora province and the 126th birthday of former first lady Aurora Aragon-Quezon at the provincial capitol, Angara said the Senate’s oversight functions are critical in restoring the people’s faith in like institutions the Senate.
“If not for these investigations, then Napoles would still engage in her racket, smuggling of rice would have remained rampant and sexual abuses against OFWs would have gone on,” he said.
Angara said the multibillion-peso scam involving the misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of some senators was enough to build 13,700 one-story classrooms and 8,000 two-story classrooms; buy 248 million textbooks, 370 million kilos of rice, 55 million kilos of pork; construct 400 kilometers of two-lane highway, and pay the salaries for one million minimum wage earners.
He hopes the 2013 batch of senators with an average age of 46 years will help restore the people’s trust in the Senate, he added.
Guest speaker at the anniversary rites, Angara was with Gov. Gerardo Noveras, Vice Gov. Rommel Rico Teh Angara, Rep. Bellaflor Angara-Castillo and other local officials.
Angara also paid tribute to his father, former senator Edgardo Angara, for catapulting the province, particularly Baler, into prominence by helping infuse funds from the national government.
Angara said in 2004, Baler was being mentioned as a part of the province of Quezon.
“But now, fast forward to 2014, Baler and Aurora have gained prominence as a premier tourist destination,” he said.
Angara said Baler was recently featured in an episode of the television program of Kris Aquino.
“Aurora’s exposure has been tremendous,” he said, adding that he has even become a travel agent in ensuring the booking of guests. – With Christina Mendez, Marvin Sy, Manny Galvez