MANILA - The Senate Blue Ribbon committee should start its investigation into the Malampaya Fund scam, which can turn out to be much worse and more scandalous than the pork barrel controversy in terms of the amounts stolen, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada said over the weekend.
Estrada lamented that committee chairman Sen. Teofisto Guingona III has not acted on the Malampaya Fund scam despite the latter’s declaration that the committee is ready to move on after concluding its probe on the anomalous use of lawmakers’ Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allegedly masterminded by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles. PDAF is the official term for the congressional pork barrel.
“That is bigger because billions were lost here,” Estrada said.
“Senator Guingona, time and again, has been saying that he is going to start investigating the Malampaya scam, but up to now he has not started this. He is too busy with the pork barrel (scam) where we three senators are allegedly involved,” he said.
Estrada has been indicted on plunder in connection with the PDAF scam along with his Senate colleagues Juan Ponce Enrile and Ramon Revilla Jr.
Estrada expressed belief that Ruby Tuason, who has been allowed to turn state witness in the pork barrel scam by the Office of the Ombudsman, is the mastermind of the Malampaya Fund anomaly.
In her Senate testimony early this year, Tuason admitted
having delivered huge sums of money representing kickbacks from PDAF-funded projects to Estrada and to Enrile’s then chief of staff Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes.
Estrada, Enrile, Reyes and Napoles have been indicted on plunder and malversation, along with several others, in connection with the pork barrel anomaly. By becoming a state witness, Tuason has been officially dropped from the list of those indicted.
Estrada said in a privilege speech earlier that people close to Tuason referred to her house in Dasmariñas Village in Makati City as “Malampaya mansion.”
Tuason alleged that Napoles had asked her for contacts in Malacañang, to which she obliged by giving the name of her brother Remy Chan, who has since died.
Tuason said it was her late brother who did business with Napoles and that he made her house a pick-up point for kickbacks from anomalous deals involving the Malampaya Fund.
But with Tuason’s brother no longer around to give his side on the issue, there was little or no chance of verifying if she was telling the truth.
The former employees of Napoles, who have since become whistle-blowers in the pork barrel scam, recalled getting hold of around P900 million of the Malampaya Fund, which was supposed to go to energy-related projects of local government units.
It was not clear how long the embezzling of the Malampaya Fund had been going, based on information available.
Estrada has joined the calls for Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to release the details of the affidavit prepared by Napoles recently, purportedly containing the names of legislators and officials that she had dealt with over the years.
“As long as the list remains hidden, there will always be suspicion in the mind of every Juan de la Cruz that De Lima is sanitizing the list – that only three of us senators are being targeted by the DOJ (Department of Justice),” he said.
Estrada said De Lima was reluctant to make the list public because it contains the names of many administration allies.
Not off the hook yet
Although give assurance of immunity from prosecution in the pork barrel scam, Tuason may still face prosecution for the Malampaya Fund anomaly, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said yesterday.
“It’s been clarified: She is still indicted on alleged Malampaya Fund scam,” he said.
On Friday, the Office of the Ombudsman and the DOJ announced that Tuason’s application to stand as state witness in the PDAF scam had been approved.
As she had promised, Tuason returned P40 million she admitted to have amassed in the course of her questionable dealings with Napoles and with two senators.
Tuason has also offered to testify in the Malampaya Fund scam, but made no promise to return any amount, specifically the P240 million she was alleged to have earned.
On whether the P40 million returned by Tuason accurately represented the amount she had stolen, Coloma said, “We defer to the ombudsman’s decision as we respect the independence of her office.”
Coloma expressed hope that with her immunity, “Tuason can reveal the whole truth, thus aiding in the people’s quest for justice.”
De Lima said the ombudsman is still evaluating the Malampaya controversy allegedly involving personalities in the Arroyo administration. The fund represents part of earnings from the operation of the offshore Malampaya natural gas plant in Palawan remitted to the government for the latter’s exclusive use for energy development projects.
Portions of the funds, however, ended up in unrelated projects carried out by non-government organizations linked to Napoles during the Arroyo administration.
On the proposal that a “truth commission” be convened to dig deeper into the pork barrel scam, Coloma said they have to study such proposal first, considering that institutions and mechanisms are in place to handle the matter.
Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza said he was making the proposal in response to public clamor for a speedier investigation into the PDAF scam. He said retired Supreme Court justices should comprise the truth commission, and that they should be allowed to perform their task side by side with the existing Inter-Agency Anti-Graft Coordinating Council (IAAGCC).
Atienza said he would file a bill that would provide legislative support for such a commission.
“We have the Department of Justice and we also have the IAAGCC composed of the Department of Justice, Commission on Audit and Office of the Ombudsman,” Coloma said over radio dzRB when sought for comment on Ateinza’s proposal.
“In our view, we have adequate mechanism and posture on the part of the Department of Justice to investigate this,” he added.
Coloma assured the public that the administration is doing its best to get to the bottom of the issue involving the embezzling of billions of pesos in lawmakers’ PDAF.
Meanwhile, retired Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz said the turn of events in the PDAF scam appeared to indicate that the issue would take “forever and ever.”
Cruz, former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said he found it puzzling that even Napoles – the so-called “pork barrel scam queen” – is now considering telling everything she knows about the scam.
“There is a recent startling development. The said ‘queen’ now wants to talk, to tell all, thus furiously presenting herself as a ‘state witness’ to speak her mind out, to name more names, who are supposedly beneficiaries as well of the scam,” Cruz said in his Viewpoint blogspot.
He said the public is eager to know who else would be accused of plunder, or how many appeals would be made, or who would eventually be put behind bars.
“Answer: This is an issue ‘forever and ever.’ Amen,” Cruz said. – With Eva Visperas