MANILA - Public outrage over the pork barrel scam should not be directed at Malacañang, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said yesterday.
Coloma reiterated the administration is one with the people in efforts to ferret out the truth about allegations of fund misuse by government officials in line with its daang matuwid (straight path) or good governance policy.
He said they are aware of the value of every peso of taxes paid by the people and the need to spend their money wisely.
“That is why we laid down steps and we strengthened institutions to promote greater openness, transparency and accountability of public officials, especially in the use of public funds,” Coloma said over radio dzRB.
He said they could not join calls for the resignation of all those implicated in the pork barrel scam with no evidence to prove the allegations against them. But he said the opinion of those who would conduct indignation rallies would be respected.
Anti-corruption and pork barrel protests to call for the resignation of officials implicated in the pork barrel scam will be held on June 12 to mark Independence Day.
Coloma said they respect the right of the public to express their views, even as he appealed to the organizers to keep their rallies peaceful and orderly.
Coloma said the administration agrees with Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III in asking for evidence against those allegedly involved in the scam so the guilty could be brought before the bar of justice.
President Aquino has repeatedly made known his stand to “let the evidence point to the direction of the inquiry,” Coloma said.
He said such order from the President covered both the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and Malampaya Fund scams, adding that investigations would be done fairly, without fear or favor.
Calling whistle-blower Benhur Luy’s files “useless nonsense,” Pimentel on Friday said the government should spend more time collating official documents to build an airtight case against those responsible for the multibillion-peso pork barrel scam.
Unlike other members of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee, Pimentel saw no need to summon Luy to a public hearing to explain his digital files that detailed transactions between alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles and lawmakers and government officials.
He said the Department of Justice should follow the paper trail by gathering documents such as special allotment release orders, notices of cash allocation, checks and approvals.
“Let’s concentrate on evidence that can be used in the courts of law, not the court of public opinion,” he said.
Coloma said all information should be verified and assessed to know their probative value.
He said justice could only be served if the individuals who committed wrongdoings could be charged and convicted, and not benefit from the muddling of issues.
Coloma said the Commission on Audit (COA), as an independent constitutional body, could be objective in its investigation of Napoles’ claims.
He said COA Chairman Grace Pulido-Tan should not be doubted on the basis of being a presidential appointee and a nominee to the Supreme Court (SC).
The COA had said it would look into the allegations made by Napoles in her affidavits.
Coloma noted that it was COA’s special audit of the PDAF transactions from 2007 to 2009 that was the basis for validation or case build-up by the Department of Justice.
“So maybe we should recognize the institutional integrity of COA,” he said.
He added the members of the Judicial and Bar Council would be the ones to assess the qualifications and track record of all candidates for SC justice.
Coloma also reiterated his defense of Cabinet members linked to the PDAF scam, saying there must be presumption of innocence if evidence against them could not be presented.
He cited Budget and Management Secretary Florencio Abad and his daughter, Presidential Management Staff chief Julia Abad, who have been performing their duties.
The budget chief had denied Napoles’ accusations and warned against falling for the tricks of a defense strategy to “spread the liability and make everyone stink.”
Abad had said he was ready to defend himself and prove his innocence.
As the pork barrel scam continues to plague the Senate, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV expressed concern that the institution has become ineffective.
He said the controversy has strained and made the relationship among the senators “very awkward.”
“I would have to admit that we have become ineffective because of all these developments,” he said in an interview over ABS-CBN’s Bandila Friday night.
Trillanes said he wants to keep an open mind on the alleged involvement of his colleagues in the pork barrel scam, especially since the veracity of the claims made by Napoles and the whistle-blowers have yet to be verified.
“We have to evaluate those who have been implicated. A lot of those involved may have been a victim of propaganda. Maybe they put too much trust on a particular staff. There are just too many circumstances involved here,” he said.
Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr. have been charged with plunder in connection with the pork barrel scam.
However, more senators have been named in recent weeks as allegedly having had some transactions with Napoles based on the records kept by Luy.
Truth from lies
Sen. Francis Escudero, who was among the senators mentioned by Napoles in her affidavit, said he is confident the public could sort out the truth from the lies.
He has denied Napoles’ claims, including that he was given funds for his presidential bid in 2010. He said he decided not to run in 2010 so it did not make sense for Napoles or anyone to provide him with campaign contributions.
He said it has been close to a year that investigations have been going on, and it is time for these to be concluded.
“The hearings should be completed as soon as possible. This has been going on for close to a year already and we cannot keep on talking about this,” Escudero said over dwIZ.
He said the ombudsman should have filed charges so the guilty would be put in jail.
Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, for his part, reiterated his challenge for Napoles and the whistle-blowers to face him in the Senate so the truth about the matter would come out.
“We reiterate Sen. Cayetano’s position that he did not receive a centavo from Napoles or any of her NGOs. Sen. Cayetano is not new to attempts to malign his character and tarnish his good name. He has fought corruption all his life. And he will not back down now,” Cayetano’s chief of staff, Shelah Famador, said in a statement.
“As early as August 2013, he already opened his office’s books to the COA and asked the agency to inspect his projects for any sign of corruption. We are confident they will find nothing,” she added.
Meanwhile, Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada said he is confident that his wife, former senator Loi Ejercito, and his son Jinggoy can defend themselves in connection with the pork barrel scam.
In a telephone interview with The STAR, Estrada said he hopes Mrs. Ejercito and Jinggoy will be given their day in court.
“I leave it to the court. They can defend themselves. I hope it will not be like what they did to me,” he said, when asked to comment on Loi’s inclusion in the final list of former senators who allegedly misused their PDAF.
Estrada recalled that he was forced to leave Malacañang in 2001 amid allegations of corruption and a special court in the Sandiganbayan was created to try his case. – With Marvin Sy, Jose Rodel Clapano