MANILA, Philippines - Malacanang is unfazed by Cavite Rep. Lani Mercado's decision to snub President Aquino's State of the Nation Address (SONA) next month.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the event would push through despite her absence, even as he acknowledged that it is well within any lawmaker’s right to skip the annual address.
“I think it’s the right of every person, of every representative or senator, to opt to attend or not,” he said in a press conference yesterday.
“It (SONA) is a national event. It is a constitutionally mandated event and the President will deliver his State of the Nation Address regardless of reactions of some public officials who seemed to have been affected by the PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) scam,” he added.
Mercado said she is skipping Aquino’s SONA, claiming she and her husband Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr. have been victims of the administration’s shame campaign. She also believes the President would mention her husband’s detention in his SONA.
Revilla is facing plunder charges over his alleged misuse of pork barrel funds and is now detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center in Camp Crame.
Malacañang earlier said the President would not humiliate Revilla in his address on July 28.
“We respect and recognize her right to express her feelings,” Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. had said. “Our President had no such plans.”
However, Aquino earlier issued statements that are believed to be in reference to Revilla.
During his Independence Day message, Aquino took a swipe at entertainment personalities, saying the country does not need people who are only good at reading scripts.
Revilla is an actor and continues to appear in movies and television shows.
In obvious reference to the senator’s fantasy flicks, the President during a political rally in Revilla’s home province Cavite last February urged the people not to rely on amulets.
Senator JV Ejercito said he expects the President to highlight the arrest of his colleagues during his SONA.
“I am sure that this will be used by President Aquino as a trophy in his SONA. I guess we have to step up right now. We have to play a more active role as a true fiscalizer, a true minority, a true opposition,” he said.
He said he would still attend the SONA to hear what the President has to report.
“His speech writer should ensure that their data is accurate because the SONA, the report to the people, should be accurate and realistic,” he added.
Ejercito said the members of the minority bloc in the Senate are discussing who would deliver the kontra SONA or the traditional rebuttal from the opposition.
He admitted that the cases filed against Enrile and Estrada, both members of the Senate minority bloc, would have an adverse impact on the opposition.
He said the opposition would push for the resumption of the Senate Blue Ribbon investigation into the pork barrel scam because more legislators and officials, including allies of the President, were among those alleged to be involved.
“This will be a big challenge also to President Aquino, that if he really is serious about good governance and the fight against graft and corruption, then everyone should be covered, even if it involves his party mates,” he said.
‘Don’t feel sorry for them’
Amid Revilla’s complaints on his uneasy stay at his detention cell and Estrada’s request for some amenities, Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano said the public should not lose sight of the need for justice to be served and to punish the guilty.
“I know in the past few days, it has all been human interest (stories). I know that it’s hot there. I know it’s difficult to be in jail. But don’t we always say that if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime?” he said.
“Let us focus on the crime and the need to punish (the guilty) rather than feeling sorry for those being punished. Because the ones we should feel bad for are those whose money was stolen,” he added.
He said the public should not be distracted by what they have been seeing on TV news concerning the arrest of the senators.
Cayetano also decried the special treatment being given to the two senators, which he said is not an issue if other individuals accused of a crime would be given the same privileges.
He said the justice system should be blind to the stature of an accused whether he is a senator, rich or an ordinary person.
“You can see that they do not want a special criminal court in order to speed up the case but they want special quarters. Isn’t it that Senator Jinggoy said that he does not want a HDO (hold departure order) but he wants HBO (Home Box Office). He doesn’t want a hold departure order but wants cable TV,” Cayetano said.
“We have to put our foot down as a nation and say that in our criminal justice system, whether you are rich or poor, everyone is treated the same,” he said.
Revilla complained about the heat and the presence of cockroaches and rats inside his detention cell.
Cayetano said he also feels sorry for his colleagues but he has to keep his emotions in check because a lot of people were victims of the pork barrel scam.
“That is why I am saying prayers for them and hope that they will be healthy, especially Senator Enrile, who is 90 years old, and that they be treated humanely. But we still have to be on track for full prosecution of all forms of corruption and crimes,” he said.
Meanwhile, party-list group Bayan Muna urged the people to remain vigilant against pork barrel fund abuses despite the arrest of Estrada and Revilla.
Reps. Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate said they expect the Sandiganbayan fifth division to shortly order Enrile’s detention.
They said the pork barrel still thrives in various lump sums in the national budget that are under the disposal of President Aquino and members of his Cabinet.
These lump sums include the Malampaya Fund, Special Purpose Fund, President’s Social Fund, road user’s fund and the intelligence fund of various departments and agencies, they said. – With Marvin Sy, Jess Diaz