COMMENT: After Almost a Year, Still All Sounds

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, May 23, 2014 – The PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) or pork barrel scam erupted ten months ago. To be exact, the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) exposed it in a five-part series starting July 12, 2013. Immediately, it was “all sounds and fury” in the national media, not only for weeks but months. In fact, it has never left the front pages and prime time news.

The Commission on Audit reported in its special audit the misuse by “12 senators and 180 congressmen” of their PDAF or pork barrel – naming them with the corresponding amounts in millions of pesos misused through 82 bogus NGOs (non-government organizations). The COA report covering 2007 to 2009 showed the scam as more extensive than the PDI exposé which centered on how Jane Lim Napoles through JLN Corporation and eight fake NGOs siphoned P10 billion PDAF funds in collaboration with five senators and 23 House representatives.

In September 2013, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed with the Ombudsman a complaint of plunder against “38 lawmakers, government officials and private individuals” allegedly involved in the scam. Last April 1, the Ombudsman filed with the Sandiganbayan plunder charges against ten of the 38. Napoles dubbed as the “mastermind” is co-defendant only in three separate cases against Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr. (Rappler.com, April 1, 2014)

Today, it is still “all sounds”. The “fury” that has abated is again intensifying. Will all these “sounds and fury” eventually end with hundreds of legislators — senators and representatives — in jail or end convicting no one?

Muddled

In ten months, only the Supreme Court decision declaring the PDAF unconstitutional, the virtual abolition of the PDAF by not funding it in the 2014 budget and the indictment of the three senators, Napoles and six others are the only positive development. On the whole, the scam has become muddled while keeping it a media sensation.

That the Ombudsman could charge before Sandiganbayan only three senators and seven others including Napoles out of the 38 recommended by the DOJ is legally understandable. There must be sufficient evidence to convict. But that agitates negative public perceptions.

The lawmakers in the COA reports have challenged the COA audit – the authenticity of the documents and of their signatures. Those linked with Napoles by the “whistle-blowers” – her own employees led by her finance officer Benhur Luy – did the same, denying any association with Napoles. That explains the time needed by the DOJ, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Ombudsman to examine, verify and validate the slew of evidence given to them.

However, that also has given lawyers the time to intrigue and enliven the show. Lawyers for Napoles and the whistle-blowers have changed. That has given all the parties – including the DOJ and now the President and his Office – the time to feed the national media with statements to enlighten the public, that while confused are entertained.

The handiwork of crafty lawyers is evident. Confuse them. The more the confusion, the longer the case will drag. They are heftily paid. The more confusion, the more the sensation, the more they hog the headlines and the prime time. Media more than gladly cooperate.

Item 1: It must have been the idea of the little known lawyer Levito Baligod to accompany the Luy family to the PDI on April 12, 2013 with a copy of the hard disk drive containing the financial transactions of JLN kept by Benhur Luy, the JLN financial officer. They requested PDI “to expose the illegal transactions of Napoles”. Benhur, under protective custody of the NBI after his rescue from a three-month detention allegedly by Napoles, was not with the group.

That was the basis of the PDI exposé starting July 12, 2013. PDI has resumed the exposé – this time, based on the transactions dating back to 2000, a list of more than 150 members of the House of Representatives involved – incumbent, retired or dead – together with Napoles’s agnts and other beneficiaries and pertinent facts.

Item 2: It must have been the idea of Napoles’ lawyer Bruce Rivera that she takes the offensive by, first, issuing a list of her own of the senators and House representatives involved in the scam dating back to 2000; second, executing a sworn statement about the scam in details; and, third, demanding that in exchange for her list and sworn statement she should be made a state witness and be immune from criminal suit.

With two “Napolists”, one from Napoles and the other from Luy; with two narratives of the scam, one from Napoles and the other from Luy and the other-whistle blowers; and with two sets of state witnesses, one of Napoles testifying against the senators and House representatives, and the other of Luy and the other whistle-blowers either corroborating or contradicting Napoles while testifying against her, what case will not be muddled?

Rivera has portrayed Napoles as naïve and innocent. Are Luy and the other whistle-blowers the villains? We will discuss this in another COMMENT.

What’s Ahead?

There are interesting observations that shape the future of the scam.

Of the proliferation of the “Napolists”, President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III said it very aptly: “Bring the whole house down, pare-pareho na lang tayong my kasalanan .. guluhin and usapan (… we are all guilty … confuse the conversation).” [INQUIRER.net, May 19, 2014: Pork suspects want everyone to look guilty – Aquino]

Besides Luy’s list constructed by PDI from Luy’s disk, Napoles has a signed list given to DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima and another, unsigned, to former Sen. Panfilo Lacson. Sandra Cam, president of the Whistleblowers Association of the Philippines (WAP), is also claiming to have a “Napolist”. The four lists must differ in entries. Which one is authentic?

Another observer recalls the “Hello, Garci” tapes – supposedly the phone conversation of President Gloria Macpagal-Arroyo and Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano. The different copies confused the Senate and House investigations of the alleged fraudulent win of Arroyo over Fernando Poe Jr. in the 2004 election. Now in the archives of history, the authentic tape has never been determined. With the four “Napolists”, the PDAF scam can end the way the much sensationalized electoral protest against Arroyo had ended.

Napoles, according to her lawyer, would add three more senators to her list and remove one. Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III compared this to “dagdag-bawas” (padding-shaving) election cheating practice. (The Philippine Star, May 20, 2014: Napoles to name 3 more senators) How authentic is her list?

Sandra Cam and her WAP group are calling for the immediate resignation of Secretary De Lima, disclosing that De Lima, some DOJ officials and the NBI have been bribed by Napoles (P150 million ) to drop the serious illegal detention case filed Luy against her. They also doubt her fairness since her ex-husband lawyer Plaridel Bohol has evident professional associatiosn with Napoles. (The Manila Times, May 21, 2014: De Lima must quit — whistleblowers)

By tainting the integrity of De Lima, they cast doubt on the integrity of the evidence in the plunder cases against Napoles, the three senators and six others. By different sworn narratives about the scam and mutually hostile state witnesses – should Napoles succeed in her quest be one – the prosecution might be in disarray and it would be difficult to determine who among the many others allegedly involved in the scam will be charged.

What lies ahead? Surely, the “sounds and fury” will continue. But will there be an assurance of conviction and the satisfactory closure of the scam?

(Next: Apology for Napoles)

["Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a "Lifetime Achievement Award" from the Titus Brandsma for his "commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate." You may e-mail your comments to patponcediaz@yahoo.com]

URL: http://www.mindanews.com/mindaviews/2014/05/23/comment-after-almost-a-year-still-all-sounds/

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