MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/07 November) — Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago started by training her guns at alleged pork barrel scam Janet Lim-Napoles, but ended up hitting her colleague, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, during the televised hearing Thursday by the Senate blue ribbon committee.
At the start of the hearing, Napoles was stonewalling the questions posed by committee chair Teofisto Guingona III that this observer was almost tempted to switch to a sports channel. I lost count how many times the witness had recited the phrase “di ko alam” (I don’t know). But Santiago breathed life into what could have been a dull proceeding.
Santiago began by enlightening Napoles on her rights – in particular the right against self-incrimination – and the situations wherein such rights may be invoked. In the subsequent questioning by Santiago, Napoles did extensively (excessively?) invoke [her] right against self-incrimination that at one point the senator told her she was only creating the impression that she was hiding something.
Santiago then advised Napoles it would serve her better if she became state’s witness and identified the real mastermind, alluding to Enrile who, she stressed, was the Senate president at the time the questioned pork transactions occurred. Further, the senator warned the Basilan native that she was dealing with “murderous” individuals, a point she tried to emphasize by recalling Enrile’s role as defense minister during Martial Law.
“Tell the truth before the senators affected have you assassinated,” she told Napoles without batting an eyelash.
Whistleblowers had alleged that Enrile, along with Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla Jr. were among the lawmakers involved in the pork barrel scam. Estrada had flown to the US for a supposed medical examination of his wife, while Enrile and Revilla did not attend the hearing.
In the latter part of her questioning, and in a methodical way, Santiago demolished Napoles’ earlier claims about her financial fortune and used it to build on her assertion that Enrile not Napoles is the real mastermind behind the scam. Napoles was apparently clueless that she had become Santiago’s ammunition against the former Senate president, now the minority leader.
Santiago read from what was apparently a well-researched dossier on Napoles’ background which by her reckoning, could not sufficiently explain the suspected scam mastermind’s current assets and finances. For one, Santiago cited that Napoles’ educational attainment (high school diploma) is incongruous with the kind of business dealings she had reportedly engaged in, including trade in carbon credits.
The senator noted too that from simply running a canteen in Fort Bonifacio, Napoles went into big-time business ventures and accumulated high-end properties.
In the end, while Napoles may have evaded answering most of the questions Santiago succeeded in making her admit her humble beginnings, an admission that contradicted her earlier claims that she built her assets on a hefty inheritance.
On the basis of these admissions, Santiago tried to strengthen her own theory that Enrile is the biggest culprit.
The Senate was a calm sea when the hearing started. But along came a tempest called Miriam. We’ll see if she can sustain her gustiness in the days to come. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at email@example.com)