SOMEONE ELSE’S WINDOWS: Defense, defense

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/22 June) – How will the senators and other lawmakers who have been charged with graft and/or plunder in relation to the pork barrel scam defend themselves at the Sandiganbayan?

Senator Juan Ponce Enrile has opted to hold his fire at the moment. As a lawyer, he knows anything he says could backfire. Not even the repeated tirades of Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago could lure him into the open. The fox always feels safer in his hole.

On the other hand, right after the controversy erupted, Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. used the Senate halls to deny accusations they benefited from the misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund. Both of them insinuated that the charges were politically motivated. Revilla went as far as personally meeting his supporters in an apparent attempt to win public sympathy, abetted in no small measure by national television.

In the bar of public opinion it will mainly be a battle of credibility between the lawmakers and the hostile witnesses like whistleblower Benhur Luy. However, it is difficult to ascribe ill motives to the allegations of Luy, who appears to be driven by purposes other than destroying the lawmakers’ political careers at the behest of administration allies as the legislators have maintained.

In the trial, the lawmakers will have to convince the Sandiganbayan that: [1] at least some of their signatures in documents pertaining to the PDAF were forged; [2] they had no way of knowing that the NGOs they endorsed were bogus; [3] they did not know Mrs. Napoles much less have any official dealings with her or her representatives; and, more importantly [4] they endorsed certain projects for funding under PDAF with only the best of intentions in mind.

All these will be weighed against Luy’s testimonial and documentary evidence. The documents in particular will help determine the level of official involvement, and this is where agencies like the Department of Agriculture and Department of Budget and Management cannot escape scrutiny.

The list of the accused will inevitably go beyond the names that are currently in the charge sheet. Officials like Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala may not be formally indicted but they cannot avoid being included in the narratives of the trial.

And while Luy may be enjoying public support for spilling the beans, it would not suffice to secure the conviction of the accused. He has to prove (read convince the court) that the accused actually received money as kickbacks for the ghost projects. For instance, Luy himself declared he had never met Enrile. Besides, how will he explain a scenario where his records (ledgers of the supposed kickbacks) would not match with those of the Commission on Audit?

The Sandiganbayan is not the Senate blue ribbon committee. Luy should expect a war of attrition. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at [email protected])