Opposition senators ready own bombshell

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MANILA -- Days after being named in plunder cases filed with the Office of the Ombudsman, two senators said they are preparing to drop bombshells aimed at exposing the Aquino administration’s alleged involvement in high level corruption.

 

Senators Ramon Revilla Jr. and Jinggoy Estrada are expected to reveal their exposés in privilege speeches they hope to deliver next week.

Revilla and Estrada, along with Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile, were charged Monday with plunder for allegedly skimming millions of pesos from their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) in connivance with businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.

Napoles, widely acknowledged as the mastermind of the pork barrel scam, was included in the plunder charges.

Based on complaints prepared by the National Bureau of Investigation, Revilla allegedly pocketed over P224.5 million in kickbacks from Napoles while Estrada supposedly amassed P183.79 million. Enrile supposedly got P172.8 million.

To prepare for his defense, Revilla reportedly met with members of his legal team to strategize his next move.

Estrada was mum on the contents of his privilege speech but sources said he would likely rant about the involvement of executive officials and other members of the chamber in the anomalous disbursement of PDAF.

“Let’s just wait for my speech,” Estrada told reporters.

Estrada earlier said it was the fault of implementing agencies that dubious non-government organizations (NGOs) linked to Napoles were able to corner government funds.

Enrile’s camp, meanwhile, has assigned a lawyer as spokesman, apparently in preparation for a tough legal battle.

In a radio interview, lawyer Enrique “Buko” de la Cruz Jr. said the former Senate president’s legal team (PECABar) is assembling witnesses and documents to buttress its position.

Enrile was scheduled for discharge from a hospital yesterday where he has been confined for hypertension and removal of an obstruction in his urethra.

“The entire legal team of Enrile is preparing his defense,” De la Cruz said.

He stressed that the senator signed endorsements of PDAF projects only to local government agencies. “This is not against the law,” he said.

De la Cruz practically put the blame on Enrile’s former chief of staff Gigi Reyes and another deputy chief of staff, lawyer Jose Antonio Evangelista, who supposedly signed endorsements for NGOs that later turned out to be bogus.

Reyes was included in the plunder complaint while no charges have yet been leveled against Evangelista.

De La Cruz said Enrile was strict in his directives that his PDAF should only be allocated to local government units (LGUs).

“If ever some of his employees had diverted funds to these NGOs, it’s not because they had been ordered by Enrile,” he said.

He said they are optimistic the Office of the Ombudsman would rule objectively on the matter.

Meanwhile, the Senate Blue Ribbon committee will continue its probe into the pork barrel scam with its fourth hearing scheduled next Tuesday, Sept. 24.

Committee chairman Sen. Teofisto Guingona III made the announcement yesterday in response to speculations that the hearings would no longer continue with the filing of plunder and malversation cases with the Office of the Ombudsman.

“Benhur Luy, together with other whistle-blowers, have been invited to the hearing. The committee gave the Department of Justice and the whistle-blowers in the case ample time to prepare for the filing of charges against those implicated in the alleged Napoles pork barrel scam,” Guingona said in a statement.

Luy, a relative and former employee of Napoles, is the main whistle-blower in the scam.

Sen. Francis Escudero on Monday called for the continuation of the Blue Ribbon committee hearings, saying this is the only way for the public to “acquaint themselves with the goings-on of this case from the witnesses and key players themselves.”

“We did the same in the case of AFP General Carlos Garcia. His case was already before the Sandiganbayan and it was already in the plea bargaining stage. We went on with the Senate investigation,” Escudero said.

Sen. JV Ejercito, for his part, said that the Blue Ribbon hearings must continue and cover every aspect of the use of PDAF not only for 2007 to 2009 or during the previous Arroyo administration.

He said the Commission on Audit should also take a closer look on PDAF disbursement in the first three years of the Aquino administration.

“In the spirit of transparency as I always say, we have to continue with these hearings. Also as a taxpayer, not only as a senator of the republic, we want to get to the bottom of this mess and find out who are really involved,” Ejercito said in a press briefing.

“The Filipino people, everybody, has the right to know what really happened regarding this issue and who are involved,” he said.

“Everybody should be covered, be it an ally or partymate (of the administration). This would be the way for them to clear their names and for those really involved to face the music,” he added.

Ejercito reiterated his belief that the members of the opposition are being singled out in the investigations into the pork barrel scam as shown by the filing of charges against Enrile, Estrada and Revilla.

“We in the minority think that there are presidentiables and vice presidentiables who are being targeted and of course we can’t help but notice that those who keep on mentioning their names are also the ones with ambitions (for higher office),” Ejercito said.

“I pose this challenge to the committee, if we want to get to the bottom of this, why not investigate the leadership, we can start with leadership of the House, the leadership of the Senate, everybody,” he added.

He said that the investigation should also cover former members of Congress who are now members of the President’s Cabinet.

“If they have nothing to hide then they should be subjected to the investigation as well,” Ejercito said. (Philstar.com)