By Norman Bordadora/Philippine Daily Inquirer - Misery loves company. The much-awaited privilege speech of Sen. Jinggoy Estrada predictably took to task his other colleagues in the Senate and some members of the House of Representatives for the alleged abuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
“Selective justice is injustice,” Estrada said, pointing out that out of the 371 lawmakers with “irregularities” in the PDAF noted in the Commission on Audit (COA) special report, the government seemed to focus only on himself and Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Ramon Revilla Jr. The three are already charged before the Ombudsman.
“We have been singled out,” Estrada lamented in his 17-page speech that curiously did not contain a single line in his defense.
Entitled “The Untold PDAF Story that the People Should Know,” the speech told a not so pretty story of how senators and congressmen are readily “rewarded, bribed,” and given “additionals” by the executive branch to get its way.
The speech was considered in the Senate as an attempt by Estrada to balance the adverse public opinion against the opposition lawmakers who have been implicated in the P10-billion pork barrel scam masterminded allegedly by Janet Lim-Napoles.
Estrada said the supposed “government-wide” performance audit conducted by the COA covered only three national agencies and five provinces.
Pilloried in the media and charged in the Ombudsman for allegedly making millions of pesos in kickbacks from the PDAF, Estrada said the Aquino administration also used the pork barrel system to get its way in Congress, such as the conviction of Chief Justice Renato Corona in his impeachment trial.
“After the conviction of the former Chief Justice, those who voted to convict were allotted an additional P50 million as provided in a private and confidential letter memorandum of the then chair of the Senate committee on finance [now Senate President Franklin Drilon],” Estrada said in his speech.
Incentive after the fact
“Where did the money come from? I am sure [Budget] Secretary [Florencio] Abad knows the answer to this. And I am sure that this was not a unilateral decision of Senate President Drilon to hand out P50 million to each senator,” Estrada said in English and Filipino.
Estrada said he voted for the removal of Corona but did so only because he believed it was the right thing to do.
“I stand by my decision in my vote to convict the former Chief Justice and assure our people that I was never influenced by this incentive, which came after the fact,” Estrada said.
Estrada also hinted at the lack of transparency on how many millions of pesos in pork barrel funds the executive branch actually released to its allies during the previous administration.
“The unclear system in the apparent secret arrangements and how much each lawmaker received could be the reason why the DBM refuses to render a complete account of releases to all lawmakers as requested by the COA,” Estrada said.
Economic stimulus fund
“The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) website only provides information on PDAF releases from 2009 onwards. Why was there no information on releases in 2008? 2007? 2006? And other years? If you open the 2009 pages, the PDAF releases for then Senators (Rodolfo) Biazon, (Mar) Roxas, (Aquilino) Pimentel and Senators (Francis) Escudero, (Antonio) Trillanes and Manny Villar are among those conspicuously not posted,” Estrada added.
These current and former senators are known allies of President Aquino.
Estrada said Drilon and former Senate Presidents Juan Ponce Enrile, Manny Villar and Edgardo Angara “all know that the budget negotiations they conduct with the House and the DBM include negotiations not only for PDAF and the infrastructure projects of legislators but also for so-called congressional initiatives or budget insertions.”
“At one point, when Sen. Edgardo Angara was chair of the finance committee, I remember he even advised the senators in a caucus that there was a so-called economic stimulus fund where legislators from both Houses were allowed to avail of allocations for projects over and above the regular pork barrels. Thereafter, we were all asked to submit our listings to the committee,” Estrada said.
Puzzling DBM silence
Estrada challenged Abad to release to the COA the complete documents so that the agency could complete the audit of P115 billion worth of pork barrel funds released from 2007 to 2009. The COA special audit managed to audit just P41 billion of the pork released during the period.
“It is puzzling that the DBM has kept silent in the midst of the discussions about the nation’s treasury,” he said.
Estrada lashed out at his colleagues, Senators Teofisto Guingona III and Alan Peter Cayetano in particular, for focusing the blue ribbon inquiry on him, Enrile and Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr.
Estrada said the blue ribbon panel failed to investigate the COA’s finding of P1.2-billion questionable transactions of some local government units funded from the PDAF of
administration allies Cayetano, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago and former Senators Francis Pangilinan and Manny Villar.
“Why were they not mentioned? Was it because they are your allies? I am not saying that they have sinned. This is based on the COA report that there were irregularities in their allotments,” Estrada said.
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