Says fund allotted to LGU infra projects
Senator Jinggoy Estrada on Thursday admitted he too received the P50 million “incentive” given to all senators who voted to convict impeached Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona in May 2012.
In a phone patch interview, Estrada said he availed of the P50 million in additional pork for infrastructure projects for local government units.
“I feel that the P50 million was an incentive for those who voted to convict Corona. Whatever it was, there were several requests from my mayors, governors, vice mayors and barangay captains whom I cannot refuse. So when I had the opportunity, there was P50 million, I availed of it and attended to their needs,” Estrada said.
Pork-barrel protagonists. From top clockwise: Senator Jinggoy Estrada, who delivered a privilege speech on the pork barrel controversy on Wednesday, is seen in the airport talking to his father, Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, who flew to Tokyo on Thursday with his wife Loi Estrada at the invitation of the mayor of Yokohama for a four-day visit; Senators Teofisto Guingona III and Allan Peter Cayetano exchange notes at the continuation of the Senate hearing on the alleged pork barrel scam on Thursday; Justice Secretary Leila de Lima is shown with whistle blowers Merlina Sunas, Benhur Luy and Gertrudes Luy at the Senate during the same hearing. Eric Apolonio and Lino Santos
He said the timing was suspect, however, because the private and confidential letter memorandum of then Senate finance committee chairman and now Senate President Franklin Drilon was given to them in August or just a month after Corona was impeached.
“We had that letter in August (2012). So what does it mean? I talked to many senators,” said Estrada, who confirmed reports that he was building a house in the posh Wack Wack subdivision in Mandaluyong City after selling his property in Greenhills last year.
In his privilege speech Wednesday, Estrada said “somebody close to Malacanang” had called him up to lobby for the conviction of Corona.
Despite questions from his close ally, Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile, however, Estrada refused to reveal the name of the lobbyist.
Estrada also rebuked his fellow senators who failed to recall the P50 million incentive and urged them to check their records.
He also told Budget Secretary Florencio Abad to review their records and check on the releases made after Corona was impeached. Abad has denied releasing P1 billion in additional pork to the senators.
“That’s not true. Where can you get a huge amount like that without it being noticed,” Abad told the Manila Standard. “We were careful not to make even legitimate releases to legislators months before and months after the impeachment trial.”
But Senator Panfilo Lacson also confirmed Estrada’s expose on the “reward” for Corona’s conviction.
He said senators who convicted Corona got P50 million but he did not take the additional funding for whatever purpose.
But he said he was not aware of a “confidential” letter about the additional P50 million that Estrada showed to the Senate when he delivered his privilege speech.
He said he did not know which of the senators accepted the additional pork, but remembered that Drilon announced it in a caucus.
Lacson said he openly declined to accept the offer during the caucus, which was called after Corona was impeached.
He said he refused it because the senators knew he never used his pork barrel allocations, and that recalled that Drilon even joked that he would take what was intended for Lacson.
Blue Ribbon Committee chairman Teofisto Guingona III, who is investigating the pork barrel scam, also remembered the P50 million allocation, but said that was given “very, very much later on” after Corona’s conviction, in December.
He, too, said he didn’t know about the confidential letter.
Estrada said the additional allocation was not a bribe but an “incentive” as this was given after Corona’s conviction.
“If it was given before the impeachment trial, then it is a bribe,” he said.
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, who voted against the conviction of Corona, said she did not get the P50 million while Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano said he cannot recall it, as there were several releases made by the Budget Department.
“Again, the mastermind in the distribution of the P50 million bribe could have been Enrile because he was the Senate President, and blatantly, pro-impeachment at that time,” she said.
She said all senators who received the P50 million, including Enrile and Estrada, should return the money to the government as restitution.
Enrile has not yet issued any statement about the incentive.
Santiago also accused Enrile of being behind Estrada’s speech, which asked the Commission on Audit to investigate his enemies, including her, and former senators Francis Pangilinan and Manny Villar.
Santiago clashed with Enrile before when she exposed a P2 million Christmas bonus that he gave to some senators and not to others.
Abad on Thursday denied Estrada’s charges.
“Let me say this for the record: Senator Estrada’s allegations against me and the administration are completely baseless and untrue, and his statements smack of an irresponsibility that has no place in our pursuit of truth and justice. In his speech, he portrayed the administration as a sly and coercive force that imposed undue influence over Congress, so that lawmakers were ‘bribed’ or offered rewards in exchange for their support for President Aquino’s own priority legislation,” Abad said.
“Senator Estrada further stated that the administration, through the then-chair of the Senate finance committee, offered P50 million to each senator to gain their support for the impeachment and subsequent conviction of former Chief Justice Renato Corona. He also expressed certainty in my knowledge of and involvement in the circulation of this letter.
“I cannot say this enough and with any more clarity: the accusations that Senator Estrada leveled against me and the administration are not true. I have absolutely no knowledge of this letter, nor am I privy to its contents or circulation. His conclusion—that I would somehow be involved in the distribution of the letter and the course of action outlined in it—requires an incredible leap in logic that is ill-justified by fact,” Abad said.
He said the Aquino administration does not and will not bribe any group or individual—whether these ‘bribes’ are offered officially or otherwise—all for the sake of getting their way, or for the sake of gaining political leverage over parties that may oppose them.
Abad also took potshots at Estrada’s claim that the administration has asked legislators to refrain from putting the proposed 2014 budget under any real scrutiny, just so the budget will be passed on time.
“We cannot do that. To suggest this is an insult to the country’s lawmakers, as well as to Congress as an autonomous branch of government. It is no secret, in fact, that budget deliberations in the lower and upper houses are an exhaustive, meticulous, and time-consuming process, as evidenced by the long hours that the DBM and Congress have consistently devoted to each budget hearing.
Abad also emphasized that the pork barrel documents that Estrada had challenged him to produce were releases made by the previous administration.
“Nonetheless, we have been working actively to secure the documents that COA [Commission on Audit] needs from us,” Abad said.
A Palace communications official also said pork barrel releases were suspended during the impeachment trial of Corona to avoid accusations that it was influencing lawmakers to vote for conviction.
“There was no release of PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) during the impeachment,” Presidential Communications Development Secretary Ramon Carandang said.
Carandang said the Executive branch started releasing PDAF “several months after the impeachment.”
Carandang, however, begged off from commenting on Lacson’s confirmation of Estrada’s expose.
“I’m not aware of what exactly Lacson said,” Carandang said.
COA chairwoman Grace Pulido Tan denied Estrada’s accusations that her agency turned a blind eye to infractions by lawmakers friendly to the administration and focused only on the Palace’s perceived enemies. With Christine F. Herrera, Joyce P. Pañares, Maricel V. Cruz and Merck Maguddayao