THE Palace rejected calls Wednesday for Budget Secretary Florencio Abad to resign or take a leave after he was tagged by the accused mastermind of the pork barrel scam Janet Napoles as being her mentor in setting up non-government organizations as a way to siphon off public funds.
“We have already made our position clear: when it comes to cases against anybody, we will go where the evidence is. And so far, the claim of Napoles has been rebutted by Secretary Abad by the fact that there is no Special Allotment Release Order for the Batanes Electric Cooperative as mentioned by Mrs. Napoles,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.
Lacierda made the statement in response to a call by Novaliches Bishop Emeritus Teodoro Bacani for Abad to step down.
Bacani said the allegations linking Abad to the pork barrel scam had enough substance since he was not only implicated by Napoles but was also included in the deleted computer files of whistleblower Benhur Luy.
The Catholic leader said he saw no conspiracy against Abad because Napoles and Luy were not on good terms.
Lacierda said Bacani was free to draw his own conclusions, but there must still be sufficient evidence against Abad.
“(Bishop Bacani) can choose to believe or not believe. The question is: where’s the evidence? And the evidence pointed out by Napoles was that there was a SARO from Batanes Electric Cooperative. There was no SARO. So he (Bacani) is entitled to his opinion, but he’s not entitled to his facts,” Lacierda added.
“Legal principles dictate that she who alleges must prove the same. The burden is on Ms. Napoles to prove her allegations,” the President’s spokesman said.
Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez and 1-BAP party-list Rep. Silvetre Bello III have also urged Abad to take a leave of absence in light of the controversy hounding him.
“Out of delicadeza and to take away the heat from the President, he should consider going on leave. This will dispel any suspicion that he will use his position to cover any misdeed,” Bello said.
Lacierda, who picked Napoles up in August last year from a memorial park in Taguig when she surrendered, said the administration had no regrets in securing her, even though she has implicated at least three Cabinet officials and several allies in the misuse of public funds.
“We did what we had to do at that time,” Lacierda said.
When she surrendered, Napoles was received by President Benigno Aquino III, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras, Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, and Philippine National Police chief director general Alan Purisima at the Palace.
Aquino even went to Camp Crame ahead of Napoles to make sure her detention cell was ready after the meeting at the Palace.
A day after she surrendered, Lacierda took pains to explain to the public that Napoles was not given the VIP treatment, and that the government needed her to ferret out the truth.
“The President has said this: that the presence of Ms. Napoles adds to finding out the truth and that is what is important...We wanted to make sure that she was safe,” Lacierda said last year.
But Napoles has now dragged several administration lawmakers as well as Abad, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and TESDA chief Joel Villanueva into the scandal.
This prompted President Aquino to say that there was a concerted effort on the part of Napoles to “bring the whole house down.”
Aquino said he was also surprised that the public appeared to take the so-called Napoles list of administration and opposition lawmakers who benefited from the scam as gospel truth.
“Before, Mrs. Napoles was hated by the people. Now, when she speaks, it is as if everything that she says is true. How did that happen?” the President said.
“Isn’t it that it is in her interest to muddle the issue and delay the process in the hope that it will be forgotten as time goes by? Maybe somebody told her: while this drags on, your situation will improve and people will hate you less and less.”
Despite the Palace denials, thousands of anti-pork barrel advocates will mount an indignation rally on June 12 to demand that Abad and Alcala resign.
Spearheaded by #AbolishPork Movement and #ScrapPork Network, the protesters formed the “6.12.14 Protest Coalition” to demand accountability from Aquino, who they said has consistently defended Abad, Alcala and his allies from prosecution.
“Lahat ng sangkot, dapat managot! Jail All, Ouch Pinoy!” This was the rallying call of various groups who are now gearing up for renewed protests after the government failed to prosecute everyone involved in the pork barrel scam.
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general Renato Reyes, a co-convenor of #AbolishPork Movement, said Abad had to resign after he was named by Napoles as her mentor.
Reyes said Abad was also the “architect” of the illegal P173-billion Disbursement Acceleration Program, whose beneficiaries were the 188 congressmen and the senators who impeached President Aquino’s nemesis, then Chief Justice Renato Corona Corona.
Alcala was pressed to resign because the agencies under his department were among those involved in implementing Napoles’ ghost projects using pork barrel funds, Reyes said.
“Abad and Alcala are holding the evidence against their men and the lawmakers in their respective departments. We demand their resignation to prevent the cases from being whitewashed considering that the government is now bent on covering up for the President’s allies,” Reyes said.
Michelle Estor, spokesperson of #ScrapPork Network, said they were not out to call for President Aquino’s ouster “just yet” but wanted him to be accountable for his men’s involvement in the scam.
Estor, who carries a Twitter handle @ChiliMedley, said the #ScrapPork Network continues to demand that the President give up his own discretionary funds.
The Palace denies the President has his own pork barrel.
But Estor insisted that the presidential discretionary funds were being used to promote political patronage.
The #AbolishPork movement, in a press conference, called on Filipinos to gather in public places on June 12, Independence Day, to express their outrage and frustration over the Aquino government’s failure to investigate and prosecute the different public officials, including members of his Cabinet, implicated in the multi-billion peso pork barrel scam.
The #abolishpork group will converge at the Liwasang Bonifacio at 3 p.m. for a program, before going to Bonifacio Shrine and then Mendiola Bridge to bring the issue right to the doorsteps of Malacanang, Reyes said.
The #ScrapPork Network will gather at 2 p.m. at the Kartilya ng Katipunan Shrine, Estor said.
Other personalities and groups joining the 6.12.14 Protest Coalition rally are Sister Mary John Mananzan and musician Monet Silvestre; Dante Jimenez of the Victims Against Crime and Corruption; artist Mae Paner a.k.a. Juana Change; Lito David of the Kapatiran Party; Sister Mau Catabian of the Church People Against Pork Barrel; law student Victor Villanueva of the Youth ACT Now; writer Menchu Sarmiento of Babae Laban sa Katiwalian; Dick Penson of the group ATIN; businessman Johnny Chang; the Concerned Citizens Movement, along with the Kilusang Mayo Uno; UP Faculty versus Pork, TEACH versus Pork; Carol Araullo and Reyes of Bayan.
These groups were among those that participated in the Aug. 26, 2013 Million People March in Luneta.
“President Aquino had long known of the involvement of his allies in the pork barrel scam. The President himself admitted that he had seen two lists of pork beneficiaries, one list even given to him by the family of Napoles. The Department of Justice and the National Bureau of Investigation had long known of the involvement in the scam of Aquino’s allies,” said Mananzan said.
“Despite knowing of the involvement of his allies, Aquino chose to focus government efforts on perceived foes of the administration. Aquino has in fact led the cover-up of the scam by undermining the recent revelations that his allies, including his Cabinet officials, were allegedly involved in the scam,” the nun pointed out.
Mananzan said the #AbolishPork believes that to have genuine accountability, the people cannot simply leave the matter of prosecuting the pork scammers to the Chief Executive.
“It has become abundantly clear that the Aquino presidency is not interested in achieving true and complete accountability. Aquino has not abolished the pork barrel system in Congress and remains unrepentant regarding the corruption-ridden DAP. It is therefore incumbent upon the Filipino people to relentlessly demand and pursue justice,” Silvestre said.
“As taxpayers who have been robbed many times over, we hold Aquino accountable for his failure to seriously prosecute and bring to justice those involved in the pork barrel scam,” Silvestre added.
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