MALACAÑANG was at a loss Wednesday on how to explain why other senators who were included in the list of whistleblower Benhur Luy were not included in the first batch of cases filed against those who benefitted from the P10 billion pork barrel scam.
“I cannot answer that,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said when asked why only opposition Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr. were charged, when Luy’s list included 25 incumbent and former senators.
Lacierda added, however, that the Justice Department is now investigating the other lawmakers on Luy’s list.
“I think they are in the process of doing that,” Lacierda said.
Lacierda insisted that the administration was not singling out the opposition or coddling its allies who are involved in the scam.
“Let me emphasize that we were not hasty in filing cases against what media would perceive as opposition,” he said.
“In the same manner that we have seen the resolve of the Department of Justice to file cases against its own allies. So any allegation that we are coddling or favoring our own allies is unfair,” Lacierda said.
Reports showed that there are 15 incumbent senators in the Luy list: Enrile, Revilla, Estrada, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Vicente Sotto III, Miriam Defensor Santiago, Gregorio Honasan, Loren Legarda, Aquilino Pimentel III, Lito Lapid, Cynthia Villar, JV Ejercito, Franklin Drilon, Ralph Recto and Alan Peter Cayetano.
Also in the Luy list were former senators Edgardo Angara, Manny Villar, Tessie Oreta, Aquilino Pimentel, Rodolfo Biazon, Robert Jaworski, Robert Barbers, Loi
Estrada, Ramon Magsaysay and Ramon Revilla Sr.
Lacierda said the other unsigned affidavit of alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Napoles is just a “scrap of paper,” echoing Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s assessment of the list given by the Napoles family to rehabilitation czar Panfilo Lacson.
Luy’s former lawyer, Levi Baligod, denied the allegation in the draft affidavit given to Lacson that 97 mayors involved in the Malampaya fund scam were not charged because he talked to them and obtained their commitment to support the senatorial bid of De Lima.
“In the first place, that list is full of lies,” he said.
Baligod said it was the lawyers of the Ombudsman who went to the 97 municipalities and talked to the mayors and confirmed that their signatures were faked.
Baligod also said Napoles might plead insanity to escape a plunder conviction, because “no normal person will give five lists to five persons” – President Benigno Aquino III, Lacson, De Lima, Sandra Cam and a newspaper.
A neophyte lawmaker on Wednesday expressed shock that his name was on the list, saying he was not even a congressman when “Napoles and her gang of thieves” were plundering the government coffers.
“The inclusion of my name in one of the lists is outrageous, and makes no sense at all,” said Cebu Rep. Gerald Anthony Gullas, Jr., whose name appeared in the list that was submitted by Lacson to the Senate.
“To begin with, I am the only pure first-termer among the 69 incumbent and former members of the House of Representatives ostensibly in the list,” Gullas said.
“This is my first term ever as a Congressman. I was not even a congressman yet between the time Janet Napoles and her gang of thieves were plundering public funds, until they were finally caught,” he said.
Gullas also said from day one of his first term, his district never availed of any Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allotments.
Gullas said he can only surmise that whoever inserted his name in one of the Napoles lists was out to “sow extreme hysteria and confusion,” in an attempt to spoil the ongoing investigation into the
PDAF scam, by dragging in blameless individuals like him.
“I must say that the only parties who stand to gain considerably from this mess up are those who are truly culpable,” Gullas said.
Anti-pork groups on Wednesday questioned the release of the unsigned affidavit of Napoles, when De Lima’s list will be surrendered to the senate soon.
“The release of the Lacson version preempts the turnover of the Napoles affidavit by the DOJ. The claim that there are several versions of the list is meant to confuse the public and divert the public’s attention from the Napoles affidavit,” said Sarah Raymundo, spokesperson of the #Abolishpork movement and University of the Philippines Faculty Against Pork.
The coalition also expressed dismay over the pronouncement of President Aquino that he had in possession two lists at a much earlier time, she said.
She said the coalition fears that the list is being sanitized all the while that it is being kept from the public.
“Why is Secretary De Lima delaying the release of the Napoles list? Why is it taking too long? Only those involved in the pork barrel scam stand to benefit in the concealment of the affidavit,” Raymundo added.
Earlier, the #AbolishPork movement wrote the Justice Department saying that the decision to withhold information on the Napoles affidavit was a bad precedent in terms of government transparency.
“What the public is interested in is the prosecution of all those involved in the pork barrel scam, not a selective a process that batters political enemies but spares political allies,” Raymundo said.
De Lima admitted Wednesday she only received a signed affidavit from Napoles on Tuesday, even though she had been saying she received the document in April.
“It’s really a work in progress. Yes, there’s already an initial affidavit, signed and notarized by Ms. Napoles, submitted to the Secretary of Justice yesterday (Tuesday),” De Lima said in a text message coursed through presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda.
“But the same covers only the lawmakers (three senators and five former congressmen) in the first batch of Priority Development Assistance Fund cases already filed, and the Malampaya Fund,” she said.
De Lima again denied that the Napoles affidavit had already been sanitized.
“We’re awaiting the completion of the more extended affidavit which expectedly covers the entire list. It’s not the DOJ or the National Bureau of Investigation which is preparing it but Napoles herself, as assisted by her counsels,” she said.
“The President’s instruction is for DOJ and NBI to vet and evaluate her allegations and, as always, to proceed where the evidence would lead us,” De Lima added.
In the House, Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, the head of the independent minority bloc pressed Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. to agree to a parallel probe of the pork barrel scam.
Belmonte earlier declared that such a probe would merely duplicate what the Senate was already doing.
But Romualdez said: “If we want to be enlightened, we should investigate and call Mrs. Napoles. She is the only competent person who can attest to the veracity and truthfulness of the list. That is the only honest-to-goodness way to conduct the probe, otherwise we will continue to confuse the public and we are not helping ferreting out the truth.”
House Minority Leader and San Juan Rep. Ronaldo Zamora also said Napoles should be made to testify before the House.
“It looks like there is only one list, and that is the list that Mrs. Napoles prepared herself,” Zamora told reporters in a press conference.
“I don’t think Secretary de Lima should come here, or Secretary Lacson. They are just recipient of the list. In the end, it is only Mrs. Napoles who should testify,” Zamora said.
1-BAP party-list Rep. Silvestre Bello III slammed the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee headed by administration ally, Senator Teofisto Guingona III for accepting an unsigned affidavit from Lacson.
“With due respect to the Senate Blue Ribbon, this list should not be submitted by Secretary Lacson. It is not signed, it has no probative value, In short, it should be treated as a mere scrap of paper,” Bello said, adding that the Guingona panel should not also accepted the list.
Guingona said he would call a Senate caucus after De Lima submits the Napoles affidavit today.
“That’s the prudent thing to do—to have a caucus among members, to discuss how to proceed,” he said.
He said they were expecting De Lima to make good on their agreement that she would give them a copy of the Napoles affidavit anytime today.
Earlier, Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, who was on Lacson’s list, urged Guingona to reopen hearings and sought the subpoena of records from the Budget and Agriculture departments and the Commission on Audit that were relevant to the pork barrel scandal.
Cayetano denied his own involvement in the scam.
Other senators who were on the list also denied any wrongdoing.
Senator Cynthia Villar said It is unfortunate that her name was included because she had never transacted with any Napoles NGOs.
She considered this political persecution masquerading as a search for truth is reminiscent of the 2010 elections.
“My husband, Manny Villar, and I endured malicious allegations that up to now remain unproven. It pains me to see that some quarters resort to dirty tactics to pursue political ends,” she said.
Senator Francis Escudero, also on the list, said the documents were meant to deceive the public and muddle the issue.
“The unsigned affidavit of Janet Lim-Napoles which she herself peddles to unsuspecting parties is highly suspect. Obviously, her list is designed to delay, mess up and subvert authorities in pinning down the real culprit of this PDAF shenanigan,” Escudero said.
He challenged Napoles to release her signed affidavit and speak under oath.
“Why is Napoles riding on the credibility of people like Secretary Ping Lacson and other parties to mouth what she wants the public to believe? Why can she not stand on her statements and face those she accuses squarely in proper forum?” Escudero said.
Escudero called on the Blue Ribbon Committee to summon Napoles, Lacson and Cam.
Senate President Franklin Drilon said the inclusion of his name in Luy’s list was “illogical and baseless.”
Also on Wednesday, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines urged the Justice Department to cross-check the four versions of the Napoles list to determine their accuracy. With Rey E. Requejo and Vito Barcelo