THE Palace said Tuesday it would not be brought to its knees by conflicting lists purporting to show lawmakers and officials who received kickbacks from alleged pork barrel queen Janet Lim Napoles, but opposition lawmakers said the sudden appearance of three versions of the list recalled the “Hello Garci” scandal and coverup in 2005.
The opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) said Malacañang seemed to be employing the same tactic that the previous administration used —releasing several versions of the story—to confuse the public and protect its allies.
“It’s funny that, even without any investigation yet, Malacanang has already cast doubt on all the Napo-lists, but is very consistent in clearing allies of any involvement,” said UNA secretary general and Navotas City Rep. Toby Tiangco.
He added that the contents of the Napoles lists have cast doubt on the government’s “straight path” policy, after Budget Secretary Florencio Abad was identified as “Napoles’ tutor.”
Tiangco added that the proliferation of the lists has come to a dangerous phase and has reached a highly-charged Cabinet-level crisis.
“The ultimate goal is to protect Administration allies and to cover up the tracks leading to the DBM [Department of Budget and Management] until 2012. Remember the two versions of the Hello, Garci tapes presented by former Palace spokesman Ignacio Bunye in 2005? It’s practically the same story repeating itself,” Tiangco said.
With three versions of the Napoles List now circulating, Tiangco said that the Aquino government has a convenient exit scenario to use by claiming that the names on the list are dubious and fabricated.
“Whichever list Malacanang would want to use, they cannot fool the public. The public can now connect the dots and can smell which one is genuine and which one is spurious,” he said.
In the Palace, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said the attempt to “bring the whole house down” by sowing different versions of the list would not work against the government.
“The Aquino administration stands firm on the support of the people, on the trust of the people. We have a democratic process and we follow the rule of law,” Coloma said.
Asked if the full affidavit of Napoles could eventually include President Benigno Aquino III, Coloma said: “Our focus is on the search for truth and justice regardless of what certain individuals would like to do or will plan to do. That’s why we have sounded a call for our people to stay focused on the search for truth and justice.”
“The President has cautioned the public about the burn-the-house down strategy being resorted to by some quarters that might lead to tracking misleading information and dissipate case build-up efforts in the remaining two years of the current administration,” Coloma added.
At least three Cabinet officials have been dragged into the scam, Abad, Technical Educational and Skills Development Authority director general Joel Villanueva, and Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala.
President Aquino earlier disclosed that the number of names in the three versions of the so-called Napoles lists do not tally.
He said the first list that he received had 14 senators, of which 10 were incumbent. The second list, which Napoles gave to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, only had 11, Aquino said .
The third list was given by Napoles’ husband, Jimmy, to rehabilitation czar Panfilo Lacson and had enough names “to ratify a treaty” or at least 16 senators.
Aquino said it was also next to impossible for Napoles to claim to be not the most guilty in the scam for her to qualify as state witness.
“Because she is at the center of all this, and she is the connection to all those involved, so how can we say she is not the most guilty if she is at the center?” the President said.
The independent minority bloc in the House of Representatives on Tuesday supported the President’s position not to grant immunity to Napoles.
“We are in total agreement with the President that it was next to impossible for Napoles to say she’s not the most guilty in the scam since she was the link to all those allegedly involved in the scam,” said the bloc’s leader, Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez.
At the same time, Romualdez demanded the President clean up the mess his government has created when it began muddling the issue.
“We hope the President will personally order a probe of the sudden appearance of so many... conflicting copies of the Napoles list,” Romualdez said. “With the President’s direct hand, we are certain that the culprits will be speedily identified.”
Romualdez also slammed Napoles for delays in turning over her complete affidavit, saying this was another attempt to blackmail people into giving her what she wants—immunity from suit.
Abakada party-list Rep. Jonathan de la Cruz, a member of the bloc, said that the more the Aquino government tries to cover up for its allies, the more problems it get.
“The more you try to tinker with the information, the more you have problems,” De la Cruz said.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. played down UNA’s assertion that the Palace was trying to muddle the issue by circulating several conflicting versions of the Napoles list.
“For sure the President will not protect anybody against whom there is evidence,” Belmonte told the Manila Standard in a text message.
But Ako-Bicol party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe said the accusations and counter-accusations have eroded the trust and confidence of the people in democratic institutions.
House Deputy Majority Leader Jorge Banal of Quezon City also defended the Palace against allegations that it was muddling the case.
“Lots of lists, lots of muddling, and lots of folks weighing in. UNA has the President in its sights because obviously [Aquino] is the biggest obstacle to their political plans for 2016,” he said.
He batted for allowing Napoles to “say her piece, return the money she got, and consider a reduced sentence in exchange for her full cooperation.”
Banal’s suggestion seemed to be diametrically opposed to the President’s earlier rejection of Napoles as a state witness.
A member of the minority, 1-BAP party-list Rep. Silvestre Bello III said only the signed affidavit and list from Napoles was of any use.
“There is only one list that the President and everyone should consider. That is the list submitted by Ms. Napoles. All the rest have no relevance and much less probative value. The President should know this,” Bello added.
Cibac party-list Rep. Sherwin Tugna, and administration ally, said the government must speed up the filing of charges against those involved in the pork barrel scam so as not to further politicize the issue.
“The DOJ [Justice] secretary, COA [Commission on Audit] and the Ombudsman should do their job of completing its audit and investigation and prosecute those whom they find to be liable for the misuse of public funds,” he said.
He said those found guilty must be prosecuted, whether they are allies of from the opposition.
Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga, Jr. another administration ally, said critics were barking up the wrong tree in blaming the President for the pork barrel scam.
“It would be downright stupid and irresponsible to blame PNoy for the pork barrel scam. He had nothing to do with it,” Barzaga said.
Also on Tuesday, an opposition lawmaker slammed House leaders for failing to act on a resolution calling for a congressional investigation into the Napoles lists.
Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon, a member of the minority headed by San Juan Rep. Ronaldo Zamora, appealed to Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. to make way for the House probe.
Belmonte has already rejected a House probe, saying this would only duplicate an investigation by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, but Ridon said the minority is hopeful the speaker will have a change of heart “if he believes in accountability and transparency.” – With Joyce Pangco Pañares