By Jelly F. Musico
MANILA, 22Aug2013 (PNA) – The twin proposals to abolish priority development assistance fund (PDAF) and to tap former Senator Panfilo Lacson to head an independent investigating body have drawn mixed reactions from the members of the Philippine Senate.
The senators made their reactions as Senator Francis ‘Chiz’ Escudero formally asked the Senate to abolish the PDAF or pork barrel fund by filing Senate Resolution No. 193 on Thursday.
Escudero, chairman of the senate committee on finance, was the first in the Senate to call for congressional investigation of the alleged P10-billion pork barrel scam involving alleged bogus non-government organizations (NGOs).
“The people have spoken and it is necessary to draw the line further between public accountability and patronage politics by being truthful to the constitutional allocation of powers and prerogatives” Escudero said in the resolution.
Escudero said with the Commission on Audit (COA) confirming the gravity and extent of the pork barrel abuse and the strong calls of the people to scrap the source of the public outrage, it is now time to totally scrap the pork barrel.
“The PDAF should now be abolished in general. Congress should limit itself to the enactment of the national budget and the Executive to its implementation,” Escudero said.
Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto supported the scrapping of PDAF but “we should reform the entire national budget.”
”The entire national budget should be more transparent. All projects should be by line item in the General Appropriations Act (GAA) so every local government, district and community will know where the money is spent and what to expect,” Recto said.
Recto as well as neophyte Senator Sonny Angara also supported the proposal of Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano for the Senate blue ribbon to appoint Lacson as head of an Special Investigating Body on the PDAF controversy.
”I have no objections,” Recto said even as he also recommend former Senator Joker Arroyo to the body.
Like Lacson, Arroyo did not receive the P200 million allocated PDAF for every senator each year until they finished their respective three six-year term last June 30.
”It’s legally tenable. I don’t think any law or rule will be violated. Any findings by the proposed special investigator would be recommendatory in nature given the powers of the Blue Ribbon Committee,” Angara said.
However, Senate blue ribbon committee chairman Senator Teofisto Guingona III believed that there is no need to form independent probe team.
”We recognized the integrity and professionalism of Senator Lacson, however, we believe that the Senate Blue Ribbon is capable of determining the truth. I don’t think there’s a need at all,” Guingona said.
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago was more vulgar in opposing the appointment of Lacson “because he is a former fugitive from justice who remains unpunished.”
“A policeman cannot be adviser to a Senate committee probing the pork barrel, because this is a question of law. He has no clue on how the law proceeds in these cases. After a cop finishes his investigation, the report is submitted to the prosecutor, not the other way around,” she said.
The senator said that Lacson’s son lost to the son of Sen. Ramon Bong Revilla in the last elections, therefore Lacson cannot be expected to be independent and objective against Revilla.
Revilla is one of the five senators prominently listed as having given their PDAFs to questionable NGOs.
Santiago also said Lacson is a political ally of former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile who was also linked to the questionable release of PDAF to the alleged fake NGOs.
“The Blue Ribbon Committee has never appointed an active politician as its consultant. This is a fishy proposal,” the feisty lady senator said.
Santiago, meanwhile, warned the Senate that it’s proposed pork barrel inquiry “might turn into circus.”
”The result could be a freewheeling talkfest, if not a total three-ring circus as senators vie for TV exposure” Santiago said.
Santiago instead proposed that the Senate should divide its probe into “separate topics, because the scam is so galactic in scope.”
The senator said some of the separate topics should be: lawmakers who gave PDAF funds to suspicious NGOs; the modus operandi of fake NGOs, like those headed by Janet Lim-Napoles; and the connivance of COA resident auditors and DPWH district engineers.
Santiago said the Senate probe should be based not only on the COA report, but also on the NBI report, which is due to be released soon.
“The COA report seems to have been issued precipitately, without proper fact checking, as exemplified by the cases of Rep. Ronaldo Zamora and Sen. Edgardo Angara,” the senator said. (PNA)