Go on leave, Miriam tells senators tagged in pork barrel scam

Louis Bacani - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago urged the senators tagged in the reported pork barrel scam to go on leave pending investigation by a special presidential panel of prosecutors.

The feisty lawmaker called five senators as "persons of interest" after they were accused in reports that they used their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel to fund ghost projects solicited by a dummy non-government organizations through forgery, falsification and bribery.

"Out of delicadeza, the five senators should go on leave, to erase any doubt that they might use their power or their money to pressure the investigators," Santiago said.

The five senators have reportedly released the following amounts from their pork barrel:

Ramon Revilla, Jr. - P 1.017 billion
Juan Ponce Enrile - P 641.65 million
Jinggoy Estrada - P 585 million
Ferdinand Marcos Jr. - P 100 million
Gregorio Honasan - P 15 million

Santiago urged Pres. Benigno Aquino III to follow the practice of the American president, who appoints a Public Prosecutor to handle the prosecution of scams and scandals in government.

"This panel should be composed of three people who are beyond the reach of politicians. Accordingly, I humbly propose that the panel should be composed of retired Supreme Court justices, like Ameurfina Melencio Herrera and Flerida Ruth Romero," Santiago said.

Revilla, one of the accused, has denied the allegations, saying these are attempts to demolish the Senate opposition as well as his plans for the 2016 elections.

"I have always been transparent and accountable. I have nothing to hide. Malinis ang aking konsensiya at nalulungkot ako na dahil sa pulitika ay sinisira ang pangalan kong napakatagal kong binuo at pinangalagaan," he said in a statement on Monday.

Revilla also called for a fair and objective investigation on the controversy.

For his part, Marcos said they have reviewed the procedures that they follow in implementing projects funded by his office with respect to the PDAF.

"I am eager to cooperate with any investigation, which will reveal the truth of this matter. I am also exploring the possibility that there may be a political angle to all this in light of the upcoming Presidential elections in 2016," he also said.

Senator Francis Escudero has filed Senate Resolution Number 40 directing the Senate blue ribbon committee to conduct an inquiry into the pork barrel scam allegedly involving the Janet Lim-Napoles group.

"Accountability and transparency in government dictates that this report must be quizzically looked into, not only for the representatives of the people to clarify their respective positions, if some may be involved, but to show to every Filipino as well that neither sacred cows nor the notion of an "old boys club" exists in a government working for change" Escudero explained in his resolution.

Meantime, the man touted to be the next Senate President is in favor of the abolishment of the PDAF.

"Taun-taon na lang iyan yung pinanggagalingan ng reklamo ng taumbayan. Ngunit, bigyan ko ng diin, na hindi naman lahat na pinaggagamitan ng PDAF ay masama. The reality is, there would be some who legitimately need PDAF," Senator Franklin Drilon said in an interview with the media, a transcript of which was uploaded to the Senate website.

He also proposed the limiting of the pork barrel to prevent corruption scandals.

"I think, the reality is let us limit the use of the PDAF to certain activities. Halimbawa, pwede lang gamitin ang PDAF for medical purposes o para sa edukasyon," Drilon said.

"Kung hindi natin ma-abolish ang PDAF, i-limit natin sa kung saan lang pwedeng gamiting like sa government hospitals, classrooms. Halimbawa, sa bawat distrito ng congressmen, mayroon namang district hospitals, pwedeng ilagay doon dahil marami naman talagang humihingi," he added.

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