The Senate PDAF scammers CNN_Ph

The Senate PDAF scammers Featured

IN the unfolding months of 2013, during PNoy’s watch, a scandal broke out on the misuse by members of both houses of Congress of their “pork barrel” funds. This was the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam. These are lump-sum amounts granted to each member of the two houses to spend for their priority projects. These public funds were, through some complicated scheme, funneled through NGOs affiliated with Janet Napoles, a businesswoman with extensive political connections. Many of these projects turned out to be fictitious; but the monies amounting to billions of pesos were diverted and shared principally by the senators and congressmen with Napoles.

Panfilo “Ping” Lacson (current senator) got hold of a list of participants in the scam containing 80 names, a list of a veritable “who’s who” of the highest echelons of the legislative branch — the honorable senators and congressmen of the land. Lacson submitted the list to the Senate blue ribbon committee that included nine 2013 incumbent senators. Those in the list with varying amounts, from a few million pesos to hundreds of millions and even a billion of “pork,” scrambled all over each other denying their participation. Most of those immediately “exonerated” were members of President PNoy’s party.

After an investigation by various agencies of government, the Commission on Audit (CoA) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), the then Justice Secretary Leila de Lima filed cases of plunder and malversation of public funds against three senators: Ramon Revilla Jr., Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada, and five former members of the House.

In June of the following year, the Office of the Ombudsman indicted the three senators for plunder and multiple counts of graft, along with Napoles as co-accused. Plunder cases are non-bailable.

As the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Oct. 18, 2018) reported:

“Revilla was accused of plunder and 16 counts of graft after allegedly pocketing P224.5 million in kickbacks, the biggest among the three senators. Estrada was accused of plunder and 11 counts of graft for allegedly accepting P183 million in kickbacks from his PDAF allocations from 2004 to 2010. Enrile was accused of receiving P172.8 million in kickbacks from his PDAF allocations. He also faces 15 counts of graft for the alleged misuse of the PDAF.

After warrants for their arrest were issued, the three senators surrendered and Enrile was detained at the Philippine National Police General Hospital while Estrada and Revilla were detained at the PNP Custodial Center, both in Camp Crame.

Citing his advanced age and poor health, the Supreme Court granted bail to Enrile in August 2015. In April 2017, the Sandiganbayan’s Third Division denied Enrile’s appeal to throw out the charge on the grounds that the allegations did not constitute the elements of a valid plunder case.

Estrada won his bail petition in September 2017, but a separate graft trial denied his motion to dismiss the case. Revilla’s case was the first to go to trial, which began in June 2017. He remains detained at Camp Crame.”

But this is not just a story of the Napoles and the PDAF corruption. Enrile, 90 years old, out on bail, filed his certificate of candidacy (CoC) for senator for the May 2019 elections. So did Jinggoy Estrada, out on bail, accompanied by his convicted plunderer ex-president father, now mayor of Manila, Joseph Estrada. Revilla, while still in prison, filed his CoC through his wife Lani, the mayor of Bacoor, Cavite.

There is the unfolding narrative of these former senators, incarcerated but two out on bail, who are now vying for the same position in the mid-term elections, the same positions from which they were accused of shamelessly stealing money from the people.

And they could win again. With the help of the idiocy of the Filipino voters with their short memories, a forgiving culture and a distorted sense of values; these three branded names could be propelled to the “august halls of the Senate,” once again lawmakers addressed officially as “Honorable.” No wonder the Philippines ranks among the most corrupt countries in the world. But this is the worst type of corruption — that of our moral values.

There are more than 50 serious names in the senatorial list for the midterm elections for only 12 available positions. The rest are the perennial nuisance candidates, crackpots and limelight seekers who get a rush when allotted their 15 minutes of fame. Anecdotal evidence suggests voters will fill up only 5 to 8 names in a ballot. Branded names and incumbents therefore have this built-in advantage, not to mention the support of their political dynasties in their home base and inexhaustible logistics. The hordes of command votes controlled by religious formations, charismatic charlatans and those purported to be God’s own tend to favor these candidates who are familiar with how the political game is played once elected to power. They understand how spoils are shared; and how “…to render unto Cesar, what is Cesar’s, and to God, what is His…” (see The Manila Times, Oct. 24, 2018).

What we need for our country’s benefit is to put in place decent men and women steeped in the rule of the law. We require therefor a discerning voter who has not lost the ability to be disturbed and the passion to be angry. What we have instead are voters that merely go through these tired names and elect the “winnables,” the branded names and the leaders who at best are merely capable of moderating their greed.

Aside from the three senator-miscreants, we have other names identified by Senator Lacson five years ago. And some of them are incumbents or are coming back in as possible winners — in both houses of Congress — with pending cases attached to the PDAF scandal.

I rue the day when we populate the two houses with future felons. In conclusion, I will cite an edited version of my May 18, 2014, blog in the wake of the Napoles scam breaking out.

“And we could be the laughingstock of the world. Just imagine for a moment that the ‘Napolist’ were true: We could have a Senate that could hold a quorum in jail — or for that matter, a whole ward at the Veterans Memorial Hospital. When they call for a Senate hearing ‘in aid of legislation’ will they still be addressed as ‘Honorable’? Can the members of the lower house create committees? Can the upper ward (the Senate) pass on bills to the lower ward (the House)?”

Only in the Philippines!

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