Filipinos ask: Who’s telling the truth?

THE Senate blue ribbon committee resumes its investigation into the controversial pork barrel scam that is now shaking both houses of Congress in the Philippines. Playing both as protagonist and antagonist roles, whistleblower Benhur Luy will be grilled again to shed more light on the P10-billion scandal that put the Philippines in the world map for the nth time. Like a film in the making, this multibillion-peso production could be appropriately titled “Probe of the Century” with an all-star cast. Businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, who played the role as producer-director of the movie, had been castaway and detained for pocketing the players’ honoraria.
This much-ballyhooed political drama of the century took center stage in mid-2013 while the country was trailing on a “straight path” towards economic recovery. Its march, however, was temporarily blocked when killer typhoon “Yolanda” and the 7.2 magnitude earthquake hugged the headlines after hitting Eastern and Central Visayas, leaving thousands of people dead. These natural calamities that shook the world took place while the year 2013 was about to close its door of uncertainties.
Now the country is back to square one. With the Sword of Damocles still hanging over the head of the controversial P10-billion pork barrel scam, the government has yet to uncover more secrets hidden inside Pandora’s Box by each of the major players in this catastrophic political episode.
As the investigation into this scandal starts, the door of controversy has become wide open, welcoming more characters to play the game. Former senator Ramon Revilla Sr. seems to be playing cameo role after his name was implicated in the scandal. His son, Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr., cried foul and accused the government of resorting to political propaganda when his father’s name was used as weapon against him.
Revilla Jr. is being groomed by opposition quarters as their potent candidate for the 2016 presidential derby. The administration has yet to look for its choice to go against Revilla Jr., who accused that President Benigno Aquino III bribed senator-judges just convict former chief justice Renato Corona.
In a privilege speech, Revilla Jr. said Aquino pleaded with him to vote to impeach Corona over breakfast at Bahay Pangarap in the Malacañang compound before the impeachment trial was concluded.
The young Revilla, who is facing a plunder complaint in connection with the P10-billion pork barrel scam, said Interior Secretary Mar Roxas drove him in his SUV from the Roxas home in Cubao, Quezon City, to Malacañang.
Aquino confirmed meeting with Revilla Jr. as well as with Senators Jinggoy Estrada, Teofisto Guingona III and Ralph Recto in the middle of the Corona trial.
Aquino claimed that he did so only to “lessen the pressure” being exerted on the senators by some “interest groups” seeking Corona’s acquittal.
Twenty senators, including Revilla, voted to convict Corona for dishonesty in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth in May 2012 following a highly politically charged trial.
Arroyo and Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. voted to acquit Corona.
When the House of Representatives transmits the articles of impeachment for trial to the Senate, “no matter that it may have been forged by the President, the President steps out,” senators step in and decide the fate of the impeached defendant, Arroyo said.
In Malacanang, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said President Benigno never influenced or bribed senator-judges into voting for the impeachment of Corona in 2011.
Coloma made this clarification shortly after Revilla Jr. implied in his privilege speech in the Senate that the President did so.
“It is totally out of character for the President to speak in that language,” Coloma said, referring to the President’s alleged meddling with the case when Revilla met with him in his official residence at Bahay Pangarap in Malacanang compound.
“The President did not meddle, but all he requested was for Revilla to decide on the merits of the case with his conscience and the senator (Revilla) said, ‘I will do what is right,’” Coloma stressed.
He reiterated that the President was merely concerned about interest groups that could influence the senators’ outcome of the impeachment trial. It was his duty as head of the executive department, he said.
“The President is a political leader and he regularly discusses issues with senators, congressmen and local officials,” Coloma said, citing the statement of Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas.
“Senator Revilla went to the meeting on his own accord, without indication that he did it against his will,” he added, stressing that that there was no “impropriety” about the issue.
Coloma has again called on Revilla to respond to the people’s clamor for a full explanation on what happened to his priority development assistance fund (PDAF) allocation that he received from 2007 to 2009.
He said what the people heard and saw in his privilege speech was a plain attempt to divert public attention from the real issue.
“As an elected public official, the senator is expected to account for the PDAF allocation which he received,” he added. “The main issue is PDAF and it is the right of the people to be given a full explanation,” Coloma said
Meanwhile, Aquino bristled when Revilla Jr. in his privilege speech also accused his sister and brother-in-law of corruption.
“Only the part where he mentioned my older sister again and my brother-in-law,” the President said when asked by reporters how Revilla’s privilege speech affected him.
“More than anything, it had an effect on me, I wish I were a senator and I was there, and I would tell him, ‘Can you entertain a few questions?’” the President said.
In his speech, Revilla Jr. denied allegations that he channeled P500 million in his pork barrel funds to ghost projects as he raised a host of issues against the President’s “daang matuwid” reformist program.
Revilla Jr. mentioned reports implicating the President’s older sister, Ballsy, and her husband, Eldon Cruz, in an alleged $30-million extortion attempt from a Czech-train manufacturer for a Metro Rail Transit contract.
He said Aquino should know how painful it was to have a relative implicated in controversies.
Revilla Jr. said his son had to drop out of law school because he had been bullied after the father was dragged into the alleged diversion of P10-billion in pork barrel to bogus foundations controlled by Napoles.
“The warranted defense is, this is all politics,” Aquino said.
But the President said that if it were just politics, his administration could have used the revelations of the scam whistleblowers led by Benhur Luy to destroy the opposition during the 2013 midterm elections.
“The real story is the family of Luy complained of illegal detention to the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation),” the President said.
He added that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima gave him information on Luy’s claims in mid-March at the height of the campaign.
The President said the administration “refrained from using” the pork barrel scam investigation against the opposition.
“Let’s do the proper process and gather evidence to back it up,” Aquino said he told De Lima. “And then now, they’ll say it’s all politics?” the President said. He pointed out that Revilla Jr. allegedly had 22 PDAF dealings with Napoles.
As the controversy heats up, former Sen. Joker Arroyo raised alarm over Palace statements downplaying President Aquino’s attempt at influencing senators in the impeachment trial of Corona.
Arroyo said the President’s act, alleged by Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., set a “bad precedent” because any trial should be independent.
And for anyone to claim that it was “permissible” for the President to interfere with an impeachment trial simply because it was a political exercise was alarming, he said.
“The proposition advanced that it is altogether permissible for the President to inquire or discuss or even influence a senator in an ongoing impeachment trial where he sits as a judge is alarming because, among others, it would establish a menacing doctrine as precedent,” Arroyo said.
If this is accepted, it will give the next President the idea that he or she could also meddle in an impeachment trial, said the former senator.
“Are we to say that henceforth, the next President, whoever he may be, may subtly meddle in an impeachment proceeding of say another justice or a constitutional officer before the Senate all because the exercise is anyhow political in character?” he said.
For his part, Roxas said he has no animosity towards Revilla Jr., who had labeled him as “Boy Pickup.”
The actor-turned politician coined that name for Roxas, who he said had picked him up from Cubao in Quezon to Bahay Pangarap at Malacañang to meet with President Aquino at the height of the impeachment trial of Corona.
“Wala akong hard-feelings sa kanya. Alam ko na matindi ang pressure sa kanya at alam ko naman na hindi ako ang nagbibigay ng problema sa kanya,” Roxas said.
He did not deny driving for Revilla Jr. except for the senator’s claim that he removed his vehicle’s plate number so it will not be recognized by the public as belonging to a Cabinet official.
“Hindi ko tinanggal ang plaka…hindi po ako gumagamit ng official plate number. Walang katotohanan yan,” Roxas said.
But he said he was dismayed that Revilla’s own decision to sit at the back of his car became an issue when it was supposed to be a joke.
“In fact, parang joke ito. O, Secretary of Transport ka dapat ipagmaneho mo ako. Ako naman sinabi ko OK lang ,” said Roxas, who used to be the head of the Department of Transportation and Communication.
“Nilagyan ng malisya kaya nakakadismaya at nakakalungkot na nilalagyan ng bahid ng kung anu-anong kulay. It was just between former colleagues in the Senate. Secretary of Transport ka, dapat ipagmaneho mo ako,” he said.
Roxas also saw nothing wrong if he had openly expressed his opinion against Corona, saying it was public knowledge that he was for his conviction.
Roxas was allegedly present when the President separately met with Revilla and Senator Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada to discuss about Corona.

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