The Rat and The Can of Worms
Written by Juan Fontejon / Illustration by Finney Santos
Senator Jinggoy Estrada must be gloating by now.
When Estrada ranted about being singled out over the Php10 billion pork barrel scam in a privilege speech, not a few thumbed their noses. Caught with his hand in the cookie jar, he ratted on colleagues he figured were just as guilty. It was pathetic.
But in doing so, the senator opened yet another can of worms in the dizzying saga of the pork barrel scam that has riveted the capital for months, and sparked public outrage and protest rallies, and prompted President Benigno Aquino III to abolish the pork barrel system. What was revelatory about his speech was that senators, including himself, were allotted an additional pork barrel of at least Php50 million months after the Senate convicted Chief Justice Renato Corona in May last year.
It turned out three of his colleagues got a bigger allocation for their pet projects. Franklin Drilon got a whopping allocation of Php100 million; Francis “Chiz’’ Escudero, Php96 million, and Juan Ponce Enrile, Php92 million. Of course, since almost everyone got his or her share, Estrada did not complain. But even he had the good sense to call it an “incentive’’ for voting to oust Corona. Drilon, now the senate president, interpellated him and elicited the answer he wanted to hear: It wasn’t a bribe.
Whether it was a bribe or incentive, Estrada’s revelation has blown up in the face of the Aquino administration, which claims to walk “daang matuwid’’ or straight path. Pressed for details, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad confirmed that 20 senators received additional pork barrel amounting to Php1.107 billion after Corona’s trial and that the fund was sourced from Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). Yet, there is more than meets the eye. Constitutional and legal experts argued that the releases from DAP were unconstitutional because this “new animal’’ was never mentioned in the General Appropriations Act (that is the enacted national budget in layman’s term). They asked: How can you realign funds from an item that was never there in the first place? Malacañang was quick to parry this, and pointed to the Constitution and the Administrative Code as the legal bases for the fund releases.
Former senatorial candidate and taxpayer Gregor Belgica has petitioned the Supreme Court to void DAP as unconstitutional. Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago said the president was impeachable for bribery and culpable violation of the Constitution. Aquino snorted: “Is there bribery after the fact?” With the administration’s hold on both chambers of Congress, it’s quite far-fetched for an impeachment to prosper. Let the high court decide the constitutionality of DAP, and the Ombudsman investigate the flurry of plunder complaints filed against key players of the pork barrel scam allegedly orchestrated by power-broker Janet Lim Napoles. By all means, the crooks should go to jail.
Amid all the hoopla, the DAP controversy can’t be swept under the rug. Aquino now has to deal with the outrage of his “bosses,’’ now building up on Twitter and Facebook. As Defensor-Santiago put it, “It has never been this putrid.” And we wonder: Isn’t this political patronage a la Arroyo? From day one of his presidency, Aquino has taken on a moral high ground. And expectedly, his administration will be measured by the same high standards it has set. Scanning the comments on social media, we can’t help but agree that the administration’s talk of good governance has been diminished.