The least our enraged people expect from the different government entities and officials authorized by law to solve the pork barrel scam is cooperation, not collision; coordination, not unbridled competition.
Web of corruption. Media reports, be they from television, radio or print, show that the pork barrel mess is quite complicated. Its dark, labyrinthine tentacles and wide web of corruption have reached many hallowed offices in the legislative and executive branches of government, as well as nongovernment organizations, foundations and private individuals.
In an earlier column (9/8/13), I wrote that three things are needed to banish the pork barrel scam: (1) identify, investigate, prosecute and penalize the scammers; (2) recover as much of the scammed funds as possible; and (3) avoid a repetition of this mess.
Mandated by law to undertake the first and second items are the investigative and prosecutory arms of the government, especially the Office of the Ombudsman (OMB), Department of Justice (DOJ), Commission on Audit (COA), Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) and Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC). The third item is the responsibility of Congress, and when appropriate, the judiciary.
Consistent with its mandate, the COA publicly announced its audit findings for the years 2007-2009, and the BIR said it was checking the suspects’ possible criminal and administrative violations of tax laws. The Bangko Sentral, which chairs the AMLC, has made known its chase of the scam’s money trail.
For its part, the DOJ discharged its investigative duty and recently filed its complaint for plunder (and other crimes) in the OMB against 38 individuals allegedly involved in the mess, ushering thereby the preliminary-investigation phase of the work. Meanwhile, the Senate blue ribbon committee started looking into the third item, by conducting its investigation in search of new ways to prevent a recurrence of the scam.
Laudable performance. All these agencies should be lauded for performing their respective tasks. It is sad, however, that in their zeal to pursue their work, they collided with each other. An example is the request of Sen. Teofisto Guingona III to subpoena Janet Lim Napoles to the Senate blue ribbon committee, which he chairs. Senate President Franklin Drilon, who is authorized to issue the subpoena on behalf of the chamber, referred the request to Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales for comment.
In reply, Morales opined that Republic Act 6770 authorizes the OMB to “determine what cases may not be made public,” and that its Rules of Procedure bar publicity of complaints “which may adversely affect national security or public interest, prejudice the safety of witnesses or the disposition of the case, or unduly expose persons complained against to ridicule or public censure.”
She added that Napoles’ testimony at the Senate at this point may indeed “adversely affect public interest, prejudice the safety of witnesses or the disposition of cases against her and/or her co-respondents pending before this Office, or unduly expose them to ridicule or public censure.” In view of this unfavorable comment, Drilon did not sign the subpoena.
Guingona countered: “No logical and legal reason exists why caution, timing and prudence are being used to prevent … Napoles from attending the hearings.” He argued that his committee’s authority cannot be diminished by the expedient of filing a case in the OMB against a legislative resource person or witness.
Battle of legalities. Although a lawyer, I will not join the battle of legalities. I am sure the protagonists have constitutional and legal reasons for their positions. I will not contribute to the hardening of their legal opinions by joining the fray and taking sides. Neither will I take a position that will aggravate the conflict and that may result in the sidelining of the more fundamental work of solving the pork barrel scam.
Rather, I believe there is plenty of room to coordinate the effort of these well-meaning officials of our land. Instead of harping on their legal differences, I would rather appeal for a cooperative solution so that the ultimate aim of solving the mess may be achieved soonest.
After all, Ombudsman Morales is not completely shutting the door to the Senate testimony of Napoles. In fact, she prefaced her comment with a recognition of “the Senate’s power to conduct inquiries in aid of legislation.” She was merely pleading that “it would not be advisable, at this time, for Ms Napoles to testify before the [Blue Ribbon] Committee.” May I stress the words “at this time.”
The solution, perhaps, is for the Senate committee to defer in the meantime, just in the meantime, the summoning of Napoles to enable the OMB to complete its preliminary investigation of the cases involving her. In turn, perhaps the OMB should hasten, yes, hasten, its investigation to give the Senate the opportunity to call her as soon as practicable.
In this way, public interest will be served by all, and conflicts of authority avoided. Verily, if legalities will be the order of the day, the controversy may end up in the courts, and the main issue may turn out to be: Which among the different government agencies should have the first crack at Napoles’ testimony, rather than on the more critical question of the guilt or innocence of the suspects and the equally important task of crafting new legislation to banish pork barrel.
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