Cooperation, not collision

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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