Former Senator Jinggoy Estrada has been released on bail after languising in jail for three years at the PNP custodial center in Camp Crame.
The million dollar question now is will former Senator Bong Revilla and alleged queen of the multi-billion peso pork barrel scam, Janet Lim- Napoles follow suit?
Another accused, former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile was allowed by the Supreme Court in August 2015 to post bail for “humanitarian reasons” in light of his age and poor health.
It will be recalled that the three senators were implicated by Napoles and were charged with plunder during the term of former President Noynoy Aquino.
Plunder is a non-bailable offense. However, Estrada was released from detention after the Sandiganbayan granted his petition for bail saying in its resolution that it granted the petition because “the evidence has not strongly established accused Estrada as the main plunderer.”
We are sure the lawyers of Revilla and Napoles are already studying how to invoke the same legal argument to benefit their clients.
According to the findings of government prosecutors, Revilla got the biggest amount of kickbacks from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), also known as pork barrel or funds a lawmaker can spend for community development projects, amounting to P224 million, followed by Estrada with P183 million and Enrile with P172 million.
Napoles was charged as co-defendant in the cases against the 3 senators after investigators found out that the NGOs which she controlled served on paper as beneficiaries of the lawmakers’ PDAF.
The vast collection of wealth allegedly accumulated by Napoles, shames all of us when put right next to the hardship of over 12 million poor families living in extreme poverty based on recent government statistics.
If media reports are correct, Napoles’ embarrassment of riches—28 houses, 30 cars, 400 bank accounts—placed against the backdrop of rising poverty in our country is a sad testament to the government’s losing fight against corruption.
Those involved in what Cardinal Luis Tagle calls an “intricate web” of corruption could not have feathered their nests without the connivance of a massive network of cohorts and accomplices in the government.
The sad part is, it seems the level of thievery in government has continued and increased in the last few years.
It is so frustrating to see the present leadership of both the Senate and the House of Representatives doing nothing to investigate the alleged misuse in the PDAF or whatever they call it now by some lawmakers and bogus non-government organizations (NGO’s) or preferred contractors.
Will Senate President Koko Pimentel and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez be willing to investigate their colleagues? If not, then this is a big letdown for those of us who want to get to the bottom of this mess. We demand to know what can be done to fix the system and to institute checks and balance in the disposition of the congressional funds.
The excuse that the public would doubt the fairness and impartiality of such a congressional probe anyway will not hold water. This sort of pessimism is a self-fulfilling frame of mind that does not reflect the government’s reform agenda.
What the people will not believe is if the Senate or the House were to say that nobody in Congress was at fault. It is clear that some people have been remiss in their duty to safeguard the peoples’ money. Rightly or wrongly, Pimentel and Alvarez will be accused of shielding their colleagues from public censure and legal liability.
After all, if the senators decided to look into the allegations of customs broker Mark Taguba, Davao death squad witness Arturo Lascanas and Edgar Matobato whose backgrounds and motives were questionable, we don’t understand why our senators can’t delve deeper into the murky allegations involving this scandalous misuse of taxpayers’ money.
Unless, of course, they have something to hide and are trying to avoid being caught.
A number of representatives have said they merely identify the projects to be financed by their congressional allocation and that they have no way of checking if the funds did indeed go to the intended beneficiaries.
They point to the Department and Budget of Management, and line agencies like the Department of Public Works and Highways and Department of Agriculture as the government offices holding the documents that can be used for regulating the proper use of public funds.
This is rubbish. We know for a fact that these representatives personally handpick district engineers and municipal agricultural officers to implement their projects in their congressional districts.
Ordinary taxpayers like you and me demand that our public servants guard the sanctity of our money. These funds came from our hard work and sacrifice, unlike those who have been living high on the hog and pigging out on the pork barrel.
Let’s watch closely how President Duterte’s allies will deal with this corruption issues which used the poorest of the poor among our countrymen as pawns in their schemes.