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Philippines: ‘Pork Barrel Queen’ Senate Appearance a Dud

Protesters denounce senators who are implicated in the corruption scandal. Photo by James Sarmiento, Flickr (CC License)

Protesters denounce senators who are implicated in the corruption scandal. Photo by James Sarmiento, Flickr (CC License)

Many Filipinos were frustrated by the senate appearance of alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles who simply feigned innocence and denied having any knowledge of the corruption charges against her.

Napoles is accused of siphoning billions of public funds into ghost non-government organizations through the pork barrel allocations of senators, congressmen and local governments.

The corruption issue which was exposed a few months ago sparked massive protests and outrage in the country and forced the government to declare that it is already abolishing the pork allocation of legislators.

The senate hearing was conducted right after three senators were implicated in the scandal.They are now facing plunder charges.

The public expected Napoles to divulge details of the massive stealing of public funds but she opted to remain silent.
Blogger BongV succinctly describes how the hearing turned out to be for nothing – except for lawmakers involved in the scam using the hearing to cover for themselves:

First and foremost, the Senate is not a court of law. It cannot render judgment nor convict Napoles .

Second, it’s not just Napoles that’s under scrutiny – it’s practically the entire legislative body (and the chief executive, too) itself.

It is foolhardy to let a party under investigation, investigate itself.

That’s a recipe for a whitewash in the making.

If we are to seek justice, let the judiciary branch handle it – not the legislative branch. That’s a no-brainer!

Indeed, if the hearing was hijacked by anyone else but Ms Napoles, it was Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago who grabbed most attention during her turn at questioning the alleged ‘pork barrel queen'. Veteran journalist Raissa Robles observes:

Sometime into the proceeding Senator Miriam Santiago appeared and managed to hijack the proceedings with a lengthy tirade-cum-lecture. about the fine points of the law on a person invoking the “right to self-incrimination” compared to saying “I don’t know”. She convinced, or browbeat, Napoles into invoking the right against self-incrimination as against just saying “I don’t know”. There’s a difference between the two responses so it will be interesting to see what the legal fallout from this will be.

As well as the merits of turning state witness – she told Napoles that the latter will be 90 years old when she gets out of jail if she is convicted of plunder.

Santiago sounded like she was equally interested in grinding her own axes and going after her political enemies while clearing up the pork barrel issue.

And since Sen Santiago stole the spotlight during the hearings, her words came close scrutiny from followers and critics alike, The Pinoy Catholic took the lady Senator's own play on the Ten Commandments against her on the issue of the reproductive health:

Now let's paraphrase that shall we and let us turn the tables against her.

“Is it true that you are close to a certain Catholic theology school? Are you familiar with the Catechism of the Catholic Church? Are you familiar Humanae Vitae? Are you familiar with the teachings about the Catholic Church against artificial contraception? And still, with theology degrees you keep on floundering, and by authoring the RH Law and publicly insulting the bishops and priests who uphold Catholic teaching you remain and consider yourself to be a devout Catholic?”

An activist wears a 'miss piggy' mask in reference to the pork barrel scam. Photo by James Sarmiento, Flickr (CC License)

An activist wears a ‘miss piggy’ mask in reference to the pork barrel scam. Photo by James Sarmiento, Flickr (CC License)

On the other hand, Adrian Pantonial points us to the brighter side of things as he shares his takeaways from the hearing:

1. Change-catalysts confront and correct people. The Pork Scam whistleblowers and Senator Santiago exhibited wisdom and guts, standing up for what’s right, and telling the whole truth. Their lives were put on the line by their bravery but they took the risk anyway.

(…)

3. Restraining the truth and telling lies only complicate matters. Obviously, Napoles evaded the Senators’ questions with her cautious and short answers. Santiago implied earlier that there is someone (or a group of people) “most guilty” in this case than Napoles. She advised Napoles to expose the whole truth and the Senator/s involved before she might get assassinated – probably the best advice she could have gotten from the prosecution side.

With the hearings suspended until further notice and the country focused on recovering from the devastation caused by super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), there's little interest in a second appearance of Ms Napoles on the next hearing now that the public knows that she would not change her tone and open up.

There is however a growing concern that legislative hearings are counter-productive. What the people want today is for the whole controversy to be steered into a clearer path or lead into a full blown trial in the courts.

  • Adrian Pantonial

    Hey Julius! Thank you for quoting my blog post and linking back to “Seekers Portal.”

    I just shared your article to my Facebook network as a way of returning the favor. ;-)

    Stay safe and more power to Global Voices Team!

    • Jhay

      Thank you for sharing and for your insights as well.

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