By Joyce Ilas
The Senate Ethics Committee should analyze the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) report on the alleged P10-billion pork barrel scam once it comes out, Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago said in her speech on Friday at the convention of the Philippine Academy for Rehabilitation Medicine (PARM) at the Edsa Shangri-la Hotel in Mandaluyong.
Santiago believes it would be better to have two simultaneous proceedings – a criminal case in court and an administrative case in the Senate – for senators suspected of frequently putting their hands in the cookie jar.
"This will be one of the sensational cases in Philippine politics in the entire history of our country," she said in an interview after the hotel event. "So we have to be very careful that we are setting a good precedent."
Five senators are being accused of having channeled their Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF) to ghost projects through bogus nongovernment organizations. These are Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, Gregorio "Gringo" Honasan, Ramon "Bong" Revilla, and Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.
Santiago said that, if found guilty, a senator could be suspended or even expelled.
She believes it would easier for the Senate to expel a member than for a court to find a senator guilty.
A court case could drag on, she pointed out, as the accused would usually make an appeal.
As of this writing, the Senate has not elected the chairman of the Ethics Committee nor has it selected the members.
Santiago admitted it would be difficult – even distasteful – for senators to grill their colleagues allegedly involved in the pork barrel scam.
But she insisted that it was time that the senators step up to the challenge.
"The Committee on Ethics has never done a thing. Whether as a member there or not, I've never attended a hearing," she said. "The Senate has never indicated in any way that it is aware and willing to fulfill this resposibility."
Santiago added that it would be dangerous to let the decision on the pork barrel scam solely to the courts.
She explained that senators could use the power of their office to blackmail court judges and even Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to eventually rule in their favor.
Senators could make a lot of trouble for anyone who dare cross swords with them.
To prevent this from happening, she repeated her proposal to President Benigno Aquino III to appoint an independent panel of prosecutors consisting of retired Supreme Court justices to try the case.
Meanwhile, Sen. Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III said he would also want the Senate to push through with an investigation of the scam.
Earlier, Sen. Francis "Chiz" Escudero filed a resolution seeking an investigation into the issue.
Last week, however, senators reached a consensus and agreed to postpone its investigation pending the results of the NBI probe.
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Pia Hontiveros, Chief Correspondent and anchor of Solar Network News and News.Ph, presents the Solar News and Current Affairs year-ender special: On the Cusp of Change. A deafening silence, not out of a loss for words but a grief that cannot be spoken, for thousands lost to a super typhoon ... A muted pain from a powerful tremor that violently shook the heart of the nation ... An unspeakable anger over pork barrel that fueled a political maelstrom ... These and other stories from the extraordinary challenging year that was.