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10:22 PM July 18th, 2013

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July 18th, 2013 10:22 PM

The P10-billion pork barrel scam, allegedly perpetrated by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles through her company JLN Corp., screams to be investigated. President Aquino has called for an exhaustive and impartial inquiry—but who should do the investigating?

Some details of the alleged abduction of Benhur Luy, once Napoles’ trusted lieutenant, remain murky. These need to be cleared. It was this incident which led to the open rupture between Napoles and her former employees, and which brought the National Bureau of Investigation into the case.

Was Luy in fact held against his will? Or did the NBI harass Napoles and her brother? (That was Napoles’ assertion, in her April 17 letter of complaint to the President.) The second especially is a crucial question, but is it the NBI who should determine the answer?

Despite the many safeguards already built into the pork barrel system, in its present guise as the Priority Development Assistance Fund, it remains highly vulnerable to legislative skullduggery. The entire JLN operation, according to the signed affidavits of the six employees-turned-whistle-blowers, was designed to take advantage of that vulnerability.

Did the five senators and 23 congressmen implicated in the first wave of testimonies course pork barrel funds through fake organizations or fake projects? In whose pockets did the money end up?

That is a pivotal question, the sort of thing that we’ve come to expect an inquiry by the Senate or the House of Representatives to ask, but is, say, the Senate blue ribbon committee the appropriate venue to determine the answer?

It seems all but impossible for the JLN operation, as described in the affidavits, to succeed without the connivance of unscrupulous officials in the Department of Budget and Management. While the operation depended on the use of strategic forgeries and manufactured documents, the whistle-blowers also talk about working through trusted operatives in the department.

There is no showing that Budget Secretary Florencio Abad was even aware of the JLN scheme, but is he the right person to investigate the reported role of budget officials in the alleged pork barrel scam?

A web of implicated agencies and officials: It seems like a formula for pessimism, but in fact it is the JLN business model as we understand it. The entire enterprise depends on the probability that individuals and institutions get caught all the time in an ever-thickening web of implication and compromise and consequence.

What is to be done then?

All the necessary investigations must be conducted. Under Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, the NBI has largely recovered its high reputation; it would be loath to squander all that with a reckless investigation.

The chambers of Congress must conduct its own investigation; it is the responsibility of the incoming leadership in both the House and the Senate to redeem its public image, with a thoroughgoing inquiry in aid of legislation designed to install more safeguards into the pork barrel system.

The budget department must launch its own investigation, to hold the officials and employees implicated in the whistle-blowers’ affidavits to account—and to offer them a chance to clear the air and defend their reputation.

Above all, the appropriate charges must be filed against Napoles and company. The businesswoman was already implicated in the Senate investigation into the fertilizer fund scam, and the scheme involving ghost organizations or ghost projects already disclosed, in 2007. But no charges were ever filed.

That must change. Even if the web of implication which wheelers and dealers depend on extends all the way to the courts, the charges must still be filed. Aside from constant public pressure, the findings from the various inquiries can make the difference.

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