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Making a list…

…And checking it twice. It is the Easter, not the Christmas, season. But, like Santa’s, Janet Napoles’ list of participants in the pork barrel scam would identify who else have been naughty in their choice of NGO beneficiaries.

Thus far, the parties implicated in the scam include players from the private sector, like Napoles herself, as well as public officials at both the national and the local government levels and from both the executive and the legislative branches.  The most prominent officials indicted come from the Senate, and the report that the Napoles affidavit includes more senators has caused consternation among this august body.

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And, thus far, only Sen. Jinggoy Estrada appears, not only unfazed, but almost relieved at the prospect of indictment for more of his colleagues. The Napoles list would confirm what he had always maintained: that he, Sen. Bong Revilla and

Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile were not the only senators involved in the pork barrel scam.

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Never mind that the posture he has taken and his pronouncements virtually amount to an admission of guilt. He seems to argue that if everyone is guilty of exploiting what he has described as a “flawed” system, no one should be punished.  He is right in protesting selective prosecution that targets only opposition personalities. But the public and the President demand sanctions against all participants in any pork barrel plunder.

Other legislators are demanding the immediate release of the Napoles list, so the public will know, if they are not included, that they are clean. Or, so that they can disprove their inclusion, if they have been named. Pleading for more time to validate the list, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has declined its immediate publication.

The Department of Justice has sound reasons for withholding the list from the media until some basic vetting has been done. But events are overtaking its concern to avoid tarnishing those who were carelessly or deliberately and unfairly dragged into the crime, because it has no control over the increasing number of lists.

Apart from those generated by the government agencies, such as the Commission on Audit, over which the DOJ may have some control, other lists are now floating around, including those from the different whistle-blowers. The DOJ cannot prevent private parties from selectively leaking, in part or full, the contents of privately-compiled lists to the media.

While containing common names, these lists cover different time frames and may focus on different government agencies. The media have now exposed pork barrel scams involving Napoles that date back to 2002. It is impossible to expect that all the lists will have the same names.

The observation of the Napoles lawyer that legislators who know themselves to be innocent should have no concern about her list is true but somewhat naive. Innocence does not always ensure safety from harassment.

What is puzzling is the apparent avoidance by legislators of a list that is completely within their individual control. As far as I know, no one has offered to the public a list of the organizations to which the congressman or senator has allocated pork barrel funds. Complete transparency on this matter should be the first line of defense for those legislators who have nothing to fear about their use of public funds.

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The public also has a right to information on which individuals and groups received pork barrel funds and in what amounts, how and for what purposes these were spent, and the actual outcome of the spending. The silence of the legislators on these matters does not serve their interests, if they are innocent. Their silence suggests that their pork barrel funds, even if they did not go to Napoles ghost NGOs, were also diverted to equally insubstantial organizations or used for dubious purposes.

It would be preferable if the legislators, on their own initiative, voluntarily provided an accounting of their pork barrel funds. If they do not do so, the agencies of the executive branch should be able to disclose at least the basics of how much pork barrel funds were given to whom. The communities where the pork barrel recipients reside should have some knowledge of what public funds actually achieved.

The executive branch should not need a Freedom of Information Law or a Supreme Court directive to compel disclosure of pork barrel records. To refuse this information would only add fuel to the public alarm and anger provoked by the exposure in the last few years of suspected corruption cases and the staggering amounts reportedly plundered.

Because their control over the allocation of pork barrel funds is widely known, the legislators bear the burden of proof: They are presumed guilty, until they prove themselves innocent. Only disclosure will free them from the shadow of suspicion.

Edilberto C. de Jesus ([email protected]) is professor emeritus at the Asian Institute of Management.

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TAGS: Business Matters, Edilberto C. de Jesus, Janet Lim-Napoles, opinion, pork barrel, pork barrel scam, Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, sen. Ramon ‘bong’ revilla
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