What should the Senate do?
So the Senate is meeting behind closed doors today (Monday), to discuss what should be done regarding the so-called Napoles list. On the eve of her surgical operation last month, Janet Lim Napoles, the controversial businesswoman alleged to be the mastermind of the so-called pork barrel scam, reportedly provided new details of the criminal enterprise to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima. The new information includes the names of other senators and government officials allegedly involved in the elaborate scheme to transfer Priority Development Assistance Fund monies to fake organizations or fake projects.
De Lima has declined to make Napoles’ list of names public just yet, because doing so would be “reckless.” She said the sheer volume and the sensitive nature of the new information require vetting by the Department of Justice and the National Bureau of Investigation. She will release the list, she said, but “I will do so in due time … upon completion of the Napoles statement and the vetting process.”
This is a reasonable and indeed necessary approach—unless one is no longer interested in due process or the fundamental rights to privacy and a good reputation, or unless one misrepresents the sequence of events that led to the naming of the first three senators accused of plunder in the pork barrel scam. It was the whistle-blowers, fearing for their safety, who went public. One wonders why Napoles, stricken by an inconvenient conscience before undergoing a medical procedure or resolved to seek safety in the government’s Witness Protection Program, didn’t simply call a news conference and get it over with.
But busybodies like ex-senator Panfilo Lacson and sometime whistle-blower Sandra Cam claim they too have a copy of Napoles’ list. Lacson said his source was Napoles’ husband, a retired soldier. Cam did not specify her source, only saying it was “highly reliable.” The timing of their high-profile media appearances, however, is suspect, seemingly designed either to promote them or to put additional pressure on De Lima. Again, they could have gone public, but then it would have been their credibility on the line. (The legal liability for libel would be theirs too.) Merely hinting at the inclusion of other senators in the list is their least risky option.
Three senators are facing the prospect of plunder charges, after the Ombudsman found probable cause to indict them; two more, one an incumbent and another a former senator, face graft charges. Dozens of other officials and government employees, including several incumbent members of the House of Representatives, also face the possibility of plunder or graft charges.
The Napoles list is supposed to add many more names to the mix, including (reportedly) several sitting senators allied with the Aquino administration. De Lima said she will have to disclose the list, prematurely, if forced by the Senate blue ribbon committee “under pain of contempt.” What should the Senate do?
It should call the first whistle-blowers back to the blue ribbon committee. Over several hearings, and during media interviews, the original whistle-blowers led by Benhur Luy have proven consistent in their testimony and credible in their admissions against self-interest. Let them point to other senators involved in the scam, if any. Having been tested in the crucible, they can provide the right background, the right context, with which to evaluate Napoles’ “time to come clean” testimony.
Then, it should call Napoles before the committee again. During her first appearance, Napoles steadfastly maintained her innocence, even at the expense of her intelligence, or her previous statements to the media. Let her detail the specifics of the pork barrel scam in her own words; when she started, who the first partners in crime were, etc. These specifics will allow a skeptical public to judge her other statements. If all she has to offer is a list of names, but she remains studiously hazy about the details of her operation, we will all know what to think.
Then, and only then, call De Lima. This sequence should give her additional time in which to complete the vetting of Napoles’ hospital-bed testimony. This forward-looking process should also help impress upon the country the need to protect the institutional dignity of the Senate. Even if, at the end of the process, a majority of incumbent senators will have been proven complicit in the scam, the process of discovery will be to the Senate’s credit.
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