Sure, investigate Drilon
After a former ally filed plunder charges against Senate President Franklin Drilon, two Cabinet secretaries and other officials last Wednesday, on the allegation that the Iloilo Convention Center (ICC) under construction was grossly overpriced, the senator gave a forceful and immediate response. He called the charges “malicious and baseless,” and recalled that he had already filed libel charges against his accuser, former Iloilo provincial administrator Manuel Mejorada. “It is obvious that this complaint has absolutely no basis,” Drilon said.
That may be, but given the circumstances, the Senate blue ribbon committee should feel compelled to also investigate the charges. What we have heard so far from senators asked about the possibility of a Senate inquiry into corruption allegations against its own chief, however, has been remarkably tepid. “If someone files a resolution, why not? There are members of the minority who can do that—Senator JV [Ejercito], Senator Nancy [Binay]. That should be heard, and the committee should be as assiduous,” said administration ally Sen. Francis Escudero in a radio interview.
“If a resolution is filed about the ICC, it should be lined up at the blue ribbon committee,” Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano told reporters. “But remember, it’s not a matter of filing, you have to have evidence there.”
But the truth is, the committee can conduct an inquiry in aid of legislation moto propio—that is, on its own accord, without need for a pro-forma resolution from a member of the opposition. Again, given the circumstances, it should initiate an inquiry with dispatch.
What are these circumstances, exactly? First, a subcommittee has been conducting hearings into similar allegations, that the Makati City Hall Building II, begun when Vice President Jejomar Binay was still city mayor, is grossly overpriced. (These hearings, where Cayetano has played a prominent and sometimes dominant role, have since grown in scope, following the trail of sometimes controversial evidence alleging Binay’s unexplained wealth.) Second, the Makati building was built by the same contractor behind the Iloilo center: Hilmarc’s Construction Corp. Third, the subcommittee investigating alleged corruption by Binay, chaired by Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, has based its progress mostly on the evidence offered by former members of Binay’s inner circle. Mejorada used to be close to Drilon; Mejorada used to run day-to-day operations in the Senate President’s home province, and once ran Drilon’s Facebook account. And as Drilon himself acknowledged, he knew Mejorada well enough for Mejorada to ask him for political favors.
Last, but certainly not least, Drilon is a stalwart of the Aquino administration, and thus a symbol of the administration’s anticorruption self-identity, the so-called “tuwid na daan.” The straight path means not engaging in corrupt acts, and also prosecuting the corrupt with the full force of the law.
For these reasons, the Senate blue ribbon committee should live up to its name, as the committee on accountability of public officers and investigations, and hold the Senate President to account. And precisely because Drilon said the charges were just plain ridiculous, he should welcome the inquiry. Is Mejorada’s basic arithmetic fundamentally wrong? Then a hearing should make that clear. Is Mejorada’s main contention, that Drilon was involved in Hilmarc’s winning of the bid, untrue? Then a hearing should leave no one in doubt.
Above all, is Mejorada’s claim that Drilon is not walking the straight path a politically motivated fabrication? Then Drilon and other administration allies committed to the tuwid na daan should demonstrate exactly what straight means: Let the fight against corruption be fought on both sides of the political fence. The evidence Binay most needs to exonerate him in the court of public opinion lies in the Senate’s failure to investigate an administration leader on exactly the same charges, under exactly the same circumstances.
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