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Senators linked to pork barrel scam to recuse selves from PDAF probe
The online news portal of TV5

MANILA, Philippines - Some senators whose names surfaced in an audit report on the multi-billion pork barrel scam said they will inhibit themselves from the Blue Ribbon committee hearing that starts Thursday, Aug. 29.

The probe is an offshoot of a resolution, filed by Sen. Francis Escudero, calling for the abolition of the Priority Development Assistance Fund amid widespread protests triggered by revelations that a group led by businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles had gotten millions from lawmaker's PDAF and diverted these to bogus nongovernment organizations.

Sens. Gregorio Honasan and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., whose names were dragged into the controversy, said they would not attend the hearing but expressed support for the investigation.

Honasan said that, "like any other Filipino, I also want to find out the truth in this controversy. "

Honasan likewise pushed for widening the focus by shining a light on spending of other funds like 'intelligence funds’, which are not subject to review of the Commission on Audit or COA.

"Our people want accountability from the government. It is about time that every kind of fund coming from the government is scrutinized, " Honasan said.

Explaining his non-attendance at the hearing, Revilla said that besides “prudence,” he is not a member of the Blue Ribbon committee.

“But I fully support the inquiry and all the other investigations into the matter. I believe the truth will surface in a fair and impartial investigation. Those truly responsible should be held accountable and punished,” he said.

The panel is expected to focus on the CoA special audit report alleging 12 senators and 180 congressmen allegedly released P6.156 billion in PDAF to 82 “bogus” NGOs organizations, 10 of which are linked to Napoles who allegedly cornered P2.1 billion, from 2007 to 2009.

Invited to appear at the hearing are CoA chair Ma. Gracia Pulido-Tan, and commissioners Heidi Mendoza and Rowena Guanzon.

Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile, whose name was also dragged into the controversy, earlier said he would not attend the hearing. “Probably, I will inhibit myself so that they will not say that I will influence the proceeding. And if they call me, if they want to call me, then I will appear,” Enrile said.

Enrile said he is ready to be investigated by colleagues “because that is a constitutional mandate. But I would not go to the other House and be questioned by the other House because I’m not under the jurisdiction of the other House. That’s what I said.”

Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., a member of the minority bloc whose name was also implicated in the report, said he has not made up his mind whether to attend the hearing or not.

But Sen. Jinggoy Estrada said he is ready to face his colleagues in the investigation. “I will attend (today’s) hearing. And I will answer questions in the proper forum, if ever I will be implicated,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano said that instead of hiding behind rules and technicalities, senators should face the Senate inquiry head-on and allow themselves to be questioned.

The senator also disagreed with the call of Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago for senators named in the audit report to take a leave of absence from their duties as elected lawmakers.

“We have every opportunity to clear their names so I urge my colleagues to cooperate with the investigations of both the Blue Ribbon and the newly created Inter Agency Anti Graft Coordinating Council (IAAGCC)," he said. 

Estrada’s sibling Sen. JV Ejercito, another minority member, said that as far as he knows, some of his colleagues will not attend the proceedings. "Kami pinag-iisipan pa kung mag-i-inhibit o hindi, syempre kapatid ko ‘yung isang nadadawit at mga kasamahan namin sa minorya," said Ejercito.

"Bigyan natin ng pagkakataon (ang Blue Ribbon panel chair Sen. Teofisto Guingona III) na maging patas sa magiging pagdinig [Let's give the blue-ribbon panel chair a chance to handle this inquiry impartially]," Escudero said.

Escudero also wants other witnesses to attend the next hearing.  “We want to hear from the whistle blowers, from the implementing agencies which have been repeatedly mentioned in various news reports. We only hear and read about them from the news, it is time we hear it straight from these people”. 

He cited the National Agribusiness Corp (NABCOR), Technology Resource Center (TRC), National Livelihood Development Corp. (NLDC), Zamboanga del Norte Rubber Estate Corp. (ZREC) and the Philippine Forest Corp. (PhilForest) among the entities that he would ask to be called before the committee.