Opposition ready to probe ‘pork’ scam

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Published : Monday, May 19, 2014 00:00

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SPEAKER Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte Jr. was urged yesterday to task the opposition lawmakers in the House of Representatives to spearhead the pork probe aimed at addressing the institution’s “reputation crisis” and erase suspicion that the lower chamber is not investigating the Priority Development Assistance Fund on pork barrel scam to protect administration allies.

Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, head of the House independent minority bloc, said his group and the camp of House Minority Leader and San Juan City Rep. Ronaldo Zamora can take the lead in investigating the pork barrel controversy which is damaging the whole Congress.

“The minority and independent (blocs can investigate),” Romualdez said when asked if his group is willing to investigate the alleged scam.

“This will help address the reputation crisis being faced by the Senate and the House of Representatives,” Romualdez added.

In a separate interview, Belmonte maintained that he will just allow the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee to continue investigating the scam, explaining only 18 incumbent lawmakers, including from the opposition have been named on the lists that businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles implicated in the pork barrel scam.

“Of two hundred eighty-nine congressmen, only eighteen current members, including from the opposition are mentioned in the list and without evidence. With the backing of the leadership, the House will leave this to the Senate and the Office of the Ombudsman and concentrate on our work,” Belmonte pointed out.

In response, Romualdez said they will communicate with Belmonte on a personal level to continue convincing him to finally open a House probe into the pork barrel scam.

“It does not mean that we should completely abdicate our duty to remind our leadership on what we feel are imperatives,” Romualdez said as he reiterated that many lawmakers are innocent of the allegations. “Marami rin sa Kongreso na walang kinalaman dito, pero dahil walang investigation o walang clarification, nasasangkot lahat.”

In a related development, Cavite Rep. Elpidio “Pidi” Barzaga Jr. branded as “baseless and unfounded” calls for President Benigno Aquino to resign because of the serious accusations against his Cabinet men in the pork barrel scam.

“I consider these events as the fruits of the President’s call for transparency and accountability. I just hope the law would take its natural course — investigate those who are alluded to, file appropriate criminal charges if there is a probable cause and convict if their guilt can be proved beyond reasonable doubt. This would be the start of our cleansing process and I am optimistic that our electorate in 2016 would be very careful in selecting candidates for public office,” Barzaga explained in a text message.

“It would be certainly outrageous if we shall demand the resignation of PNoy on account of the pork barrel scandal. The unsigned Napoles list which includes twelve senators and sixty-nine congressmen has severely damaged the image of the House and the Senate. However, it has its upside. For one thing, the President’s call for transparency and accountability are showing its good effects for our people. While I must say that everybody is presumed innocent unless proven otherwise, nonetheless the recent events in our country have shown that nobody is above the law, that anomalies allegedly committed by cabinet secretaries, senators, congresspersons and other high ranking officials in the various agencies of the government are subject to exposure occupying banner headlines in numerous newspapers and being broadcast and analyzed in primetime hour in various radio and television stations becoming the talk of the town in coffee shops, barbershops, market and even in various hangout of our youths,” Barzaga added.

Belmonte also rejected calls for Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad Jr., Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) Director General Joel Villanueva to either submit courtesy resignations or at take a leave of absence to ensure fair play after being implicated in the scam.

“No, they should not resign or take a leave of absence. These were just mere statements without any evidence backing at all,” Belmonte stressed.

Belmonte Jr., a lawyer and vice chairman of the ruling Liberal Party (LP), warned of mockery of the justice system should Napoles be given immunity from criminal prosecution as a state witness.

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