Miriam to Palace: Playing favorites is against Constitution

MANILA, Philippines – From allegations of selective justice, here comes criticism of selective fund release.

A “heartbroken” Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago questioned the selective release of additional funds to senators, calling it unconstitutional.

Santiago said the executive branch may be liable for violating the equal protection clause in the Constitution in the selective and uneven release of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) to senators following the conviction of former Chief Justice Renato Corona in May 2012.

“In releasing funds, the executive branch cannot play favorites when carrying out constitutional commands such as social justice, social services, and equal work opportunities. The DAP releases, flawed as they were from the beginning, played favorites among senators. That was clearly unconstitutional.”

“This is so far from daang matuwid (straight path)! Please, President Aquino and Secretary Abad, tell me it’s not true,” she said in a statement on Monday, September 30.

Santiago called on the Commission on Audit (COA) to probe the alleged bribery in the Corona trial on top of its audit into the pork barrel scam.

“Both scams are equally repulsive but the alleged bribery scam is intended by the political opposition to cover up the Napoles NGO pork scam,” she said.

Santiago wrote COA Chairperson Grace Pulido-Tan requesting for a probe. 

"In the national interest, please allow me to list the following particulars about the DAP disbursements, which the public want to know:

1.  The particular dates on which each disbursement was released to the senator or representative;

2.  The legal explanation, if any, for giving special treatment, in the sense that they reportedly received P100 million instead of P50 million: Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, Sen. Franklin Drilon, and Sen. Francis Escudero.

3.  The projects for which the special three senators, as well as the rest of the Congress members, spent their DAP allocations, and the actual cost of each project;

4.  The COA rule, if any, on senators and representatives who applied for, and willingly received, the DAP allocations – said to be made in August, October, and December 2012 – who are now complaining about it, particularly Sen. Jinggoy Estrada."

Santiago was referring to the insinuation of Sen Jinggoy Estrada in a privilege speech last week that senators who voted to convict Corona were given P50 million each after the impeachment trial. Estrada is a leader of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA).

Estrada made the speech a week after a plunder complaint was filed against him, Sen Juan Ponce Enrile, and Sen Bong Revilla for allegedly channeling their development funds to fake non-governmental organizations in exchange for hefty kicbkacks.

In his speech, Estrada lamented the supposed “selective justice” against opposition lawmakers in the filing of a plunder complaint on the pork barrel scam.

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad confirmed the fund release but clarified that the money came from the DAP to boost spending when the country’s economic growth slowed down. Abad said the money was not meant as a reward or bribe for the votes to convict Corona. Administration allies affirmed this. 

A list released by Abad shows senators got an average of P50 million from the DAP but Senate President Franklin Drilon got P100 million, Enrile got P92 million while Sen Francis Escudero had P99 million. Enrile was the Senate President and presiding officer during the impeachment trial. 

Below are the names of senators and the amount of funds they received in 2012:

 

Senators Panfilo Lacson, Joker Arroyo, Pia Cayetano, Bongbong Marcos, and Miriam Defensor- Santiago did not receive any disbursement from the DAP in 2012. Yet Arroyo and Cayetano received P47 million and P50 million respectively, from the DAP in early 2013.

“I would like to know in particular if it is legal for the budget department to discriminate among senators,” Santiago said.

Santiago, Arroyo and Marcos voted to acquit Corona last year. The 20 other senators convicted the former chief justice.

‘Direct bribery’

Estrada, Drilon, and Abad have said that the money was not a bribe but Santiago said the DAP releases “during and just after the impeachment trial constituted bribery under the Penal Code.”

Based on the list from Abad, the earliest DAP disbursement was made in August 2012 to Escudero.

Santiago cited Article 20 of the Penal Code on direct bribery, “Any public officer who shall agree to perform an act constituting a crime, in connection with the performance of his official duties, in consideration of any officer, promise, gift or present received by such officer.”

Santiago said the “close timing” between the vote and the release of the DAP shows that “every senator who voted to convict, and every representative who voted to indict, if each one is shown to have received additional pork during and immediately after the impeachment trial are presumably guilty.”

Abad said that members of the House of Representative got P10 million to 15 million in DAP last year.

Santiago said the lawmakers should also be investigated for allegedly committing the crime of “knowingly rendering unjust judgment.”

The Penal Code states that, “Any judge who shall knowingly render an unjust judgment in any case submitted to him for decision, shall be punished by prision mayor, and perpetual absolute disqualification.”

Crowdsourced petition via social media 

Santiago was also not satisfied with the responses of Drilon and Escudero on the issue.

“The three senators did not explain why they got more than the others, but merely defended themselves with the excuse that they spent the money on public projects.”

Santiago said she will initiate a crowdsourced petition in social media to question the alleged abuse of public funds before the Supreme Court.

“So that young idealistic lawyers can raise the proper issues in the high court. I cannot obtain relief from the Senate itself, which now appears to have been complicit in bribery,” she said.

Santiago is not the first to criticize the executive over the DAP disbursements.

Over the weekend, Sen Joker Arroyo said Abad “maliciously bundled the budgetary amendments I introduced for medical and educational provisions … together with the questioned 2012 releases.”

Arroyo said, “The accusation that Malacañang ‘rewarded’ the senators who voted to convict [Corona] puts Malacañang on a slippery slope, placing the charge of at least impropriety, if not outright bribery, right at the presidential doorstep.”

 ‘Enrile is still the arch villain’

It was also Santiago who first questioned Enrile’s selective release of Senate funds in January.

The senator again blasted her archrival for the new controversies he is linked to – the alleged bribery and the pork barrel scam.

“At the heart of both scams is then Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile.  He is charged with plunder because he gave phoney Napoles NGOs some P400 million.  Now he is trying to hide behind the expose of the alleged bribery scam.  Unfortunately, he is still the arch villain, because he alleged received P100 million as a bribe, while others received only P50 million,” Santiago said.

Santiago turned to literature to express her outrage.

“When Greek mythology discovered the stinking Aegean stables, it never anticipated the fetid and putrid pork barrel stables of corrupt Philippine politics.” – Rappler.com