Senate flipflops, decides to probe pork barrel scam

MANILA, Philippines (2nd Update) – Days after the release of the Commission on Audit report on the lawmakers' Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF), the Senate has changed its mind about deferring its probe of the pork barrel scam. 

Sen TG Guingona, chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, on Tuesday, August 20, announced they have decided to conduct a formal investigation into the alleged misuse of lawmakers' funds. 

The Senate earlier made a unanimous decision not to probe the matter pending the full investigation of the Department of Justice and the National Bureau of Investigation. 

With the release of the COA report, Guingona said the committee has now found sufficient basis to proceed. 

The report found that at least P6.1 billion worth of lawmakers's funds were released to dubious nongovernment organizations. 

In a statement posted on his social media accounts, Guingona said: "Earlier, the Committee, based on the consensus of the Senate as a whole, had decided to put on hold the probe of the said issue. This was to give way to the ongoing investigations being done by the Department of Justice and the National Bureau of Investigation. It was our view that the preliminary findings by the DOJ and the NBI can serve as basis for the Blue Ribbon Committee's probe."

He added, "COA report is sufficient to initiate the investigation."

The first hearing will be held Thursday, August 29 at 9 am. COA Commissioner Grace Pulido Tan is expected to testify.

Senators welcome development

Asked for his reaction, Sen Francis Escudero – the first senator to file a resolution calling for a probe – could only say one thing: "Finally."

Meanwhile, Sen Koko Pimentel, who has also been calling for an investigation, lauded the move and said it was a "good decision and logical too."

As the development comes amid increasing clamor from the public for the abolition of the pork barrel system, Sen Grace Poe told reporters in a text message she was "relieved and encouraged" that the Committee finally decided to conduct the probe. 

On Tuesday, members of the Senate majority bloc, led by Senate President Franklin Drilon, announced plans to adopt a resolution expressing their intention not to use their pork barrel unless "stricter guidelines" on its usage are adopted. 

 “The majority senators’ decision to adopt the resolution is a manifestation of their interest in making the use of the PDAF more transparent and open for scrutiny of the public that will help prevent the abuses and inadequacies which were observed in the Commission on Audit report,”said Drilon, who has said he is in favor of Sen Miriam's Santiago's proposal to gradually phase out PDAF. 

Separately, Assistant Senate Minority Leader Vicente Sotto III, also said he would refrain from using PDAF until no additional safeguards are installed. 

"I welcome it completely, and if no safeguards are effected, I will no longer avail of my PDAF and completely give it up to remove all doubts regarding my office on the matter, once and for all," Sotto said in a text message.

Abolish pork

Meanwhile, the NBI continues to be on the hunt for Janet Lim-Napoles, the alleged mastermind behind the multi-million dollar pork barrel scam, as it prepares to file charges against individuals involved in the scandal. 

(READ Rappler's series of reports analyzing the PDAF released through Nabcor)

Earlier, senators Francis Escudero and Koko Pimentel filed resolutions seeking an investigation into the use of PDAF. Sen Grace Poe has also announced plans to call for a probe into NGOs that have transactions with the government. Rappler.com