Miriam: Senators responsible for pork barrel

Posted at 08/16/2013 11:29 PM | Updated as of 08/16/2013 11:29 PM

MANILA - Amid a controversy over the reported misuse of lawmakers' pork barrel funds, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago on Friday reminded her colleagues that it is their responsibility to make sure the money goes to the right beneficiaries and is spent properly.

Some lawmakers who were implicated in the P10-billion pork barrel scam had said, for example, that they have no obligation to check if their priority development assistance fund (PDAF) went to real nongovernment organizations, and that it is the job of implementing agencies.

Santiago thinks otherwise.

"That is your personal responsibility. You cannot just plead that other agencies have been created for the sole purpose of checking those NGOs," she told reporters on Friday. "That is such a lame excuse. It's an evasion of responsibility."

Santiago said that if lawmakers do not want that responsibility, then the pork barrel must be abolished for all legislators.

The fund should not just be declined by individual lawmakers, she said at a gathering of the Philippine Academy of Rehabilitation Medicine, where she was the keynote speaker.

"When the senator declines a pork barrel, the amount reserved for him and be divided among the rest of the senators. If the senator specifies that his pork barrel allocation should go back to the national treasury, there is no procedure for tracing whether it went to worthwhile projects, or to the pocket of somebody in the executive department," she said.

Santiago has filed a resolution for the gradual scrapping of the PDAF from 2013 to 2016 because of the pork barrel scam.

Although the Senate had said it won't investigate the scam for now, Santiago pointed out that nothing prevents it from launching a probe, not even the investigation of other government agencies.

That senators were implicated in the controversy should also not prevent the Senate from investigating it, she added, noting that other aspects of the issue can be tackled.

"What is modus operandi of Napoles?" Santiago said, referring to the alleged scam mastermind, Janet Napoles. "We can investigate Napoles alone. We can investigate the so-called whistleblowers so that we can have their testimonies firsthand."

In a statement, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III backed Sen. Francis Escudero's call for a probe, noting the public's clamor for legislators to get to the bottom of the issue.

He said Congress badly needs an investigation to repair the shattered image of both its houses.

Santiago believes that the pork barrel scam should never be forgotten, calling it the most sensational corruption scandal in recent Philippine history.

"This is actually justice being tried before the Filipino people. We'll see what kind of justice this administration is capable of," said Santiago.