Game of lists: Whispers and intrigues in the PDAF scam case
by Bernadine Racoma
Filipino fans of the critically-acclaimed HBO television series Game of Thrones must be thrilled about the double-dose of the show’s trademark political drama and intrigue that they are getting right here at home. Truly, the fictional developments playing out in King’s Landing are similar to the real-life drama playing out right here in the Philippine capitol, with government officials being implicated left and right in various lists circulating around the media naming certain officials as accomplices in the Napoles PDAF scam. These lists have implicated so many people, from obscure low-level officials to powerful household names that have dominated Philippine politics for decades. The sheer abundance of accusations being thrown around has made the entire circus a confusing affair, even for the most discerning newsreader. Who can be believed? Which list, if any, is legitimate? Here iss a short rundown of the lists and their sources.
On May 16, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima submitted to the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee the signed affidavit of PDAF scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles. The list implicates 11 senators in the scam, including the three who have already been indicted by the Ombudsman in the Sandiganbayan for plunder: former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, and Bong Revilla. The list, now in the custody of the committee’s chairman, Sen. T.G. Guingona, includes handwritten annotations placed by Napoles herself.
Considering the central position of Napoles in the scam (it was her idea, after all) it is definitely possible that this list contains a lot of truth. However, some confusion has come about due to the mistaken inclusion of Sen. J.V. Ejercito. The Napoles camp has apologized for this error and removed Ejercito’s name from the list, but the senator is still contemplating legal action due to the damage that he claims has already been done to his reputation due to the erroneous inclusion of his name on this, a most controversial and politically deadly of lists.
Last week the Philippine Daily Inquirer started running a series of features summarizing the contents of the personal records of Benhur Luy, Napoles’ former finance officer. Luy’s records, stored on a hard drive given to the Inquirer last year, are the most extensive and damaging of all, since his work at Napoles’ company required keeping meticulous records of all transactions. According to Luy’s various lists, the guilty are much more numerous than stated by Napoles through her signed affidavit: the accused include 25 senators, well over 100 congressmen, executive department officials, high-ranking military personnel, and even well-known media personalities.
Interestingly enough, 6 incumbent senators who have had transactions recorded in Luy’s records were not included on the official Napoles list: Senate President Frank Drilon, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Lito Lapid, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Ralph Recto, and Cynthia Villar.
Rehabilitation Secretary Panfilo Lacson submitted what he claims to be an unsigned version of the Napoles list to the Senate committee on May 13. The list differs from the official list signed by Napoles and submitted by Secretary De Lima. It implicates 12 senators, including Ejercito, as well as Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, and 68 former or current congressmen. Secretary De Lima has dismissed Lacson’s copy of the Napoles list as invalid, calling it a “worthless piece of paper.”
Whistleblowers Association of the Philippines President Sandra Cam claims that she is in possession of a list implicating 12 senators in the scam, as well as 68 incumbent or former congressmen. Cam has garnered substantial press coverage in recent days by claiming that De Lima had sanitized the Napoles list before submitting it to the Senate committee, removing the name of Senate President Drilon, who is supposedly named on her list. Cam seems to really have it out for Drilon, having claimed that the leader of the Senate is attempting to silence her. Cam has yet to reveal the source of her list.
Lawyer Levito Baligod quietly submitted his own list to the Department of Justice on March 8, well before the other lists had gained traction in the media. However, Baligod has not escaped the spotlight. As the former lawyer of Benhur Luy, Baligod has been accused of being the person behind the whole list frenzy, including the Luy list. He has drawn the ire of Senator Defensor-Santiago, who has threatened him with a disbarment case due to her inclusion in Luy’s records. Baligod has denied these accusations, claiming that Enrile, Estrada, and Revilla were the only senators included on the list he submitted. Furthermore, he has said that Luy’s records were not a list, but rather a mere database of transaction.
Truth in a Storm of Intrigue
Many of the accused lawmakers and government officials have warned the public about being so quick to believe the lists that seem to proliferate as each day goes by. They say that anyone can make a list, and that these lists must be verified and authenticated through proper, official channels before they wreak their havoc on professional reputations and ambitions. This is a worthy warning, but it should be taken with a caveat. Truthfully, many of the officials named on these lists could have been falsely accused. With the confusion that has taken hold of public life over the last few months, it is easy for political opportunists to use this chaos in order to bring down their political rivals.
However, it is certain that at least some of the people on these lists are guilty of exactly what they are accused of – stealing public funds and putting them in their own pockets, and into the pockets of others who are just as guilty. Napoles and her associates could not have amassed such a mindboggling amount of ill-gotten wealth without a sizable number of conspirators within government. Hopefully, over time these lists, mere pieces of paper at the moment, will bring about real-life convictions for the “public servants” that have gotten obscenely rich at the expense of the average Filipino taxpayer.
Images via Inquirer.net. Some rights reserved.
Originally posted at the Blog Watch Channel Philippine Online Chronicles