Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Face it

Livid with rage, Manuel Villar sprang to the floor of the Senate and hurled ad hominems against his “tormentors” last Monday. Although he did not mention their names, he raged against a fellow senator, a lady who has been a “defender of human rights” (“tagapagtanggol ng human rights na ang bukang bibig ay puro human rights”), but, “when someone here was accused of murder, she was silent” (noong may inaakusahan na murder ay hindi makakibo”). That of course is a non sequitur, because the alleged case is in fact with the courts, and the DOJ secretary himself was all over the papers implying that a senator was involved in it.

He also raged against the “girl friend” of another senator (“wala akong girl friend na bira ng bira”). He of course was referring to a well-known lady broadcast journalist who has been critical of corruption, in the executive agencies as well as the legislature. Apparently, Senator Villar finds it difficult to distinguish between one’s profession and one’s personal life. Surely, Senator Villar would never be too harsh against those in media who attack and collect, defend and collect. As things stand, his “tormentors” in the Senate do not have the wherewithal (the “billions”) to pay up. He has plenty.

He accuses the Senate Ethics Committee chair, Panfilo Lacson, of irrelevant things like his alleged complicity in “Dacer-Corbito”. And he mentioned something about “BW Resources shares na involved”, and asks if it is not something the Ethics Committee should likewise investigate. In his rage, Villar probably forgot that the same issue of BW Resources had been the subject of a Senate Ethics Committee investigation, when a senator, now deceased, allegedly demanded from Dante Tan millions of shares of the hot stock, yet failed to pay for the same even after the shares were sold for multiples of their value at the time of purchase. Villar, in his rage, probably overlooked the fact that the son of the deceased senator, may his soul rest in peace, has since become another peer of the realm, and is in fact, Villar’s chief second, his vitriolic spokesperson.

But what are the facts of “l’affaire C-5” and Manuel Villar’s alleged involvement in it?

Sometime in September last year, Seantor Lacson inquired about a curious double entry of similar 200 million peso amounts in the budget for the same stretch of road, one described as C-5 and the other described as Carlos P. Garcia, it’s new name. The budget secretary, who Lacson thought was toying with the budget, announced that it was a “congressional insertion”.

An investigation in the Finance Committee followed, where Senator Enrile, its chair, said that the “insertion” was at the instance of then Senate President Villar. Was Lacson the “accuser”, as Senator Cayetano, Villar, Arroyo, Pimentel, et al keep repeating over and over? No. He did not identify Villar. Enrile did in the course of inquiry.

Then, Senator Jamby Madrigal revealed in a privilege speech that the C-5 Road’s original site had been shifted from Paranaque City to the boundary of Las Pinas City. That the original site was one where government had already paid road-right-of-way compensation to Bro. Mike Velarde whose land was to be passed upon, to the tune of 1.2 billion pesos. And that the new site passed lands belonging to the corporations owned by spouses Manuel and Cynthia Villar, who had, per DPWH records, negotiated the sale of his and other lands, at a time when the male Villar was chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and the female Villar was congresswoman of Las Pinas. So Madrigal referred her findings to the Ethics Committee, then chaired by Sen. Pia Cayetano, who had been chair of the committee for more than a year, and had not done anything about other issues pending before her committee.

On November of 2008, a majority of senators decided to replace Villar as Senate President, and in his stead, chose Juan Ponce Enrile. After a month of reorganization, Sen. Ping Lacson was nominated by the majority to chair the Ethics Committee. Lacson, twice on the floor of the Senate, asked the minority to nominate their members. They refused.

The Ethics committee met after the Christmas recess to draft the rules of investigations. The minority refused to participate. People wondered why it was taking too long, but the committee took its time, went through due process step by step, including the publication of its rules in the Official Gazette. All these having been done, with the minority refusing to participate, the first committee hearing to dispose of pending cases before it happened on April 15. There was a case filed by former QC representative Dante Liban against Sen. Dick Gordon, another filed by Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago against Sen. Antonio Trillanes. There was also one regarding the executive session of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee where Romulo Neri, witness in the ZTE-NBN investigation, was accompanied by DBM Secretary Rolando Andaya, a breach of the Senate rules. And there was the case against Villar filed by Madrigal.

The minority led by Alan Cayetano and later, Minority Leader Nene Pimentel questioned why some senators signed an order directing Villar to file his response to Madrigal’s complaint, after the Ethics committee’s general counsel certified that the complaint had form and substance. The order was yet to be promulgated after that 15 April hearing, but the minority twisted the facts and charged that Villar was already condemned by the “committee report”. There was no committee report, and lawyers Cayetano and Pimentel knew that. All there was, leaked by Senator Jinggoy Estrada, was a yet-to-be promulgated directive to Villar to respond to Madrigal within five days.

“Apparently, some equate mere determination that the complaint complied with form and substance with already credible evidence that provides substantial cause for the committee to conclude that a violation within its jurisdiction has already been committed”, Lacson said on the Senate floor.

Pimentel and Cayetano claimed that Lacson was being “accuser, judge and executioner”. Cayetano’s colourful tongue even exclaimed “political rub-out”. So on Monday, Lacson rebutted their claim, point by point. And explained that he had exercised a quantum of caution, lest he be accused precisely of unfairness. Lacson even adverted to an earlier action of then Ethics chair in the 12th Congress, Francis Pangilinan, who, acting purely on the complaint of the sworn statement of one Angelo “Ador” Mawanay, “officially informed me (Lacson) that the Committee had already conducted a preliminary discussion…and that I had to file my counter-affidavit in a preliminary inquiry…No meeting was held to tackle the complaint against me. Worse, the Ethics Committee of the 12th Congress did not bother to inform me beforehand that the complaint filed was sufficient in form and substance. Moreover, the Senate Ethic Committee of the 12th Congress did not care to find out if it had jurisdiction in the first place. Why? (Because) the accusations contained therein, never mind that they were as incredible as they were ludicrous, were supposedly committed before (Lacson) took my oath as Senator of the Republic!”.

Lacson then did not ask his minority leader to intervene, nor did he ask any peer to heckle for him. “I did not cry foul. I quietly filed my reply in the best way I knew how…even when it was obvious that lapses were committed against my interest…”, he declared. “Conscious of those lapses, inadvertent or otherwise, committed by some of our colleagues in 2001…I have been very careful not to commit the same (in this instant case)”, Lacson added.

Yet, Villar says he is being unfairly prosecuted simply because he is a presidentiable, and his judges are likewise presidentiables, and calls the Ethics Committee to which his allies were invited to participate, but shunned, as a “kangaroo court”. Oh, for crying out loud.

Last Monday though, he claimed he would answer the accusations. So, why doesn’t he just face the music? Why doesn’t he just submit his response? Why is he assiduously trying to project martyrdom in the altar of politics, when he has time and again said that he “was proud of this C-5 project”. The hypocrisy sucks.

Or is he and his political acolytes in the Senate and beyond, simply invoking their privilege, as a member of the “august body”, to be spared from investigations by an old boy’s club? That they could, and do, as Cayetano inveterately does, investigate executive agencies, but not one of their own, for acts violative of the laws and proper conduct.

Sila pwede, pero tayo-tayo, hindi. Kanya-kanyang takipan? Is that what Cayetano, Pimentel, Arroyo, and Villar are trying to tell their peers in the Senate? Luckily for the people of this benighted land, Ping Lacson is an atypical practitioner of politics.

Dapat, maging “patas ang laban”. Or as the lawyers love to invoke, “Let justice be done, let the truth come out, though the heavens fall”.