Things could get messy.
DOJ Sec. de Lima announced cases will shortly be filed against a number of solons associated with the P10 billion pork scam (This confirms what a Senate insider told me that three Senators are soon to be charged). The accused, she noted, could come from both sides of the political divide. The Inquirer reported Enrile, Jinggoy, Bong Revilla and Ed Angara were the top users of their PDAF in 2007-2009. The first three have reportedly been associated with the alleged Napoles and ZNAC/PFI hoaxes.
This brings up some constitutional questions. One is the immunity of the Legislative branch against prosecution. Under Art. VI, Sec. 11 of the Constitution: “A Senator or Member of the House of Representatives shall in all offenses punishable by not more than six years of imprisonment, be privileged from arrest while the Congress is in session”. To bypass the time limitation, the Ombudsman could file charges of plunder which carries a life term. Under Sec. 2 of R.A. 7080, plunder is ill-gotten wealth of over P50 million.
Another is the independence provision of the Constitution. Under Sec.16 (3) Art.VI only the Senate or the House may sanction its members: “Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings … and with the concurrence of two thirds of its members suspend or expel a Member”. Can the Ombudsman prosecute a lawmaker?
Three is the constitutionality of the PDAF itself: Does PDAF grant legislators semi-executive powers in the administration of funds? By its co-dependency between the Executive and the Legislative, does it violate the principle of checks and balances? Declaring the PDAF unconstitutional would render its issues moot and academic.
Public opinion is incensed at the pork scam. What is needed to appease its clamor for blood?
One, the PDAF should be suspended if not abolished to dial down the emotions. After some foot dragging, the President finally decided to do just this. He was wasting valuable political capital on an unpopular matter which would have cost him –and worse, us- in 2016. Even his Senatorial supporters were increasingly coming out against the program. Thank you, sir.
Two, the Administration must find the lady and stick her with a non-bailable offense. She is desperately seeking bail. If she succeeds she will come in from the cold knowing she can buy time until 2016 when things will ease up. To forestall this, the Government announced it will add plunder to the current charge of “serious illegal detention”, both theoretically non-bailable offenses. As a private citizen, she can only be so charged if in association with a public official(s). This suggests plunder is being readied against some solons.
Three, some political honchos must be nailed. Here is where it gets complicated. The accused legislators are unlikely to stand down. Although a stretch, they could retaliate by bringing impeachment proceedings against the Ombudsman for, say, political bias and “violation of the public trust”. The President controls both Houses so this eventuality is remote unless so many lawmakers are involved in the scams –and we do not discount this- they could trigger or threaten to trigger this nuclear option.
They could also file charges against Administration officials for participating in the conspiracy. Although the current investigation covers the period 2007-2009, pork scams, we can be assured, did not end with the last Administration. A hoax of this magnitude requires the participation of officials of the DBM and the line agencies (DPWH, DWSD, etc.). If the lawmakers are going down, they will take members of the President’s official family with them.
In this all out brawl, the Government could come to a standstill. Congress could hold hostage the 2014 Budget as well as other priority bills of the President. The Judiciary will play a pivotal role in this Wild West scenario.
The saga has still to unfold. There are judicial, administrative and relationship issues. Historically the prospect of legislators being taken down is unprecedented. The Executive and the Judiciary have had their turn. This time, however, it will be different because of the number of accused -and not only in the Legislature- and the dynamics. The scandal is so encompassing nobody really knows the extent of the fall-out. Already, a prominent LP Representative has been implicated. The collateral damage should, if one was the President, be cause for concern. This one could go anywhere.
Yet it could also be a tipping point. As a nation we want and need closure. However, we must be prepared for its price, possibly a constitutional crisis and its impact on government and the economy. The process will occupy the President, it will pre-occupy his people. It will add to an already burdened judicial agenda. Congress, or whatever is left of it, will grind to a halt. It will be all Filipinos will be thinking about
As I said, it could get messy.