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Palace on ‘pork’ senators: Public office is a public trust

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“Public office is a public trust,” Malacañang pointed out amid calls for the senators involved in the pork barrel fund scam to resign.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the concerned officials should seriously take notice of the mass protests and actions as they are legitimate expressions of opinion and grievances.

Coloma, however, did not say if it was possible for such a demand from some groups to snowball like the calls to scrap the pork barrel fund of lawmakers.

The Scrap Pork Network, the organizers of last year’s “Million People March” protest against the pork barrel system, initiated an online petition calling for the resignation of Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr.

Coloma said resignation calls and street demonstrations are the public’s way of providing feedback to the government.

The online petition was made after the Office of Ombudsman said it found probable cause to file graft and plunder charges against the three senators for allegedly diverting their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to bogus non-government organizations for kickbacks.

Coloma said all public officials are accountable and should think of the people they swore to serve.

Coloma though stressed he has no right to cast judgment on the three senators when asked if they should just heed the calls while the judicial process was ongoing.

He said based on his own experience, mass actions could provide knowledge, awareness and consciousness and the rights of those holding them must be protected.

Coloma said it would be up to the senators to deal with such calls, refusing to comment if they would support these.

“Listening and engaging in discussion is a good step to reach an understanding,” he said.

The three senators have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Previous reports said Estrada and Revilla will not step down.

Their colleagues, however, have not mustered enough support to back up the recommendation of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee to charge them with plunder.

It was revealed yesterday that only six out of the 20 members of the committee have signed and endorsed the recommendations to file plunder charges against three of their colleagues involved in the scam.

The only ones who have signed the committee report are: Blue Ribbon chairman Sen. Teofisto Guingona as well as Senators Sergio Osmeña III, Antonio Trillanes IV, Francis Escudero, Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Paolo Benigno Aquino IV.

A majority of 11 senators is needed to sign the committee report before it is presented and approved while Congress is in plenary session for its recommendations to be recognized by the Senate body and other agencies.

It has been a practice at the Senate for a committee chairman to lobby support for pet measures.

In the Blue Ribbon’s case, there is a need to get a majority vote of 10 plus one to be able to give teeth to recommendations to file plunder charges and subsequently subject Enrile, Estrada and Revilla to expulsion.

Without the signatures of the committee members, the report is considered a draft and may just be shelved.

Four senators have sent word they are signing the report, which would bring possible signatories to 10, still one short of the required majority, sources added.

The Blue Ribbon committee is composed of the chairman, vice chairman, 15 members and ex-officio members composed of the Senate President Pro Tempore, Majority Leader and the Minority Leader.

The three senators who are not members are Revilla, Juan Edgardo Angara and Vicente Sotto III.

Senate President Franklin Drilon is also not a member of the committee.

Guingona made public the committee’s recommendations on April 1, the same day the Office of the Ombudsman said they found probable cause to file charges against the three senators, among others. Aurea Calica, Christina Mendez, via The Philippine Star

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