Aquino won't ax Cabinet men in Napoles list

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Thursday, May 15, 2014

MANILA -- President Benigno Aquino III rejected calls on Thursday to fire at least three members of his Cabinet who were dragged into the pork barrel scam.

Aquino told reporters in Negros Occidental that Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) Chief Joel Villanueva are innocent until proven guilty.

The three officials were included in the unsigned affidavit that the camp of Janet Napoles, alleged mastermind in th pork barrel scam, handed over to former senator Panfilo Lacson, who later provided the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee with the document.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, meanwhile, personally submitted to Senate Blue Ribbon committee chairman Teofisto Guingona III the signed list of lawmakers and government officials linked to the scam by Napoles.

The signed affidavit detailing the businesswoman's racket and participation of government men will be forwarded on May 22 as the Napoles camp has yet to wrap up her testimony.

"Baka hindi alam ng ating mga kaibigan sa kaliwa, ano, pero dito sa bansa natin karapatan ng bawat isa ang pinangangalagaan at isa sa mga tenets ng ating batas ‘innocent until proven guilty’. Hindi ‘guilty until you prove yourself innocent’," Aquino said.

He also said that he might lose Cabinet officials who have been working hard if in every call of certain groups or individuals, he would remove them.

"Kung ang ating secretary ay nagtatrabaho, ‘di ba, merong matutuwa; merong hindi masyadong matutuwa. Lahat ng hindi natuwa, naging kritiko, automatic palitan natin ‘yung secretary. So kailan kaya tayo magkakaroon ng Gabinete kung basta may mag-criticize, tanggalin?" the President said.

Aquino said that he has said time and again that his administration would pursue cases if there are pieces of evidence to warrant the allegations.

He stressed that it his obligation that whatever complaints his government would file, they would be strong enough, otherwise they would only be dismissed by the court.

For his part, Senate President Franklin Drilon said that the Senate as an institution remains strong and will not collapse as asserted by Lacson.

"The Senate is not in crisis. The Senate is different from the people who compose it. People may come and go, but the Senate will remain as an institution of democracy and as a vital part of our democratic government," Drilon said.

He also said that the pork barrel scam is basically a violation of the anti-graft law.

"There is no political issue involved. Let me make that clear. Hindi po ito tungkol sa politika. Ito po ay pagpapatupad ng anti-graft law," he said.

Since it is a matter of upholding the law, Drilon said he is confident that the judicial system will properly address the pork barrel scam issue.

"Ang mga alegasyon ay tungkol sa paglabag sa batas. Kaya kung sino ang nagkamali, ang nagkasala na may ebidenisya, dapat silang ikulong," he stressed.

He added that the political implications of the scandal has been to drag the names of innocent people.

"Kasama na siguro yan sa black propaganda ng mga political operators na naghahanap buhay ngayon, yung paninira ng ibang tao," he said.

He advised the public to be discerning about any effort to muddle the issue and inject politics.

Drilon, however, defended the decision of Guingona to release Napoles's unsigned affidavit, which De Lima and Malacanang condemned as worthless and of no probative value.

"Nandiyan na eh, inilabas na. Eh nung umpisa pa lang, sinabi ko na, payag na payag ako ilabas ang listahan, at sinusupuortahan ko ang paglabas nito," he said.

But Drilon said there should be supporting documents as basis.

The Senate chief said that he is not aware of the existence of whistleblower Benhur Luy's digital files, but affirmed that a subpoena has been issued by the committee to produce these files, which named other lawmakers like Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago and Ralph Recto, who were not on Napoles's list. (SDR/Camille P. Balagtas/Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)

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