Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 28 September 2013

 

“The best defense is a good offense” is tried and tested advice resulting from the experience gained from games and military exercises. Apparently, the idea is that by going on the attack, one keeps one’s opponent so busy warding it off that he has no time to go on the attack himself. The basic principle seems to be to keep him off balance.

Well, it looks like Sen. Jinggoy Estrada adopted the ploy. In his privilege speech last Wednesday, the senator, whose name cropped up among the list of 187 legislators named in the Commission on Audit’s Government-wide Performance Audit Report, but whose main claim to the public’s attention was the “code name” assigned to him allegedly by Janet Lim-Napoles—“Sexy,” together with “Pogi” and “Tanda,” names for two other senators—clearly launched a three-pronged “offense/attack.”

The first prong was an attack on the blue ribbon committee in particular, and some members of the Senate in general who, he felt, were being given special treatment (supposedly by virtue of their being members of the Liberal Party or its allies). The second was an attack on the COA itself, including some pretty vicious personal swipes at its chair, Grace Pulido Tan.  And the third prong, if I followed the flow of his speech correctly, was what could probably be termed an exposé—of “some ugly facts and information that our people must know and which I challenge anyone to deny” involving the pork barrel in general, and President Aquino, Senate President Frank Drilon, and Budget Secretary Butch Abad in particular.

Can this attack be considered a “good offense” that would constitute Estrada’s “best defense”? Let’s look at the prongs by turn.

Estrada criticized the focus of the blue ribbon committee on Napoles and the whistle-blowers, and by affinity, on himself and two of his Senate colleagues. I tend to agree with him on the matter of this obsession with Napoles, particularly because the case is now with the Ombudsman. He was also very upset that he and his two colleagues (Juan Ponce Enrile and Bong Revilla) have been tried (and convicted) by publicity, and again I sympathize with him.

I have said and written any number of times that the Senate should be investigating its own before it investigates others. It was irritating that the blue ribbon committee did not demand from its witnesses the names of the legislators they had interacted with or had identified as being involved in the irregularities of the pork barrel releases. The COA report certainly names names, and what’s more, gives detailed and documentary evidence supporting its findings; and certainly, the media had bandied all the names about. So it made the blue ribbon committee look, well, stupid, or coy about stating those names, and calling them in to explain themselves.

On the other hand, there is nothing that stops those senators from stepping up to explain themselves to their peers and to the nation, instead of just posturing. I cannot understand why Estrada didn’t do that, particularly because he said he has nothing to hide. Instead, he made himself look like a spoiled child who says, Why pick on me? When there are others that can be picked on? And he named them, too. His speech would have, I think, resonated more with the public if he explained his connections (or lack of them) with the nongovernment organizations that he had spent his Priority Development Assistance Fund on.

So the first prong of his attack actually wasn’t too strong. Not what one could call a good offense.

The second prong, alas, was weak from the start. He ripped into the COA report after, as COA Chair Tan pointed out, using its findings to attack his colleagues and other legislators. He pointed out its weaknesses, which the COA itself had pointed out. He wondered why the COA had to rely only on the Department of Budget and Management for its data on legislators, when the material could have been gotten from its own resident auditors (the report says that they did get as much documentary information as they could from the implementing agencies and their auditors). He wanted to know to which legislators the P69 billion in releases went—even as the COA already explained the DBM’s inability to provide the information. He asked how come the COA findings were not pointed out during the annual audits of the implementing agencies (they were—but nobody paid attention). He also asked why the COA did not show the report to the agencies before revealing it to the public (the COA did—in fact, seven of the 14 annexes of the report have to do with the comments of the agencies).

The only good question he asked, in my view, was why the COA did not disallow the expenditures. But there is an answer to that, too: One cannot disallow expenditures that have not been liquidated first. What is to disallow?

Then there were the personal attacks on Grace Tan—which are not worthy of comment, except that she came out of that encounter clearly the winner.

The third prong, the exposé, was a lot of old hat (how the Chief Executive can control the legislature using his power over the pork barrel).  The one new thing was the P50-million-per-senator release, courtesy of a “private and confidential letter” from Frank Drilon. That was indeed a bombshell. And should be investigated, no matter where the chips may fall.

Except that Estrada promptly shot himself in the foot when he then claimed that the P50 million was not a bribe. A reward? An incentive? Why did he accept? And why didn’t he bring it out then?

The offense wasn’t good. Therefore the defense was equally poor.