MANILA, Sept. 30, 2013—A high-ranking official of the Catholic Church on Saturday echoed calls for the passage of the Freedom of Information bill (FOI), noting that the truth behind the multi-billion peso pork barrel scandal will only be uncovered once government records are made available for public scrutiny. 

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo said that contradicting statements of certain groups in relation to the pork barrel scandal will only be cleared through scrutinizing public records that detail how state funds were used. 

“This is why the FOI has to be enacted into a law. It guarantees that citizens can put up a close and vigilant watch to the affairs of the state,” he said. 

Pabillo added that to avoid speculations of putting up a partisan investigation, the government must present all its records to achieve full transparency and accountability in investigating cases of fund misuse involving lawmakers’ Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). 

“There might be a possibility for them to hold records. We need the FOI so we can demand all information that is relevant to the investigation,” he added. 

Fr. Anton C. T. Pascual, executive director of Caritas Manila and president of church-run Radio Veritas, echoed Pabillo’s statement and said that once enacted into a law, the FOI bill will hold officials accountable of their actions. 

“They should not be selective in releasing documents. We all know that this is a case of group stealing, the investigation should not only focus on the legislative but also to the executive and judiciary,” Pascual said. 

“Absolute power corrupts absolutely that is why we need to have a deterrent to corruption. Eternal vigilance is the key—the nation should have a close watch to the affairs of the government. With the approval of the FOI, we can achieve this,” he added. 

‘Selective justice’ 

Pabillo supported claims that the ongoing investigation over the pork barrel issue is selective as it focuses only on opposition lawmakers. 

“We have long been noticing that the (investigating panels) are only looking after those in the opposition. We also have a big problem in the house but they are focusing too much in the senate. The Commission on Audit (COA) report is also selective as it only focuses from 2007 to 2009. What about those that happened before and after? What happened to those?” he said. 

“I just hope that this investigation is non-partisan. Let us first find out the truth for the improvement of our nation,” Pabillo added. 

“I wish they would be more patriotic, not that they are only clinging to the incumbent president or to a reigning political party and its ideology. What we have to consider is the improvement of our nation. If we will be united in this thinking, we will reach an attainable solution to this problem,” he said. 

Senator Jinggoy Estrada, in his much-awaited privilege speech delivered before members of the Senate last week, blasted members of the Congress and the Commission on Audit (COA) for focusing only on opposition lawmakers with “irregularities” in their spending of the PDAF. 

Small victory 

Despite the re-alignment of the P25.2 billion PDAF in the national budget to key government department and agencies, Pabillo said the same principle over the use of lump sum allocations remain the same as lawmakers are still given the opportunity to propose and recommend infrastructure projects following a new menu. 

“That is just a very small victory. Even if they say that they have already scrapped the pork but they will still propose projects, the scheme remains the same. That is not the job of a legislator. What they have to do is to legislate and not to propose projects,” he said. 

To reach finality over the pork barrel scandal, Pabillo said that three things must be attained: imprisonment of those who are involved in the 10-billion pork barrel scam, total abolition of the pork barrel scheme—both congressional and presidential, and the passage of the FOI bill. 

The prelate called on the laity to be vigilant in watching the affairs of the government, noting that mass actions must continuously be done to express public outrage over the prevalence of corruption in the government. 

“Let us all be vigilant. This kind of problem must not be ignored. What we have to do is to continuously study the issue and engage in gatherings and assemblies to tell the government that we are not contented with what is happening in our country,” Pabillo said. (Jennifer Orillaza)