Wednesday, 11 September 2013 00:00
Never before in the history of the Philippines has a corruption scandal rocked the corridors of power to its foundations as it had with the pork barrel scam. With at least 12 senators and more than 180 congressmen allegedly involved in robbing their pork barrel allocations with the help of greedy and unscrupulous scam operators, it makes one wonder if the country’s Fifth Republic could survive this mother of all scandals?
The question is: Does President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III have the cojones to bring them – many of whom are his political allies -- to justice? And if they’re brought to the court of law, are there judges who are brave enough to mete out justice? Or, are we going to see another spectacle of a moro-moro that the lawmakers love to play?
In the past, the masa – the people – ignored the charades the lawmakers would play when a corruption scandal erupts. Congress would go through the motion of conducting televised “blue ribbon committee” hearings. But when the hearing is over, they’re back to square one. Nothing is accomplished and the lawmakers go back to their old haunts. It’s all for show and the public couldn’t care less. But not anymore!
A few weeks ago, Janet Lim Napoles -- who earned the sobriquet “Pork Barrel Queen” – was exposed for allegedly running a scam. With the collusion of some lawmakers, Napoles siphoned off billions from the lawmakers’ pork barrel allocations. Recent evidence showed that she ran the scam for 10 years and pocketed P10 billion based on a 70-30 split, with the lawmakers’ getting the lion’s share.
With a whopping 70% kickback from pork barrel funds that were supposed to be used for projects for their constituents, these corrupt lawmakers are like Robin Hood… in reverse. Instead of robbing the rich to give to the poor, they steal from their pork barrel allocations with the aid of Napoles. It was a perfect scam until a whistleblower, Benhur Luy, sang like a canary.
As the Department of Justice (DOJ) investigates Luy’s accusation, the DOJ filed an unrelated charge of “serious illegal detention” – a non-bailable offense – against Napoles for allegedly detaining Luy against his will. A judge issued a warrant of arrest against Napoles; however, she fled into hiding when someone from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) allegedly leaked it to her.
She came out of hiding after P-Noy offered a bounty of P10 million to whoever could provide information that would lead to her arrest. Strange as it might seem, Napoles surrendered last August 29 to P-Noy. Claiming that she feared for her life, she said that P-Noy is the only person she could trust. Makes one wonder if P-Noy might have done “business” with her when he was a congressman and a senator?
Rumors abound that Napoles would turn state witness. Could it be that the charges of “serious illegal detention” was used to secure and protect her from people who might want to assassinate her? Dead people can’t testify.
According to news report, Levito Baligod, lawyer of the whistleblowers, said that the DOJ is preparing to file plunder complaints against Napoles and at least 10 people including lawmakers and officials of government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCC) implicated in the pork barrel scam. But the DOJ would not confirm or deny it. However, the special audit report compiled by the Commission on Audit (COA) linked Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., and Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan to the scam. Lately, Senators Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and Loren Legarda were added to the list. Since plunder is a non-bailable offense, would the DOJ arrest them and detain them?
But how about the other senators and congressmen whose names appeared on the COA special Audit report? Some people noticed that the senators linked to the scam are members of the opposition. Interestingly, administration allies like Sen. Ralph Recto and former Sen. Edgardo Angara were not included but their names appear on the COA special report. This led many to believe that P-Noy is using the pork barrel scandal to bring down opposition leaders, particularly those who are vying for higher office in 2016; i.e., Estrada, Marcos, and Revilla. A news report even insinuated that Napoles is P-Noy’s “attack dog.”
Assuming that Napoles would turn witness for the government, how strong is the evidence against the lawmakers? Will it result in a conviction? Without the ability to scrutinize their bank accounts because of a constitutional provision that protects Foreign Currency Deposit Act (FCDA) accounts, the government could not pore into a depositor’s “secret account” without the depositor’s authorization. And who in his right mind would do that?
And this is where the problem lies: the constitution protects the corrupt!
In my article, “Institutionalized corruption,” (November 23, 2012), I wrote: “In many countries, like the United States, people with ill-gotten wealth deposit their money in banks in Switzerland or the Cayman Islands, where bank secrecy laws protect the identity of depositors. But in the Philippines, a corrupt official, a drug lord or a jueteng operator doesn’t need to go abroad to hide their dirty money. Yep, they can go straight to their local bank and open a foreign currency deposit account and nobody can see it, not even government investigators.
“Known as ‘Foreign Currency Deposit Act of the Philippines,’ Republic Act (RA) 6426 was signed into law by then President Ferdinand E. Marcos in 1974 during the martial law era. The law states that any information can only be disclosed ‘upon written permission of the depositor.’ Many believe that it was enacted for the purpose of hiding the ill-gotten wealth of Marcos and his cronies.
“But RA 6426 survived when the people power revolution toppled the Marcos dictatorship. Oddly, it remains in the books to this day. Perhaps, the lawmakers find it useful.
“After Corona was impeached and removed from office, there was a move by a few lawmakers to amend or repeal RA 6426. But P-Noy didn’t warm up to the idea and it ended up in limbo, never to see the light of day again.”
Betrayal of public trust
If P-Noy is really serious about fighting institutionalized corruption, he needs to do, at a minimum, two things: (1) Endorse and prioritize the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill, and (2) Remove the secrecy lid of FCDA or, better, repeal it.
If he fails to act, then he might as well kiss his anti-corruption crusade goodbye. The people have suffered for too long from the “robbing hoods” of Congress. Now is the time to exact vengeance against these despicable lowlifes masquerading as honorable public servants.
What is happening to our country today is a systemic pillaging through executive and legislative fiat that has institutionalized a criminal enterprise by those elected to serve the very people who voted them into office. That is betrayal of public trust of the highest order!
Its’ time to send the “Queen” and the “robbing hoods” to where they belong: the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinglupa. (PerryDiaz@gmail.com)
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