As I See It

Now we have ghost policemen

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WE STARTED with ghost voters in Mindanao, then we have ghost employees of councilors in Quezon City, and now we have ghost policemen in the Philippine National Police payroll. We are familiar with motorcycle cops escorting funeral corteges, but this latest scam goes one step further: It is the cops themselves who are ghosts. But ghosts who collect paychecks, and what they have already collected amounts to hundreds of millions of pesos. The scam has been going on for the past several years.

The salaries of policemen are paid in checks issued by the Land Bank of the Philippines. The checks are prepared, not by the PNP, but by the bank. The PNP merely furnishes the bank a list of the names of policemen. But in this scam, for some reason, checks for names not in the original payroll were prepared. Real live persons came to collect the checks. These were used to buy goods in grocery stores and supermarkets, which then cashed the checks with the bank. That was how the ghosts materialized. The checks bounced. The bank found out that they were fake.

Senior Supt. Generoso Cerbo Jr., the PNP spokesperson, was at the Kapihan sa Manila at the Diamond Hotel last Monday to explain that the PNP itself did not lose anything in the scam. Neither did the bank. It was the grocery stores all over the country that accepted the checks in payment for goods that lost millions of pesos. Those who used the checks were obviously known to the grocery store owners; otherwise, the latter would not have accepted the checks. So investigators can start with them.

I may be wrong, but it was also the Land Bank that was victimized in another scam years ago. That scam went this way: Checks for taxes payable to the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Bureau of Customs were deposited in a provincial branch of the Land Bank. While the checks were being cleared, another account was opened in the same branch with a deposit in the same amount as the deposit of the earlier account. When the checks were cleared, the second deposit was withdrawn and the account closed. It was the two bureaus’ deposits that were withdrawn.

The scam could not have been perpetrated without the connivance of someone in the bank branch. A number of persons were charged but as of last report, the case is still pending until now, many years later. According to reports, some of the accused have escaped to other countries and their whereabouts are now unknown. They are probably enjoying their ill-gotten loot. In the Philippines, crime pays, after all.

With Cerbo at the Kapihan last Monday was the first and only woman major general in the police force: Director Lina Sarmiento. She comes from a family of policemen so it is not surprising that from early childhood she wanted to be a policewoman. She went through police school, climbed through the ranks, and finally became a major general. She is married, but not to a policeman.

Asked if there had been any instance of sexual harassment against her in the police force, Sarmiento replied: “They wouldn’t dare.”

Asked about the reaction of her male colleagues when she gives them  orders, she answered: “They obey.”

There was another woman at Monday’s Kapihan: Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares, one of the leading contenders for appointment as the next chief justice.

Although she said she had not yet accepted her nomination, Henares disclosed some of her ideas on speeding up the wheels of justice. The Philippines probably has the slowest justice system in the world. Cases take decades to resolve. The irony is that the slowest court is the Supreme Court, which takes many years to decide cases appealed to it. Sometimes litigants are already dead by the time the high court rules on some cases, especially land cases.

According to Henares, there are laws and rules for a speedy dispensation of justice but they are not being enforced. What is needed is for the high court to closely monitor and supervise the lower courts. For example, rules limit the frequency and length of hearing postponements, but these rules are not followed. Judges seem to welcome postponements because their dockets are crowded. And these dockets are crowded because trials move so slowly that cases pile up.

At the Supreme Court, cases pile up because there are only 15 justices, and every lawyer who loses a case in the lower court elevates his case all the way to the high court. Cases appealed to the high court should be limited to questions of law. Questions of fact should stay in the lower courts. After all, they are the ones who heard the testimonies of witnesses and are the best judge of their credibility.

The number of justices in the high court should be increased, but that would need a constitutional amendment.

The other Kapihan guests were two fathers who are both former senators: Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr., father of Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, and Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, father of former Rep. and now Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon

Nene Pimentel is in the thick of things because of son Koko’s problem with the inclusion of his rival, resigned Sen. Miguel Zubiri, in the UNA senatorial ticket. Nene is of course supporting his son.

Congressman Biazon was asked if he would run for senator again in the 2013 elections because son Ruffy has been mentioned as a probable senatorial candidate. Like a doting father, old man Biazon replied that that would depend on Ruffy. If Ruffy runs for senator, his father will run for reelection as congressman. If he doesn’t, his old man will seek to return to the Senate.

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