At first blush, Janet Lim-Napoles is the guiltiest of them all. The principle, as Leila de Lima explains, is important if Napoles is to be allowed to become state witness. Assuming she agrees to become one.
The law says that if a crime involves a conspiracy, only the “least guilty” may be accepted as state witness. It stands to reason: You can’t allow the mastermind, or the guiltiest of them all, to testify against his minions in exchange for a commuted sentence, or for walking away free. That is rewarding monstrosity, that is abetting impunity.
In theory, Napoles is the guiltiest in the P10-billion pork scam. She it was who got the lion’s share of the loot. She it was who conceived of the scam and put it in operation for all of 10 years. She it was who manufactured the nongovernment organizations that siphoned off the pork barrel funds from the senators and congressmen. While at this, she it was who gave NGOs a horrendously bad name, from a lofty entity given to doing things better than government, especially in attending to the needs of the poor and marginalized, to something fake.
She it was who lured the senators and congressmen into parting with what they thought was their own money but was really the people’s. She it was who put up the fronts, she it was who worked out the details, she it was who supervised the collecting until her subalterns, like Benhur Luy, learned the ropes and dreamed of taking over or putting up rival organizations that offered better rates of returns, or kickbacks. She it was who ran the organization. She it was who masterminded the operation.
Does that mean she cannot turn state witness and tell tales?
Not at all. Quite simply, she is not the guiltiest of them all.
I can understand how an illegal recruiter might be so in a scam involving overseas Filipino workers. An illegal recruiter who lures an OFW, or someone dreaming of working abroad, into parting with his hard-earned cash, the kind that gets stashed in soiled handkerchiefs, is truly guilty of a monstrous crime. His victim’s hard-earned cash probably took the form of selling a carabao, or pawning belongings, something he did in pursuit of an elusive dream. A dream that would continue to elude him for the work abroad being nonexistent.
This is nothing of the sort. The people Napoles lured into her scam were not helpless and desperate, they were rich and powerful. They knew perfectly well what they were getting into and got exactly what they paid for. In fact they weren’t lured at all. This is a case of mutual exploitation, the senators and congressmen who put their pork barrel funds in Napoles’ hands using Napoles as much as Napoles used them. If not indeed more so: The pork barrel funds were burning a hole in their pockets. It was loot waiting to be laundered, it was stash waiting to be converted into usable cash.
If Napoles had not existed, the crispy-pata-loving senators and congressmen would have invented her.
They and not Napoles are the guiltiest here. Their crime goes beyond the amounts of kickbacks they got from the pork scam. Their crime is of the stuff that gets presidents themselves impeached. As the congressmen who prosecuted Erap themselves cried out then, that is betrayal of public trust.
Napoles is nothing, she is an ordinary citizen, even if she is an extraordinary scoundrel. It still astonishes how someone who started out as a nobody had the cleverness and skill to build an empire out of spit. May bocadora, as we say, if not admiringly at least grudgingly. The senators and congressmen are everything, they occupy positions of power and authority. We elected them into their offices. We owe them respect, we owe them obedience, we gave them the power to make the laws by which we live. Napoles we expect to do what she did, the senators and congressmen we do not.
Just as well, we entrusted them with our money, in the same way that a poor family in the provinces entrusts a relative of theirs in Metro Manila with their lifetime savings to send their son to school. And they pocketed the money, quite apart from using a good deal of it to gamble and gambol, in the same way that the relative in Manila pocketed the money and spent a good deal of it betting at the races—and keeping the kid away from school. You cannot have a betrayal of trust more vicious, you cannot have a betrayal of public trust more profound.
The explosion of rage that ended up at the Luneta last Monday—though that is by no means the end, as the marchers vow—was not primarily because of Napoles, it was primarily because of the senators and congressmen. Except that that tended to be more implicit than explicit, more instinctive than articulated. Though Napoles has become the face of pork, the social media giving that face a literally swinish appearance, she is not the heart and soul of pork or the wanton profligacy pork has come to represent. The legislators are.
Zen has a saying that when someone points at the moon, you do not look at the finger, you look at the moon. Napoles is just the finger pointing at the moon. It’s time we stopped looking at the finger and looked at the moon.
By all means let Napoles testify, by all means let her name names. Let her spill her guts out, even if that image conjures the thing roasting in the pit.
Now begins the hunt for truth, says the president. Ah, but that is the hardest part of all, beside which Napoles’ capture, or surrender, will look like a walk in the park. A nation is watching, a nation that showed its spit and fire last Monday, a nation that is no longer content to make text jokes about corruption and agree to move on. We’ll see soon enough if we’re headed to bag wild boars, the more ferocious cousins of pigs, or mere rabbits.
Let the hunt begin.