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08:41 PM September 3rd, 2013

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By: Rina Jimenez-David, September 3rd, 2013 08:41 PM

You’d think, given the number of laws, rules, procedures, watchdog bodies and courts set up to curb graft and corruption, that we would have long said “bye-bye-bye” to small- and large-scale thievery of public funds by now.

But as the big fuss being raised over the pork barrel scam and the person of Janet Lim-Napoles proves, not only does graft and corruption exist in the Philippines, it is seemingly rampant, and top-of-mind these days among Filipinos who care for the country.

“Graft and Corruption: The Twin Scourges of Philippine Society,” billed as “A Primer for Laymen, Public Officers and Employees,” is a book written by the father-and-daughter tandem of retired associate justice of the Sandiganbayan Romeo Escareal and Rosanna Escareal-Velasco, a certified public accountant. By design or accident, the book has been released just as all eyes are trained on “pork” and its misuse, abuse and waste. But when I looked up “pork” or “pork barrel” or even PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) in the volume’s index, I found no mention of them. Still, to anyone thumbing through its pages, the uproar over “pork” must lurk in the background, much like the soundtrack of a movie.

The book’s cover art is telling. It’s a photo of the scales of justice, with a gavel outweighed by pieces of money on the other side. Indeed, the problem confronting us today is how money is used to upset the balance of power, good governance and accountability in the way the law is applied. How can we expect equal justice, or even justice for all, if money talks, and violence is employed to convince the reluctant?

* * *

Here’s a listing by the Escareals of the laws dealing with antigraft and corrupt practices, beginning with the constitutional provision on the “accountability of public officers.”

Specific laws include: the Revised Penal Code on crimes committed by public officers; the Forfeiture Law or the Unexplained Wealth Act; The Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act; the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officers and Employees; The Act Defining and Penalizing the Crime of Plunder; The Government Procurement Reform Act; the Anti-Red Tape Act of 2007; the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2001; Prohibition against gift-giving (Presidential Decree No. 46); and the Act Granting Immunity from Prosecution to “givers of bribes and other gifts… in graft cases against public officers.”

Additional measures include: the Citizens’ Counselor Act of 1969; Discipline of Government Officials and Employees; Civil Service Decree of the Philippines; Act Strengthening Civilian Supremacy over the Military; and EO 317 prescribing a Code of Conduct for relatives and close personal relations of the President, Vice-President and Members of the Cabinet.

Also in the book, Escareal makes clear that private individuals (such as Napoles) “who are charged as co-principals, accomplices or accessories with public officers or employees… shall be tried jointly with said public officers and employees.”

And as if to show how “serious” we are in our intent to get rid of the “twin scourges” of society, the government (through the Constitution) has created no less than four anticorruption bodies: the Office of the Ombudsman, the Civil Service Commission, the Commission on Audit, and the Sandiganbayan, a special court “with jurisdiction over civil and criminal cases involving graft and corrupt practices.”

* * *

And yet, as the reports on the vast web of “pork barrel” misuse—involving not just those fake NGOs under the umbrella of JLN Corp. but also others headed by similarly dubious networks and entities—shows, graft and corruption continues to thrive and prosper.

And along with these questionable practices thrive the individuals involved, who, if allegations are to be believed, range from senators and representatives, heads of agencies, auditors and even police and investigation bodies.

Indeed, after watching “OTJ,” the Manila noir film that portrays Philippine society caught in the dark, filthy underbelly of a corrupt system, one finds validation for the movie’s conceit in headlines and news reports. Indeed, corruption has laid down deep roots, touching even the innocent, scandalizing even previously indifferent citizens, raising temperatures all around.

It is Janet Lim-Napoles’ misfortune that she has become the “face” of the pork barrel scam, the convenient scapegoat for crimes in which more prominent, eminent personalities played a leading role. It would indeed be interesting to hear what “Ma’am” Janet has to say, if and when she is sufficiently moved to reveal all that she knows, especially the identities of all who approached her, taught her the ropes, conspired with her in running rings around all the anticorruption laws and bodies, and took a hefty share of the loot.

* * *

Lawyer Lorna Kapunan, described by TV anchor Karen Davila as “the controversial Ms Kapunan,” made a valid point in her interview on ANC. As of this moment, no charges have been filed against Napoles in connection with the “scam.” She has not even been formally charged in the case of “serious illegal detention” filed by her former employee-turned-whistle-blower.

What she is right now is an important potential state witness, and I would lead credence to reports that she fears for her safety and life, given the names that cropped up in connection with the pork barrel scam, all of whom have the means and the motive to silence her.

This is not a conspiracy theory, people, this is reality.

Yes, let’s punish Napoles and her cohorts in those fake NGOs to the full extent of the law. But let’s also hear from her the whole, sordid tale, especially who among those in government conspired with her in stealing our money.

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