In one of my hearings before the Municipal Trial Court, while waiting for my case to be heard, I witnessed how the judge handled a theft case. It was unfortunate for the accused.
By then, the courtroom was packed with people—the judge, court employees, prosecution team, private lawyers including myself, the accused and their victims and their relatives. Many were already standing, rubbing elbows with one another.
The accused was called and ordered to stand near the judge. Then the judge, who seemed irritated, asked him, “Eh ano ba ang ninakaw mo?” (What did you steal?) All of us inside the room were all ears. And the accused replied with a shy voice, “Magic kalan po.” (Mini-gas stove, sir.)
The judge started grinning, and could not help but laugh at the accused’s reply. And so were the lawyers present, including the prosecutors. The judge tried to collect himself after the laughing spree then asked the accused once again, “Oh, paano mo ninakaw yun? Tinago mo sa loob ng damit mo? Di mo ba alam na pwede kang makulong ng hanggang anim na taon sa ginawa mong yan?” (How did you take that away? You hid it inside your shirt? Don’t you know that you can be imprisoned for six years for that?)
The accused, totally embarrassed, answered, but he was not responsive to the question; but the answer was more than enough to silence the judge and the lawyers who were mocking him just a few seconds ago, “Nagawa ko lang po yun para sa asawa kong may sakit at sa tatlo ko pong anak.” (I did that for my ill wife and three children). There was silence all over the court.
The accused will probably end up in jail, leaving behind his sick wife and three children, with no source of income whatsoever. Dura lex sed lex . (The law may be harsh but it is the law). Why so harsh, law? Soften a little bit, please.
I work eight hours a day in my law office, then another three (hours) thrice a week on teaching. And every time I get my salary, thousands of pesos are withheld for tax.
I have neighbors in the province who are farmers, carpenters and fishermen. They work like a horse, under the heat of the sun, 24/7 just for a meager wage which usually is insufficient for their daily needs. Yet they pay taxes.
And many Filipinos—factory workers, nurses, street sweepers, sari-sari store owners and street vendors, jeepney drivers, kargador, housemaids—work like there is no tomorrow, many get easily stressed out and sick, just to earn money to support their family’s needs, to pay for the education of their children, and to have some happiness. Yet taxes still come into play and they cannot do anything but to pay for their share.
It is because tax is the lifeblood of our government. The government will cease to exist without taxes. We have to pay for it because in the end, it will be used for our own benefit anyway such as medicine, roads, bridges, function halls, schools, hospitals, public buildings, basketball courts, playgrounds, and the like. That is what they say.
But where do our taxes—which we pay with our own sweat and blood—really go?
Reportedly, a substantial part of them to a certain Janet Lim-Napoles and her politician friends. And we are talking here of not just millions of pesos but P10 billion. That is a hair-raising, spine-tingling, jaw-dropping amount of money.
What has happened to the morality of these people? If they really had one to start with.
If these people, the money-eating machines that they are, did not exist, the accused we mentioned earlier would have not stolen that magic kalan and instead would have been enjoying good food every meal together with his family; our working class need not work 24/7 like a horse, nor under the heat of the sun just to survive; we would have actually enjoyed medicine, hospitals, schools and other public infrastructure coming from our government; Filipinos would have been happier and the Philippines would have been a better place to live in.
But these money-eating machines do exist, and we have to deal with them.
And so it has been playing inside my mind for some time now, which in fact is the reason why I was able to write this article:
“While someone stole something worth a few hundred pesos and ends up in jail, some of us who have stolen unimaginable billions of pesos have ended up as political leaders, wallowing in luxury. Not even one of them has ended up behind bars.”
If a while ago I was questioning why the law is harsh and wished it to be less harsh, this time I want to see the law to be really harsh. I want them all, these money-eating monsters, jailed. Otherwise, our beloved country will remain a miserable country where people work and die to provide for some people’s lavish lifestyle.
Let the law be harsh this time, please!
Oliver P. Cachapero Jr., 27, Quezon City, lecturer at San Beda College and a legal associate for a law firm.