Guilty until proven innocentBy Peter Wallace
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The so-called Napoles scam is a subject we cannot allow to turn into a one-week wonder. Unless public pressure is aggressively exerted on the establishment, the scandal will eventually be swept under the rug by conniving officials.
This is potentially a pivotal point in President Aquino’s fight against corruption. If he handles this controversy forthright and with an iron determination, even if the axe must fall on friends, we just might see a sea change in this society. He will go down in history on a high pedestal like his mother, Cory, and President Ramon Magsaysay —as a great reformer, honored and loved by his countrymen. But if he handles it in the same, old manner, putting political considerations above public interest, and he leaves the issue argued interminably in court, we’ll revert to the old system, and corruption will remain an intrinsic part of Philippine society.
President Aquino will, of course, need the support of a public that remains actively, angrily involved through the Internet, through public discussions, and through more demonstrations if necessary.
What is obvious to any logical mind is that Janet Lim-Napoles is not the only one guilty. Dozens (hundreds?) of others are involved in the scam. They must be identified and convicted. It’s up to us to ensure their conviction, that’s why there’s a second column from me on this, and there may be more; it’s that important.
The Sunday editorial of this newspaper talked about an organization, the Corruption Eradication Commission (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi) in Indonesia that has “prosecuted 169 high-profile cases (involving) ranking government officials,” all of whom have been successfully convicted. Here in the Philippines only a handful of local officials have been convicted: based on random search, two governors, one vice governor, 23 mayors, and one vice mayor—even as high-profile cases involving high-ranking national officials are either dismissed, withdrawn, or left pending in courts—forever. The clever plunderer will have no second thoughts about migrating to the Philippines where he can steal to his heart’s content.
This is the reason I broached last week the proposition that all those named in the Napoles scandal be deemed guilty. They have to prove their innocence to us. One reader made a very good point. If their signatures were forged, as some senators claimed, why is it that the legislators are discovering this only now, years later. Didn’t they closely, or regularly, or at least annually, monitor how, where and what for their pork barrel allocations were being spent? How could a large withdrawal of their pork, without them signing for it, have escaped their notice or their staff’s? Pork barrel funds are the people’s money, entrusted to them and they are responsible for it. If they didn’t take full control of their pork barrel allocations, then they, at the very least, betrayed the trust we’ve given them.
I’m delighted someone has taken up my idea—first raised as long ago as August 2004, and subsequently in May 2010—to redirect pork barrel funds to the cause of education until such time that this basic service sector shall have been fully provided with its needs in all its facets (classrooms, desks, books, pencils, uniforms, meals, better teacher pay, computers, playgrounds, sports equipment… the list is endless).
Senator Ralph Recto suggested this tack last week, and he got support in a bill filed by Sen. Sonny Angara. I see this as a good interim measure. As former Chief Justice Art Panganiban so wisely said in his column last Sunday, the pork barrel system can’t just be stopped, such move would be too disruptive; the system should be gradually wound down. And what better way than to bring the school system up to scratch, using pork money? The costs to build a classroom, to print a book, to buy a computer, to pay a teacher are known amounts. They would be easy to monitor, corruption thus can be removed. And we can have educated kids.
By 2016, a new system should be in place, one where the lawmakers will no longer be needed in the direct implementation of government projects. Regional and local development councils can be strengthened to completely do the job they’re designed for—that is, servicing the needs of local communities. The pork can go. And we can ensure it does by refusing to vote for any aspiring president who doesn’t publicly commit, on a signed document, that he or she will not allow any pork barrel system in his/her term.
That should help level the playing field in elections, too, as it will remove the advantage of the incumbents who can spend our tax money—money his opponents don’t have access to.
I’m 100-percent sure that if we leave the prosecution of those named in the Napoles scam to the existing Philippine legal system, they’ll all be found innocent. And if you believe that they are indeed all innocent, I’ve got a bridge (built by Napoles?) to sell you.
Let’s be fair; maybe some of them are truly, fully innocent. I certainly hope so, but let them, require them, to prove it to us. Not they requiring us to prove their guilt in a flawed legal system.
I’m not denigrating the legal system, it is an acknowledged essential in any society, but I am criticizing the Philippine legal system because it has proved its ineptness and (not necessarily financial) corruption. It’s a system that can’t even get one person convicted in the country’s worst massacre ever, after nearly four years!
I have a minor court case over land ownership that’s been in court for 16 years now. It’s unlikely to be resolved before I die. Some system. And we all have heard or know of similar stories.
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