I caught Ben Tulfo in Bitag while surfing TV one morning. He had a few choice words for P-Noy and the aborted vice-president-turned-current Department of the Interior and Local Government chief, Mar Roxas, for their handling of Janet Lim-Napoles. Specifically for the way they hovered over her as she winded her way to Fort Sto. Domingo in Laguna. Which, he said, made her look like a privileged prisoner, if not a pampered one.
But Tulfo reserved his scorn for Roxas. What is this guy trying to say, he said, that his mere presence is enough to deter would-be assassins from carrying out their missions? If the point is to prevent an assassination, then put more cops to secure Napoles if indeed the heavy contingent around her isn’t enough already. Hell, put in a battalion of soldiers on top of the cops in front of her, behind her, beside her. But leave it to the law enforcement people to enforce the law, or at least prevent lawless murder. That’s their job, not Roxas’.
Ask Roxas about things that have to do with the DILG, said Tulfo, and either he doesn’t know the answer or he’ll snub you. But ask anything about Napoles and he’ll answer before anybody else can. He knows everything about her, he said. Tulfo had some advice for the DILG head: If that’s how he thinks he’ll win in 2016, he should think again.
I can’t say I blame Tulfo. He’s just echoing a widespread sentiment, one to be found in both mainstream and social media. Indeed, to be found in conversations, face-to-face or cellular: I myself have gotten a number of furious text messages along these lines. True enough the tack of being a constant presence over, some text messages put it, or sticking like a furtive shadow to, Napoles hasn’t done Roxas good, it has done him ill. It has boomeranged and made him look like, well, atat-na-atat about 2016.
Little helped by his referring to Napoles as “Ma’am Janet,” a thing that went viral in YouTube and elsewhere. It’s been called a slip of the tongue or mind, but I myself am not particularly bothered by it. I suspect it’s just a symptom of his lack of kalye, or streetwise-ness, or understanding of how the other half—or other 90 percent—of this country lives. Though it’s no small irony that Mr. Palengke is clueless about palengke, as shown by his lack of appreciation for the cultural resonances of the word “Ma’am.” It’s the other side of the coin of “Ser” (spelled with an “e”), which is a gesture of deferring to someone, however it connotes some degree of familiarity. I suspect Roxas might just have been trying to look authoritative or objective by sounding formal or officious.
Whatever the case, it’s been received badly, bolstering suspicions Napoles is being treated with kid gloves. For crying out loud, expostulate the blogs, the text messages and the tweets, Napoles is a suspect, treat her like one. By all means treat her with fairness, by all means treat her with respect (or at least without derision), but treat her like Al Capone.
What can I say? I sympathize with the sentiment. But what really bothers me is not the impression that Napoles is being treated royally, it is a couple of others things.
The first is the opaqueness, or lack of transparency, in what’s happening with Napoles. To get to her, you first have to get through Roxas which is like going through a brick wall. He has imposed a virtual cordon sanitaire around her. Of course you do have to impose some restraint and secrecy in her processing. You can’t just have any Tom, Dick, or Harry from the media interviewing her at their will or whim. Quite apart from the security issues that raises, there’s the no-small matter of sensationalism it poses. Napoles has become a circus enough as it is. Look at the TV reports of what she had for breakfast, lunch and dinner—no pork, one observed coyly, in an effort to lower blood pressure—and see if she hasn’t already become a reality show unto herself.
You have to impose some kind of restraint and secrecy in her processing, but not this kind of restraint and secrecy, not this scale of restraint and secrecy. All this does is to raise all sorts of fears not about Napoles being coddled, but government’s allies being so. Specifically, members and allies of the Liberal Party which Roxas heads. Certainly it gives rise to speculation about the nature of Napoles’ confession, if one is forthcoming. That can’t just hurt Roxas or his plans for 2016, that can hurt P-Noy and the legacy he means to consolidate over the next three years.
The second has to do with something I’ve been saying over the last few days. That though Napoles is everywhere in this tangled web, she is not at the center of it, she is not the key to it. Or she is not the guiltiest party in the crime. The legislators who were lured into it, if not indeed ardently sought it, are. That’s what the explosion of rage that culminated in the leaderless rally at the Luneta is all about. The people aren’t just incensed at Napoles who stole, they are incensed at the legislators who used their money to light cigars with.
The current fates of Napoles on one hand and the erring senators and congressmen on the other show a stark contrast. While an extravaganza has unfolded over Napoles’ surrender and ferrying to a camp in Laguna, no such thing has happened to the erring senators and congressmen. We’ve heard no corresponding roar or even murmur of dire tidings awaiting them. Yet, like Napoles, they have been identified. Yet, like Napoles, there’s a preponderance of evidence about their guilt. Yet, like Napoles, or far more so, they deserve to be treated like Al Capone.
And yet, unlike Napoles, they look nowhere near to being inconvenienced. Jesus, they’re all lined up to throw stones at her.