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12:34 AM September 12th, 2013

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By: Conrado de Quiros, September 12th, 2013 12:34 AM

We don’t know yet how the investigation of the named legislators in Janet Napoles’ scheme will turn out. The number of senators the Commission on Audit (COA) has identified as having had dealings with Napoles has grown to six from three. Apart from Ramon Revilla, Jinggoy Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile, they now include Bongbong Marcos, Loren Legarda and Vicente Sotto.

The senators have not disputed the report, or the sums attributed to them. They’ve just disputed the idea that what they’ve done constitutes wrongdoing. Those expenses, they say, are perfectly legitimate.

We do not know yet how this will go and how it will end. But there’s reason to be optimistic. There’s something new in the current exposé about the legislators which you can sense every time you read the newspapers or watch the news in recent weeks. Three things in particular stand out.

One is the willingness of the government auditors to name names and cite facts and figures. The legislators of course are furious and have themselves pointed out inaccuracies in the COA reports. Last week, when the COA officials went to Congress to defend their P8.4-billion budget, they found themselves having to defend much more than that. They had to defend themselves. The congressmen pounced on them for the apparent mistakes in their reports, singling out an item that said Manny Zamora had gotten and spent P3 billion of pork. The Department of Budget and Management has since corrected it.

“If you make an audit report and it’s not correct, you destroy the reputation of people,” thundered forth Surigao del Sur Rep. Philip Pichay. True, but a mistake or two does not invalidate the entire report. Grace Tan was not there to defend her agency, she was in New York to attend a meeting. I do hope she comes back over the next few weeks and confronts the congressmen. What is high-minded is not that if you make an audit report and it is not correct, you destroy the reputation of people; what is so is that if you do not make a report and it happens to be substantially true, you destroy the foundation of the nation. You destroy the sacredness of taxpayers’ money, you destroy the integrity of public office, you participate in the gang-rape of Juana de la Cruz.

Speaking of rape, that is what this situation reminds us of. COA auditors, like the victims of rape, have traditionally been loath to complain about the legislators. Quite apart from a general disinclination to draw attention to themselves—some, if not many, of them being complicit in the conspiracy to defraud the public—there is the not-small matter, as was shown last week, of their being at the mercy of the legislators come budget-hearing time. It’s the legislators who decree what they’ll get, as powerful a weapon, or source of blackmail, as you can get. When victims of rape finally decide to cry rape, the likelihood that they’re telling the truth is high. When the COA finally decides to cry wrongdoing about the legislators, the likelihood that it is telling the truth is high.

I applaud Tan for her courage. And I do hope the public shows her the support and encouragement she deserves. While at this, isn’t it a marvel that it’s the women who are showing balls in this government? Leila de Lima, Conchita Carpio Morales, Ma. Lourdes Sereno, Kim Henares, Grace Tan….

Two is the stick-to-it-iveness of media on pork. We have not lacked for exposés or corruption in the past, some leading up to high office or hinting at it. The past regime was full of it. No one really expected any big fish to be hooked, lined and sinker-ed, a sentiment shared by media themselves, which moved on from exposé to exposé with the ease or blitheness of recreational fishermen. And true enough, no big fish did get caught.

The Napoles story has been there for a couple of months now, and still going on strong. No small thanks to the Inquirer, which deserves praise for the sterling job it did introducing the story and sustaining it. Nancy Carvajal in particular deserves it, it was a brave thing she did, and quite professionally too. She it was who started the ball rolling, and it has rolled long and far. She should be journalist of the year. The other media have picked it up, branched out into various subplots, and there’s still no end in sight. It’s been going on like a riveting teleserye. You can only hope it produces an equally satisfying ending.

Which is the third thing here. The audience won’t be content with less, the people won’t be content with less. More than the other melodramas of the past, more than the other exposés of the past, the people are wrapped up in this one, the people are absorbed in this one, the people are involved in this one. The Janet Napoles saga has taken on a life of its own, a reality of its own, intruding into households, barging into consciousness. No, this audience won’t settle for less than the kontrabidas getting what they deserve in the final reel.

Thankfully, the kontrabidas have gone past Napoles. Miriam Defensor-Santiago is right to suggest that the biggest kontrabida here, the spider at the center of the web, may well turn out to be a legislator or group of legislators as it’s inconceivable that Napoles would have had the clout, if not ingenuity, to hatch and run such an operation. I’ve always thought that seemed fairly commonsensical. But whether so or not, they’re still the guiltiest parties here, their crime consisting not just of theft but of betrayal of the public trust.

Napoles is in custody, at a camp in Laguna. Which brings us back to the question of what will happen to the senators and congressmen. Except that this time around, there’s reason to be optimistic, there’s reason to be expectant. Things have changed in the scheme of things.

Things have changed in the scam of things.

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