Scary indeed are the photos coming out in all media showing members of the Napoles family with personages in government who had not previously been linked to the “pork barrel scam.” Indeed, especially with regard to P-Noy’s photo taken late last year with the controversial Napoles daughter Jeane, his previous avowals that he “did not know any member of the Napoles family” seems to ring hollow now that visible proof has surfaced that he had at least brushed elbows in a social gathering with a member of the family.
I say “scary” because, as a public figure, as anyone working with the media is, even if I fall into the dubious category of a “semi-celebrity,” it raises fears about any number of people who may have at one time or another asked to pose with me in a photo.
Who among these virtual strangers will surface one day as the central figure in one scandal or controversy? And what will people say about the company I keep, even if only in a photo op? We may look all cozy and chummy and all smiles—as people posing for photos are wont to do—but the truth may be that I met those people only then and never again.
Senate President Franklin Drilon raised this possibility in the face of another photo showing him and his wife posing with the Napoles couple. “We are politicians,” Drilon explained, “and when people ask to have their pictures taken with us, we cannot refuse.” If that holds true for a senator, how much more for the President of the country? I remember the first time P-Noy graced the Christmas party of the media forum Bulong Pulungan, and he was virtually “mobbed” by women who belonged to various civic clubs. P-Noy’s security was visibly disturbed, especially when competition for the “prime spot” beside the President became almost rowdy, and indeed, the photo ops were soon terminated. But the President bore with the inconvenience; he was and is a politician, after all.
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Before the photos of P-Noy and Drilon with the “family of the moment” surfaced, the media had feasted on photos of Janet Lim-Napoles, often with her husband, in social events with the “pogi,” “sexy” and “tanda (old)” senators implicated in the pork barrel controversy.
Rep. Roman Romulo later got into hot water when photos surfaced showing that Napoles was a wedding sponsor in his nuptials with Shalani Soledad. Romulo asserted his innocence, although he has yet to fully explain how Napoles gained sufficient entry into his circle to stand as his wedding sponsor.
The situation is complicated by the proliferation of cellular phones equipped with cameras, so much so that “anyone (who owns a phone) can now be paparazzi.” Not to mention that anyone with access to Facebook or other networking sites can share the photo instantly, broadcasting it to the world even before the subject can realize the risk in posing with certain personalities.
The lesson is not lost on public figures, so fanboys and fangirls, not to mention real paparazzi, should expect much slimmer pickings from now on, at least from politicians. Still, “guilt by photography” is a poor basis, indeed, for determining the truth and meting out justice. There’s more than meets the eye, I’m afraid.
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A friend professes relief that Janet Lim-Napoles did not have the chance to pose with Pope Francis (although you never know), or else even the Holy Father might soon be tarred with the allegations of Napoles’ dealings.
But it is also undeniable that Napoles enjoyed a vast network of connections with Church figures, reaching so far as to entertain a group of seminarians from China (the occasion in which Drilon was unfortunately caught on camera). Napoles has said her ties with the bishops began even with her late mother, who was a generous donor to various Church causes ranging from church construction to the education of seminarians. So influential was she, reports said, that she could even have revered and delicate religious images (like the Black Nazarene of Quiapo) brought to her residence at her request.
Why, it seems that not only was Napoles’ influence-peddling confined to senators and congress people, it even extended all the way to Church folk and to the Lord himself!
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At the Senate hearing yesterday (Thursday) where Benhur Luy, the first whistle-blower in the case, was the prime witness, it became clear what a broad, sweeping network Napoles had fostered, from the legislature to government agencies, law enforcers to the courts, local governments to nongovernment organizations, fake or otherwise.
This just proves how complicated and difficult is the task awaiting the Department of Justice and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, and the anticorruption task force, in getting to the bottom of the pork barrel shenanigans.
Toward the end of the hearing, Sen. Ralph Recto asked aloud: “How is it that we allowed these things to continue for over a decade?” Well, for a great part of that decade Recto himself was part of the legislature, so he must have an explanation forming in his mind. One explanation is that while many knew what was going on, they all thought it was par for the course, part of the way things were run, part of the bargain struck between the executive and legislative branches, and the constituents who come to them for aid and succor.
But until the extent not just of the Napoles network but also of the scale of the greed that drove it was revealed, many ordinary folk thought pork a mere annoyance, even an inside joke.
The joke, it turns out, was on the people, on all of us—but look who’s laughing now!