The public uproar over the pork barrel scam is understandable because of the amount, P10 billion, and the personalities involved, seasoned and highly respected senators and congressmen who are bastions of power and influence in our country. And with Janet Lim-Napoles flaunting her presumably ill-gotten wealth by throwing extremely lavish parties, buying prime real estate here and abroad as well as 30 cars, and claiming illness while seated in her Louis Vuitton wheelchair, we would be so calloused if we do not get fuming mad.
This is so abhorrent because what were plundered were the taxes that came from the sweat and tears of the Filipino people. With no less than Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares pursuing tax collection like a pit bull, going after everyone including micro businesses, and a large population wallowing in poverty, this reaction is totally understandable. As expected, Filipinos from all walks of life, including the academe, the business sector, the Church and civil society, are demanding a thorough investigation and the prosecution of those involved. But wait, doesn’t this sound familiar?
Haven’t we been here before? Isn’t this déjà vu for the nth time? Unfortunately, yes.
The current uproar and disgust are similar to that which met corruption during the Marcos dictatorship, the 2004 “Hello Garci” tapes that almost toppled the GMA administration, and the 2008 $329-million NBN-ZTE deal that catapulted whistle-blower Jun Lozada into the limelight. (Lozada, by the way, is now facing his own antigraft case and can possibly end up in jail ahead of, if ever, the perpetrators of the bribery scandal.) And, of course, we also had the Public Estates Authority-Amari Manila Bay reclamation project bribery in the 1990s, the BW Resources stock manipulation scandal in early 2000, and the fertilizer fund scam of 2004. Not to mention the 2008 “euro generals” scandal, and the Pimentel III vs Zubiri “dagdag-bawas” electoral protest that Pimentel eventually won, leaving him but a few months to hold his senatorial post.
Furthermore, we have the 2009 Maguindanao massacre of 58 persons, including 34 media workers, the trial of which has barely gotten off the ground, and with some witnesses reportedly no longer willing to testify, and the murder of Palawan broadcaster Gerry Ortega, with the alleged masterminds, former Palawan governor Joel Reyes and his brother, former Coron mayor Mario Reyes, managing to slip out of the country under the nose of the Bureau of Immigration. Sadly, all these celebrated cases have one thing in common. Except for the Maguindanao massacre where the key suspects are in jail while their trial is ongoing, all of the other corruption scams and bribery scandals are gathering dust in the courts, if ever cases were filed, or totally forgotten with no cases ever being filed!
The message is thus very clear: In the Philippines, corruption pays. And will continue to pay until we start putting these corrupt officials behind bars.
Often, justice is thought as served once the Senate or the House concludes its investigation in aid of legislation or the Office of the Ombudsman files a case in the Sandiganbayan. And we forget, or worse, forgive, and then move on. To many of us, it seems that the shaming that transpired during the televised congressional inquiry is enough penalty for the perpetrators. And if cases are ever filed, the case drags on in the judicial system for 10, 15, 20 years or more, thus giving the perpetrators all the time they need to buy the witnesses, prosecutors, judges, and even justices, or cause the “loss” of the original documents needed to convict.
This is a country where the corrupt can get the most brilliant lawyers available to prolong a case until the public loses interest and eventually forgets the crime.
Is there hope for us still? Can we clean up the corrupt executive, legislative and judicial branches of our government?
The P-Noy administration is our best hope at this time to arrest the culture of corruption that pervades our government. We elected him on his “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap” campaign theme, after all. But will he do it? Will he have the determination to go after even his “kabarilan, kaklase at kamag-anak” if they are proven corrupt? Will he exert enough influence to expedite the investigation, prosecution, conviction and incarceration of the corrupt in the high echelons of the government, particularly the judges and justices who allow these corruption cases to languish for decades in their courts?
We ordinary citizens can do our part in fighting corruption by not forgetting and not forgiving corrupt officials and not stopping until they are put behind bars, not after 5, 10 or 20 years, but in mere months! The Rules of Court have timelines on the expedient resolution of these cases. We the people should insist that these rules be strictly observed for justice to be served and be truly an effective deterrent to corruption.
David L. Balangue (firstname.lastname@example.org) chairs the Coalition Against Corruption. He is a former chair and managing partner of SyCip Gorres Velayo & Co.