Pork scam may lead to trial by publicity
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has come under pressure from a lawyer representing the whistle-blowers in the P10-billion pork barrel scandal to file plunder charges against public officials linked to the diversion of Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to a group of dummy nongovernment organizations (NGOs) controlled by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.
Jumping the gun on the government investigation into the misuse of public funds, lawyer Levito Baligod submitted to the DOJ on Wednesday a private complaint charging three senators—Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon Revilla Jr. and Jinggoy Estrada—and their senior aides, and five former congressmen, together with Napoles, for alleged plunder of public fund.
The complaint listed 40 other officials for possible prosecution for alleged malversation of public funds.
The draft complaint appeared to be tentative and to have been rushed. The complaint was based on documents, which, according to the lawyer, “will sufficiently show misuse of government funds and amassing illegal wealth by private individuals.”
Thus, he said, he would leave it up to authorities whom to prosecute among the heads of NGOs allegedly controlled by Napoles.
According to Baligod, the documents he submitted to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima last week consisted of affidavits of a dozen whistle-blowers, former employees of Napoles, led by Benhur Luy, a key government witness, who has accused Napoles of funneling P10 billion from the PDAF to ghost projects of NGOs under the wing of Napoles’ JLN Group of Companies.
Luy hugged the show at the Senate blue ribbon committee inquiry last week, where he was a star witness on the involvement of five senators in the diversion of their pork barrel to Napoles’ group of companies.
The documents submitted by the six whistle-blowers consisted of their joint statements of financial transactions of the JLN group from 2004 until 2010. The evidence ran to 2,000 pages of financial transactions, according to Baligod.
“The six have personal knowledge of the money trail from the NGOs, the lawmakers and Napoles,” he said. “These whistle-blowers handed millions of money to the lawmakers and their conduits.”
Since the National Bureau of Investigation began an inquiry into the pork barrel swindle four months ago following its rescue of Luy from three months of detention from Napoles’ house, the case has expanded like a forest fire to four venues—DOJ, NBI, Commission on Audit and the Senate blue ribbon committee.
It has also triggered, in a space of one month, three mass demonstrations—the Aug. 26 Million People March to Luneta, the Sept. 11 rally at Edsa and the Sept. 13 rally, again at Luneta, protesting against the abuse of the pork barrel, demanding its abolition and calling for the criminal prosecution of Napoles and the lawmakers who colluded with her in endorsing their PDAF to her syndicate of fake NGOs, creating a hemorrhage of public funds.
The powerful public outrage over this was fueled by a torrent of publicity stemming from independent media investigations and partly from whistle-blowers’ affidavits.
Whistle-blowers have been having a field day unloading a deluge of uncontroverted testimony to the media, conditioning the public mind to a lynch mode.
There is nothing wrong with the daily disclosure by media of wrongdoing by public officials based on official investigation processes.
But it must be emphasized that democratic and just societies are treading on dangerous grounds if their citizens make judgments based on one-sided evidence before hearing the side of the accused.
Trial by publicity
So far, we have only heard the affidavits of whistle-blowers who have monopolized the public arena with their derogatory allegations. They don’t have a monopoly of the truth.
Napoles has not said much to defend herself. She is still awaiting trial on charges not yet specified by the DOJ up to now.
The lawmakers who have been tagged by the whistle-blowers as alleged accomplices of Napoles in the transfer of their pork barrel to her NGOs have likewise not stated their side, not even in the Senate inquiry. They, too, have not been formally charged and they are not sure who of them will be prosecuted.
Most of them, if not all, have pork barrel allocations in the national budget, but all of them are under cloud from and smeared by the allegations of the whistle-blowers in the midst of the atmosphere of lynch mob hysteria that has permeated public opinion.
What is endangered in this mass hysteria lusting for blood, without going through due process, is that we might be laying the ground for the lynching or sending to the gallows of a fundamental principle of constitutional democracy—a fair administration of justice underpinned by the right to be heard before being condemned as guilty.
This is an entitlement of every citizen, not only of Napoles and her alleged accomplices in public offices in this monstrous embezzlement of public funds.
This is the crucial issue of this trial by publicity in this dark episode in Philippine criminal justice system.