At Large

Wheels of justice

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Finally, the proverbial wheels of justice have begun to move in the pork barrel case. On Monday, evidence (I don’t know if it was really a “truckfull”) was submitted to the Office of the Ombudsman against all those involved in the siphoning of government funds.

The Department of Justice and the National Bureau of Investigation were said yesterday to be preparing for submission the thick folders holding documentary evidence against the perpetrators of the “pork” scam, most notably the so-called “mastermind,” Janet Lim-Napoles, and three senators identified by whistle-blowers as among the beneficiaries: Juan Ponce Enrile, Bong Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada.

There are others implicated. They include heads and officials of the agencies through which the funds were funneled and which were supposed to verify the rightful beneficiaries. Also implicated are the auditors and accountants who were supposed to keep a sharp eye on how the money was spent.

This was once said of elections in the Philippines: We have some of the most stringent laws and regulations against electoral fraud, and yet enterprising candidates and operators always manage to run rings around the Commission on Elections, even after the automation of the voting and counting. The same can be said of our anticorruption efforts. We have rules and regulations galore governing how government money is to be spent and tracked. And yet, how can we put a stop to the theft of state funds when the guardians of these funds are the very same ones leading the packs of thieves?

* * *

Let’s see where and how the case goes, and if it prospers, given who stand to be hurt as a result of the investigation and eventual judgment.

I for one cannot imagine such powerful, influential personages like senators and congress members simply standing by and allowing themselves to be haled before the Ombudsman and Sandiganbayan.

I think what we ordinary citizens can do, now that charges have been filed against all concerned, is to give the DOJ the benefit of the doubt and support its efforts to go after all the personalities implicated in this scandal.

And then, when elections come up again, remain vigilant against all those who would wish to go back to the old system and enrich themselves in office.

* * *

Senator Miriam-Defensor-Santiago filed last Sept. 11 the “Safe Cosmetic s Act” which seeks to “ensure the safety of cosmetic products sold in the Philippines by requiring such products to be free of any ingredients which have been identified as chemicals causing cancer or reproductive toxicity.” This comes in the wake of reports that cosmetic products—skin whitening creams and lead-laced lipsticks among them—are being sold on sidewalks and for a very cheap price, endangering the health and lives of consumers.

Earlier, Senator Santiago filed a resolution directing the concerned Senate committee to conduct an inquiry on the reported need to introduce and implement toxic reduction strategies in cosmetics and other consumer products.

Beyond the urgent need to keep allegedly poisonous and dangerous cosmetic products away from the hands of unaware consumers, what makes the draft bill of Senator Santiago much more interesting is that it originated as a “class project” of graduate students of the UP Open University.

Indeed, included in the bill’s explanatory notes was a statement of support for the legislation sent by this group of students.

The group is undertaking the “Organic Switch!” campaign “to generate awareness (of) the health and safety benefits of organically-based personal care products.” The nonprofit social marketing project was launched online last August via social marketing sites and a blogsite. The campaign project implementers—Domar Alviar, Jocelyn Asignacion, Marilou Allyn Baldemor, Mareen Maquiddang, Jose Juancho Perez, May Serrano, and Rechelle Ann

Tolinero—took on the project for a class in social marketing and social mobilization in a bid for a master’s degree in development communications at UP Open University.

* * *

Even more interesting and meaningful for me personally, was that, according to Alviar, their advocacy, which has since been picked by Senator Santiago, was sparked by a column I wrote last year on “the high cost of beauty.”

The column was based on a presentation by Dr. Ann Blake, who sits as part of the panel of California’s Environmental Protection Agency, in which she called for “stringent regulation” of ingredients used in facial and body care products that are “known or suspected of causing cancer and other serious harm to human health.” The lecture-forum where Blake spoke was cosponsored by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the EcoWaste Coalition.

And yet, in the months since Blake’s presentation, little has been done to regulate and prevent the sale of harmful cosmetic products. True, warnings from both the FDA and environmental watchdogs like EcoWaste have been aired regularly, but apparently, a bill like that filed by Senator Santiago needs to be enacted into law to get authorities to move against the importers and marketers of such dangerous products.

As I asked in that column: Why would women (and men) risk their health and safety by using dangerous products that promise shiny hair, whiter complexions, redder lips? One reason could be ignorance, with buyers more concerned about the low prices rather than the risk. Another is that they don’t know what the ingredients are, or if they bother to look at the list, they have no idea what it means. And a third reason? Vanity, plain old human vanity. Women and men, down through the years, have shown a willingness to risk health and money in pursuit of a better appearance, even if their improved looks are but temporary and hasten the end of their time on earth!

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  • farmerpo

    I am very happy to say that the masses, are all supportive of the effort to hale especially legislators to court, or else. Sporting a no 8 plate is hazardous to ones health these days. May this be a warning. It is a street way of telling our legislators to shape up of ship out. As a start, ginigitgit na sa daan ang mga no 8. It is ‘rumored’ that soon,’ babatuhin na natin, pag tumagal ito’. I hope it does not happen.

    • dangalathirap

      to effect a radical change we need to resort to radical measure…a little dent abd scratch in these thieves vehicles is a good start to drive our sentiments!

  • angie1875

    The food being sold on the sidewalk is more contaminated than the cosmetics.

  • ConnieLee90

    I hope we are seeing the end of the untouchable JPE. No Filipino men dared to stand up to him and expose him for what he is. We have a cadre of brave Filipino women, starting with de Lima who I think would not be cowered by JPE’s daunting stature. Castrate the men and have the women have their cojones.

  • Bunot-Supo

    The Ombudsman and Commission on Audit should now do something to justify their existence. Pork barrel scams have been around for a very long time and it is only now that it is being stirred seriously. We owe Pinoy a gratitude, the only president who is serious in running after corrupt officials. The Ombudsman and COA offices had been so inutile that none of them saw the abuse. For sure they knew it and must have participated in it. Now, please justify the existence of your offices. You were created to do this job, and why only now? You three brave women (De Lima, Carpio Morales and Pulido Tan), move up over those men who have no balls to prosecute erring officials. Prove to the Filipinos that we still have an honest government. Now is the time to jail Enrile, Jinggoy and Bong Revilla, et al. Sad to know that Binay is not in the list.

  • reydomingo

    Looking forward to see photos of these legislators with nameplate… they will look very beautiful even without cosmetics, just like the latest pic of napoles which was taken without makeup…

  • talagalangha

    Any investigation, or prosecution will only be CREDIBLE if fair, inclusive, and complete…if not, all a show…

    Release the 2010-2012 audit, if only as a reference anyway…and to DBM, release the missing 61% of pork releases 2007-2009…

    Abad, you are next….

  • DonQuixoteDeRizal

    I wish Ms. Rina-David will change the word “government’s money” with “people’s money” The Filipino people is the government. She must not forget it.

  • domz

    I’m not sure of real situations in COA but offices like this continue to grapple with death threats. That’s what I heard. Accountants and auditors are also said to be honest in carrying their jobs first; later people from higher-ups would be asked to alter the accountants and auditors’ original reports/findings.

    So we expect them to be eventual whistle-blowers? Let’s help each other out for the good of the Philippines and its people.

    As for advocacies to generate awareness of the health and safety benefits of organically-based personal care products and other related campaigns, we as a nation are still so slow, so indecisive.

    We’d like to see a reasonable application of the state-based police power to ensure community public health standards concerning the unsafe side of cosmetics, and yet one of the proposed laws for that has been there since 2008.

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