Time of reckoningBy Conrado de Quiros
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Last Monday Bong Revilla, Jinggoy Estrada, and Juan Ponce Enrile were officially added to Janet Lim-Napoles as persons of interest to the Ombudsman. Leila de Lima says that’s just the first batch in a continuing investigation of congressional complicity in the Napoles pork scam.
How this first batch goes will determine whether there will be a second or third batch. It’s something to watch closely.
All three complain that they’ve been subjected to trial by publicity, but so what? In this country in particular that’s the fairest trial anyone can get, which is fair not just to the prosecuted but also to the citizens for whom the prosecution is being done. It has a fair judge, who are the people themselves; it has a fair process, which is that judge subjecting the case to careful scrutiny; and it has a fair environment, which is the case being heard under conditions of tremendous transparency. The prospects of obfuscating the case by legalese doubletalk, the prospects of hiding things, covering things, making things disappear by the wave of a wand, or hand, or handout, is drastically diminished.
Indeed, in this country in particular whose rulers have long been free to ignore, scorn, and dismiss public opinion, it’s just what the doctor, or judge, ordered. It’s a reminder that in a democracy, which we claim to be, public servants are called that because they exist to serve the people and not the other way around. They have to answer to a higher authority than the Ombudsman, and that is us.
Revilla says their inclusion in the rap sheet is a case of the administration doing a demolition job on the opposition. Question is: What exactly makes them the opposition? What are they opposed to? The way things look, they’re opposed only to honesty, they’re opposed only to public service. In his particular case, his signature on Napoles’ vouchers is all over the place. No amount of shouting forgery will change the fact.
Until lately, he of course has been entertaining seeking higher office, encouraged no end by his strong showing in 2010, courtesy of Katrina Halili. Alas for him, the house he has built is nothing compared to the one the other “Panday,” Fernando Poe Jr., did. In death, “Da King” was recognized for the decent person he was, which catapulted his daughter to the top of the senatorial charts. In life, all Panday Jr. has done is prove the wisdom of the parable of the Son of the Carpenter about the folly of the man who built his house on sand.
Estrada goes for the awa effect, saying his life had been turned around, he hasn’t been able to sleep since the Napoles scandal broke out. The way things are, he probably wishes he had just figured in another scandal, the kind that appears fleetingly in YouTube before it is yanked out. It’s so unfair, he says. What’s so wrong about “endorsing” funds to NGOs? “Ano’ng plunder doon?”
I remember a movie I saw ages ago where an American pleads with his French jailer to be sprung from jail. It was nothing, he says, he was just caught having a fling with a married woman. Surely, his jailer could understand that, being French? “Ah, monsieur,” says his jailer, “to have a fling with a married woman, that is French. To be caught, that is American.” This isn’t exactly a direct parallel. But to endorse taxpayers’ money to an NGO, that is admirable, to endorse taxpayers’ money to a fake NGO, that is jail-able.
As to Enrile, it’s enough to make you believe in Providence. Or in the Al Capone solution: You can’t get him on the big one, get him on the small one. His inclusion among the napulis—based on the doings of his chief of staff, Gigi Reyes, a thing to drive home the point that there are things worse than death, or punishments worse than jail—reminds us again of the pamasko of millions of pesos he gave out to his favorite senators last year. Basta masaya sila, he might have said, which was all very well, except for one thing. It was not his money to make people masaya with. Senate savings are still not the senators’ money, it’s the people’s.
That was the thing that drove the wedge between him and his not-very-favorite senator, Alan Peter Cayetano. Little wonder Cayetano was at pains to get Benhur Luy to tell the world who the senator he kept visiting at the Senate was, what his initials were, whether he was the one who promised to make everyone happy. Telltale clues pointing only to one person.
Whatever happens to the Ombudsman investigation will have the most far-reaching consequences for the future of fighting corruption in this country. This is the first time we’ve come close to catching big fish in that effort. Yes, the first time. A decade ago, the administration of Gloria Arroyo of course oversaw the conviction of Erap for plunder, but it largely took on the aspects of a travesty. It was like the United States executing Saddam Hussein after razing Iraq in an occupation the world condemned. Erap’s conviction was widely seen as a political move, one utterly without moral weight.
This is a completely different time and place. We have a President who is widely seen as honest in the double sense that Arroyo was not—as somebody who doesn’t steal the money and as somebody who doesn’t steal the vote. Though the proceedings will not be entirely devoid of politics, there is reasonable public trust in the capacity of Conchita Carpio Morales to carry out her task dutifully and well. And finally we are a public that has been roused to vigilance and involvement after a state of apathy and stupor and will no longer abide crime without punishment. Those who do not know their history will call this trial by publicity, those who do will call this trial by fire.
It’s a time of reckoning, it’s a time for justice.
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