Gold mine in downgrading criminal cases? | Inquirer Opinion
As I See It

Gold mine in downgrading criminal cases?

/ 09:09 PM August 18, 2011

IT SEEMS that some prosecutors may have stumbled on a gold mine. By simply downgrading the charge against an accused so that he would be eligible to post bail, the accused and his family would be so grateful that they would be willing to do anything for the friendly prosecutor. Once the accused is out on bail, then his lawyers can delay the trial (and in our courts that is not hard to do) and he would be free as a bird almost as if he had been acquitted. While the case drags on, some witnesses for the prosecution would lose interest, or die, or be persuaded by emissaries of the accused to change their stories to at least create a reasonable doubt in the mind of the judge. Or the accused can go into hiding or flee the country.

Recently, we heard of grave cases (where the accused are not entitled to bail) downgraded by prosecutors to a lesser offense so that the accused will have the right to bail. For example, the Department of Justice downgraded to simple estafa a syndicated estafa case filed by Pagcor against some Chinese caught red-handed cheating at the casino. As a result, the Chinese were able to post bail and leave the country.

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The conventional thinking is that downgrading syndicated estafa cases to simple estafa means less work for the prosecutors. It’s the usual route of lazy prosecutors. But sometimes, it is not just plain laziness; other considerations are involved. If that is the case, then they would surely undermine the President’s call for a return to integrity in the government.

Downgrading cases, especially in the face of strong evidence, will derail the administration’s drive against abuse of power and undermine the President’s credibility in the eyes of the public.

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The reason the subject is being discussed is that a syndicated estafa case against a land developer that was able to bilk Pag-Ibig Fund of more than P6.5 billion is taking a DOJ panel a very long time to resolve. The complainants are afraid that the panel may be preparing to downgrade the case into simple estafa.

One of the first things Vice President Jejomar Binay did when he was named housing czar was to order an investigation into reports that Globe Asiatique (GA) and its officers used ghost buyers and fake documents to deceive Pag-Ibig into releasing P6.653 billion in loans to the company. Binay sits as chairman of the board of Pag-Ibig.

In October 2010, Pag-Ibig Fund and the National Bureau of Investigation filed its first case of estafa constituting economic sabotage against GA president Delfin Lee and other GA officers, including former Pag-Ibig chief Ramon Palma Gil and several Pag-Ibig employees. Syndicated estafa is a non-bailable offense.

This was followed by several additional cases filed by buyers who were duped by GA and made to part with their hard-earned money through a practice known as double-selling. These property buyers of Xevera Homes in Mabalacat, Pampanga, complained that the properties they bought were sold twice by Lee and his co-accused.

These buyers actually went to the NBI and asked for help after they learned that the houses and lots they bought from GA were actually covered by another sale to Pag-Ibig borrowers. Some of these borrowers could not be located.

The NBI and Pag-Ibig did a thorough job of reviewing documents and interviewing witnesses who were presented before the DOJ panel. The case was deemed submitted for resolution last March 15.

It has been almost five months but the DOJ panel has yet to release its recommendation. The silence on the part of the panel is troubling to the complainants, especially the small, lowly workers whose dreams of owning their own homes were dashed by a scheming developer.

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Will they suffer another injustice from the DOJ in the form of a downgraded case? And since a case of simple estafa is bailable, what will prevent those involved from fleeing the country to escape the law?

Of late, the DOJ has been in the news for a series of blunders. There was so much high hope pinned on the DOJ. But the media have been reporting one misstep after another. Let’s hope the DOJ finds a way to redeem itself in the eyes of the people, and of their President.

* * *

President Aquino has included the Reproductive Health (RH) bill among his 13 priority bills but not the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill that has been pending in Congress for many years. The RH bill has a divisive effect on the Philippine society and will need a budget of billions of pesos. The Catholic Church is against it while a good part of our population is for it. On the other hand, everybody agrees that what the government is doing should be transparent. For the people to know what is going on in the government, there should be freedom of information. The bill merely seeks to make non-confidential government records available to the public whenever anybody asks for it.

It is a mystery, therefore, why P-Noy did not include it in his 13 priority bills. Nobody is opposed to it—at least publicly. So somebody influential with the President must be secretly against it. And anybody who is opposed against freedom of information must have something to hide. And if he/she is hiding anything, it must be illegal, immoral, unethical, or at least something to be ashamed of. Otherwise, why is he/she afraid of it being made public?

Many of the anomalies that have been bedeviling the nation would not have been possible had there been no secrecy. There would be no secrecy with freedom of information.

A freedom of information law would be a very good support for P-Noy’s much-touted war against corruption. So why is he against a freedom of information law?

If he is not against it, why did he not include it in the list of priority bills?

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TAGS: Aquino, criminal cases, featured columns, freedom of information bill, judiciary, opinion, RH bill
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