The fall guys
Behind every politician accused of corruption is a fall guy who ends up taking the blame and suffering the consequences of the crime. This is not a proverb, but it is very well on its way to becoming one in our country.
This evolving adage received its latest affirmation when former senator Bong Revilla was acquitted of plunder while his Senate chief of staff and alleged bagman, lawyer Richard Cambe, was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.
It may be recalled that, along with Revilla, former senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada were also charged with plunder. All three senators were accused of conspiring with Janet Lim Napoles to siphon off hundreds of millions of their pork barrel funds.
If Revilla had his bagman, Enrile and Estrada had their bagwomen, according to charges. In the case of Enrile, it was his chief of staff, lawyer Gigi Reyes. In the case of Estrada, it was his deputy chief of staff, Pauline Labayen.
Reyes languishes in prison because she has been denied bail, while her boss, Enrile, is out on bail and is running for senator again. Labayen has fled the country and is on the run, while her boss, Estrada, is out on bail and is running for senator as well.
The scorecard shows a glaring difference in fortunes between the bosses and their subordinates. Of the three senator-bosses, one has been acquitted, while the other two are enjoying freedom pending trial. Of the subordinates, one has been convicted, the second is in jail pending trial, and the third one lives as a fugitive.
Enrile and Estrada must be looking forward to a happy ending in their cases because of two controversial court decisions that they can exploit to their advantage.
First, the Sandiganbayan decision in the Revilla case makes it excessively difficult for corruption offenses committed through subordinates to become crimes imputable to the politician-bosses.
Second, the Sandiganbayan decision granting bail to Estrada is grounded on the reasoning that the evidence against Estrada so far does not point to him as the “main plunderer.” This controversial concept of “main plunderer” was used by the Supreme Court in acquitting former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of plunder.
The fact that both Enrile and Estrada are throwing money for an expensive Senate run gives us a glimpse of how confident they are about getting acquitted soon.
With the growing difficulty of convicting politician-bosses, there’s the emerging reality that liability for corruption offenses will become the sole liability of subordinates who serve as fronts. The plight of Cambe is a composite story of a subordinate who allows him/herself to be used by a politician in committing corruption offenses.
According to the evidence presented in the Revilla trial, Cambe had been working for Revilla for 10 years before the plunder controversy was exposed. He regularly went to the office of Napoles to bring documents transacted in the name of Revilla. He fraternized with Napoles’ staff by treating them to snacks and engaging them in small talk and banter. Cambe even acted as wedding sponsor of the child of one of Napoles’ staff members.
Cambe frequently went to the office of Napoles to receive his commission and the kickbacks intended for his boss. Of Revilla’s P517-million pork barrel fund, the senator’s kickback was 50 percent, while Cambe’s commission amounted to five percent, or a total of P26 million.
Cambe owns a black CX-7 Mazda car, a sand and gravel business, a potato business in a school, and a gasoline station.
While Revilla was acquitted of criminal liability, he was ordered to return P124 million of plundered public funds. This civil liability is Revilla’s shared obligation with Cambe. Revilla has defiantly declared that he will not pay. Cambe may become solely liable to pay the P124 million in the end, even if his share in the plundered loot was only P26 million.
Cambe’s fate represents a cautionary tale for fall guys who end up as sacrificial lambs.
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