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Comeback trail: ‘Nardong Kupit’ et al.

In this unhappy archipelago ruled by dynasts, warlords and ex-presidents craftily rising from the politically dead, three ex-senators implicated in the P10-billion pork barrel scam are itching to get back in power.

One is “Nardong Kupit,” as he is occasionally depicted on social media: supposed son of the Cavite outlaw and folk hero Leonardo Manecio aka Nardong Putik that his real-life father played in the movies. The moniker branding him a thief is complemented by the tag “Mandaram-Bong,” meaning “bandit.”

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Per court records, the man was among the clients of Janet Lim Napoles and was “Pogi” in her code. If, according to the Anti-Money Laundering Council, Pogi, his wife and their children were at one point making investments as well as deposits to various bank accounts to the tune of P87.6 million within a month of the dates he received “commissions”—with no explanation as to how this was possible on lawmaker’s pay—it should go without saying that the relationship was a hugely profitable venture. His kickback from the Napoles modus of funneling lawmakers’ pork barrel allocations to fake foundations purportedly engaged in projects to ease rural poverty was said to have reached P224.5 million.

The scam that Napoles seemed to have perfected to an almost art, as exposed by this newspaper in 2013, illustrated how deftly state coffers could be plundered by the scheming and well-connected. Before her public unmasking and subsequent residency in the slammer, Napoles hobnobbed with the cream of Philippine politics. She also, in granting scholarships to candidates to the priesthood and contributing generously to the upkeep of certain parishes, cultivated a direct line to the divine, so that, for an alleged example, she could request that the statue of the Black Nazarene be brought to her house for private veneration. The powerful taking prayerful poses—as, say, the Iron Butterfly approaching a church altar on her knees—is not unusual in these parts.

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“Sexy” was, per court records, another personage in Napoles’ portfolio, receiving kickback that reached P183.8 million before it was discovered.

It’s important to remember the head-spinning figures, how the money was practically there for the taking. Napoles was reported so awash in cash that some of the stuff was stashed in the bathtub in her office (evoking lines from “Evita” on Broadway: “And the money kept rolling in from every side/ Eva’s pretty hands reached out and they reached wide…”), and collected or delivered efficiently.

Still another on Napoles’ illustrious roster was “Tanda,” who is accused of receiving kickback of up to P172.8 million. Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, since deceased, once suggested on the Senate floor that it was Tanda, considered a pillar of the legislature in his time, who had emboldened Napoles in her scam, who “put the iron in her spine.”

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These three men, all accused of the supposed nonbailable crime of plunder and all at one time in police detention, are now wishful comeback kids crying persecution, claiming victimhood, and officially campaigning for seats in the Senate. Nardong Kupit was acquitted last December by the Sandiganbayan voting 3-2. Sexy, endorsed by President Duterte and then dropped days later, has been out on bail since 2017. Tanda was granted the same privilege in 2016 by the Supreme Court, which cited the “instability of his health and advanced age.” He turned a spry 95 on Valentine’s Day.

Weeks before the start of the official campaign period, Sexy’s posters were visible in the family bailiwick of San Juan, proclaiming him, incredibly, “Anak ng masa.” (Imagine a son of the masses enjoying a family vacation in 5-star luxury in Hong Kong.) It’s an old ploy learned from Sexy’s old man, who, though hardly of the masses himself due to his upper-class background, even if his movies constantly portrayed him as tough, siga, has used it to full advantage. Pogi had his own posters scattered everywhere, expressing gratitude for his acquittal and declaring that the fight, whatever it was, was continuing: “Tuloy ang laban.” There is no shame.

Meanwhile, there is doubtless much gnashing of teeth among the three men’s lieutenants who were also indicted in the monumental scam. Pogi’s former chief of staff, the lawyer and now plunder convict Richard Cambe, has been transferred to the national penitentiary. Tanda’s former chief of staff, the lawyer Gigi Reyes, once referred to as the “25th senator” for the power post she held in her heyday, remains detained, her latest motion to be allowed bail rejected again by the antigraft court.

And Sexy’s former deputy chief of staff? Pauline Labayen is still at large. She was last reported sighted in Las Vegas in 2015, wearing a hoodie.

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TAGS: “Sexy”, “Tanda”, acquittal, Comeback trail, Janet Lim-Napoles, Nardong Kupit, pork barrel, Rosario A. Garcellano, scam, Senatirs
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