The mother of all pork scams | Inquirer Opinion
Editorial

The mother of all pork scams

/ 04:35 AM July 09, 2024
The mother of all pork scams

The Sandiganbayan has served yet another helping of prison stays to people implicated in the many-tentacled pork barrel racket, raising but not quite sustaining hopes of a just resolution of all criminal cases involving the “mother of all scams” in the Philippines.

In a June 28 decision made public last week, the antigraft court convicted 17 individuals, 15 of them former executives of defunct government-owned and -controlled corporations (GOCCs), and two members of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), on charges of graft and malversation of public funds. Depending on the gravity and number of offenses, they were sentenced to varying terms of imprisonment, from a low of 23 years to a high of 175 years in the maximum period, way above Filipinos’ life expectancy.

The decision arrived more than a decade after this paper first broke the story of how lawmakers conspired with businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles and partner agencies to funnel P10 billion of their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocations to bogus NGOs in exchange for kickbacks.

Shadow of Napoles

Napoles, now serving time at the Correctional Institute for Women in Mandaluyong City for multiple convictions of plunder and corruption, was not a respondent in this particular case, but her shadow as the alleged mastermind of the operation loomed large over the course of the trial.

FEATURED STORIES

There is much to applaud—and lament—in the judiciary’s handling of the pork barrel scam, but the latest decision is at least a good reminder that the wheels of justice continue to turn in one of the biggest plunders of public coffers in the country since the dictatorship.

But as always, there are postscripts to every court judgment, the first of which is the fact that the lawmaker at the center of the charges, former Misamis Occidental representative Marina Clarete, whose PDAF went to ghost projects from 2007 to 2009, remains at large, along with former National Agribusiness Corp. president Alan Javellana, former Technology Resource Center director general Antonio Ortiz, and seven others. Only until they are served warrants and arrested will their cases be revived, the court ruled.

Another caveat is the fact that many of those found guilty in the pork cases have yet to spend a day in a jail cell, for the reason that the Sandiganbayan’s decision is not final and executory, and therefore, appealable in the higher courts. This was true of former agriculture secretary Arthur Yap, whose criminal cases were dismissed after he successfully petitioned the Supreme Court, resulting in the reversal of his indictment in April.

Sobering reality check

Finally, the most sobering reality check is that with the exception of Napoles herself, state prosecutors have yet to catch, by way of a criminal conviction, any of the other “big fish” in the pork racket.

ADVERTISEMENT

In July 2013, the Inquirer ran a series of bombshell reports after Napoles’ cousin, Benhur Luy, blew the lid on the scam after he was allegedly detained by the businesswoman when she had gotten wind of his plan to break away from the group.

In June 2014, the Office of the Ombudsman indicted then Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla for plunder and multiple counts of graft. Revilla was accused of pocketing P224.5 million in kickbacks; Estrada, P183.8 million; and Enrile, P172.8 million. Napoles was named a coaccused.

ADVERTISEMENT

Three senators’ cases

In December 2018, the Sandiganbayan acquitted Revilla of plunder but convicted his legislative officer Richard Cambe and Napoles in the same case. In July 2021, Revilla was exonerated of his remaining graft charges. In January, Estrada was convicted of direct and indirect bribery and sentenced to up to 15 years in prison—a case now on appeal. Like his colleague, he was cleared of the more serious charge of plunder, but so was Napoles this time around.

Revilla and Estrada are back in the Senate, with the former winning a fresh term in 2019 and the latter following suit in 2022.

As for Enrile, the 100-year-old former Senate president is out on bail, waiting for the resolution of his plunder and graft cases, along with several coaccused, including his former chief of staff, Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes.

Meanwhile, the rest of the branching pork cases involving other lawmakers, civil servants, GOCC officers, and NGO workers are idling in judicial purgatory, pending arrest and trial, or awaiting conviction or acquittal, or somewhere in the vast chasm between those outcomes.

The takeaway here is that 11 years since the pork scandal came to light, the government has achieved mixed and limited success in delivering swift justice to the victims, who happen to be ordinary Filipinos whose taxes have lined the pockets of the people elected to represent them.

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

Time is not on the public’s side, however, for only the guilty will benefit from further delays in court judgments. For this reason, the judiciary will be well reminded that justice, unlike revenge, is not a dish served cold.

TAGS: Editorial, opinion

© Copyright 1997-2024 INQUIRER.net | All Rights Reserved

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.