Toga or no toga
SEN. PANFILO Lacson reported for work Monday, after going AWOL (absent without leave) for more than 13 months. He kept a step ahead of a posse by boarding the luxurious Orient Express, then basking in sunny Portugal. Lisbon doesn’t have an extradition treaty with Manila.
“If you have money, even the spirits will turn the mills for you,” says a Chinese proverb. The Court of Appeals, in the event, quashed a warrant for Lacson’s arrest in connection with the murder of publicist Salvador Dacer and his driver Emmanuel Corbito.
Dacer was set to brief former President Fidel Ramos on the Best World scam. He never made it. Two Cavite farmers saw Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force agents “strangle Dacer and driver with an electrical cord… Their bodies were burned in a gasoline drenched fire in Indang,” notes University of Wisconsin’s Alfred McCoy.
Justice has been denied to Dacer’s daughters for a decade now. They will appeal the CA ruling.
Lacson, meanwhile, will get a “toga” that fits. All 23 senators will put on ceremonial 6-meter robes when Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile bangs the gavel on May 9 to start the impeachment trial of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.
Magistrates of old donned togas, specially at the Circus Maximus and Forum. To “receive appropriately” senate couriers, Cincinnatus first put on a toga, the apocryphal story goes. Only then did he listen to their message that he had been named ruler.
“The apparel oft proclaims the man,” Polonius counsels in “Hamlet.”
“[We would] look more dignified in togas,” Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago opined. The senators agreed, including Sen. Jinggoy Estrada.
In a 2009 brutal exchange of privilege speeches with Lacson, Estrada charged his now toga-clad fellow juror Panfilo Lacson with gruesome crimes. Will this color the Gutierrez impeachment, toga or no toga?
Lacson had Dacer and driver murdered, Jinggoy Estrada charged. He quoted Dacer as telling his children, “If anything happens to me, Lacson is responsible.”
He also pinned on Lacson the Kuratong Baleleng massacre. The 11 were killed in a “shoot-out.” Photographs showed the bodies handcuffed behind their backs.
Other victims of rubouts included a Manila police officer, Red Scorpion gang relatives, a 20-year-old woman and an 8-year-old girl dumped from a helicopter into waters off Corregidor Island.
Charges against Erap were “Fiction Parts I and II.”
Lacson earlier claimed his then Commander in Chief Erap creamed jueteng payoffs, plus monthly P5 million baksheesh for PNP chiefs. He wrung Philippine Long Distance Telephone shares from industrialist Alfonso Yuchengco to favor Manuel Pangilinan. On the sidelines, Estrada coddled smugglers.
Casino worker Edgar Bentain leaked a video of Erap playing high stakes baccarat. Bentain was rubbed out in Laguna.
Estrada dealt directly with PAOCTF officials linked to the murder of Salvador Dacer, who had stashed documents on the Palace-BW stocks scam.
“Both camps have the goods on each other,” observed Inquirer columnist Solita Collas-Monsod. “And why not? They were together for so long.” With signature candor, the economics professor added: “They were a crooked duo.”
“Both Estrada and Lacson sought high posts,” Viewpoint noted in “Shoot first, die second.” Nonetheless “both shun command responsibility and wash their hands of accountability. Both did not lie. Both told the truth—about the other. Both took a decade before ventilating each other’s transgressions. And both were shown up as unfit for public office.”
“Presidents Manuel Quezon, Sergio Osmeña, Manuel Roxas, Elpidio Quirino, Ramon Magsaysay, Carlos Garcia, Diosdado Macapagal, Cory Aquino and Fidel Ramos were not perfect,” that column added. “But they didn’t resort to perjury, let alone murder.”
Will flowing togas mask this enmity when senators file in to begin the ombudsman’s impeachment? The antagonism is complicated further since Gutierrez is perceived, rightly or wrongly, as fidei defensor for Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her consort Mike, the target of Lacson’s broadsides before he went AWOL.
These assaults ranged from the ZTE-NBN broadband scam, diversion of P270 millions of campaign contributions to private slush funds and “Jose Pidal’s” P260-million bank accounts. Like Erap’s “Jose Velarde,” “Jose Pidal” proved fictitious. But his mailing address was in the same Makati building occupied by the then first gentleman. His great-grandmother was Maria Pidal.
Now, Lacson will judge a constitutional office where Arroyo’s vital political interests are intertwined. The sensitivities were underscored in the uproar over a furtive 2 a.m. visit by GMA to Gutierrez’s Santa Ana home, after Congress voted 212 to 46 to impeach the Ombudsman.
“An overwhelming vote amounts to ‘censure,’ or ‘soft impeachment’,” former Sen. Rene Saguisag wrote in the San Beda Law Journal. That makes “trial and conviction superfluous.” An ombudsman loses moral authority “to be credible, acceptable, legit and effective,” he stressed in this 20-page article. “Resignation may be the patriotic option.”
Gutierrez refused to go quietly into the night. If presidents or ombudsmen cannot be virtuous, then the threat of impeachment should at least make them nervous.
Beyond scrutinizing togas, people today watch who displays the jitters. Fine. But what about justice for victims like Dacer and his driver?
* * *
Email: [email protected]
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.