The curious case of Zaldy Ampatuan
THE ARRAIGNMENT yesterday (Thursday) of the accused in the Maguindanao massacre was tense because of a reported plot to disrupt the hearings. Two of the prominent defendants are the Ampatuan patriarch, Andal Ampatuan Sr., and his son, ARMM Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan. Zaldy has a motion for reconsideration still pending and unresolved in the Court of Appeals, which makes his case problematic.
Zaldy is among the original defendants belonging to the Ampatuan clan. His defense is that he was not in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao, but in Davao, when the supposed plot was hatched among the members of the clan and during the massacre itself. He presented documentary evidence to that affect.
Then Justice Secretary Alberto Agra removed Zaldy from the list of defendants for alleged lack of evidence. But when a public uproar erupted, Agra put him back as a defendant, allegedly “due to recently discovered evidence.”
The rule and the usual practice regarding “newly-discovered evidence” is to conduct another preliminary investigation, but no such thing was done in the case of Zaldy, which is why he has a pending motion for reconsideration. With his arraignment, does this issue become moot or will it give Zaldy an excuse to go to the Supreme Court on a technicality: that his right to a preliminary investigation has been violated and that he was denied due process? Considering the slowness of the tribunal in resolving cases elevated to it, that would mean Zaldy’s case would be in limbo until the justices make up their mind.
Relatives of the victims now fear that this may be made an excuse to totally exonerate Zaldy because it appears on the surface that he was indeed deprived of due process. The relatives understandably fear that Zaldy may be exonerated.
Under ordinary circumstances, however, the Court of Appeals will not just dismiss a case of this magnitude. Even if it finds that the DOJ indeed abused its discretion, this does not mean automatic exoneration. The court can simply order state prosecutors to conduct another preliminary investigation on the new evidence.
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We received a letter from Sen. Franklin Drilon commenting on a previous column expressing impatience over the sluggish implementation of the administration’s anti-corruption campaign.
“Allow me to update you on the efforts undertaken by this government,” Drilon said, “particularly in the area of curbing abuses of officials assigned to government-owned or controlled corporations (GOCCs).
“In your column, you wrote: ‘The excessive bonuses and allowances of officials and board members of government corporations were exposed and suspended by P-Noy but it is taking a very long time for the new rules on their pay to be issued. The suspension is almost over and with no new rules, it means that the abusive pay scales would go back to what they were.’
“You will be glad to know that the Senate last week approved the proposed GOCC Governance Act of 2011 that I authored precisely to reform the operations of GOCCs and stop the grant of excessive salaries and allowances of GOCC officials that was prevalent during the Arroyo administration.
“I believe this bill, once enacted into law, will provide a permanent solution to the corruption problem in the government corporate sector. It also aims to improve the governance of GOCCs and to exact from them efficient and effective public service. A similar measure is in the works in the House of Representatives.
“Meanwhile, please note that President Aquino issued Executive Order 24 on February 10 setting limits to the salaries and allowances of GOCC officials. This EO, which remains in effect today, provides that compensation of GOCC officials should be ‘just and equitable in accordance with the principle of equal pay for work of equal value.’
“With these measures in place, I assure that ‘happy days are not back’ for GOCC officials who are in only for fat envelopes and not for efficient public service.”’
My comments: But how much is “just and equitable pay for work of equal value”? What may be “just and equitable” to GOCC officials may not be just and equitable to ordinary Filipinos who pay the taxes that subsidize the losing GOCCs. Public officials always have too much regard for themselves.
That principle is supposed to attract the bright boys from the private sector to join the government and use their expertise to run the GOCCs efficiently. But what the GOCCs have attracted, and presidents have appointed, are greedy fortune hunters, political hacks, camp followers, protégés of politicians, relatives of politicians, shooting partners, classmates, friend and cronies. Who are the bright boys from the private sector now working in the GOCCs?
The highest paid GOCC official is Armand Arreza of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority. Who is he? What are his qualifications? He is a protégé of an Olongapo politician. What has he done for the SBMA? It is still a losing proposition. Under him, the SBMA has become a vehicle and drug smuggling center.
Even Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima is not such a hotshot from the private sector. To increase government finances, he knows only how to increase taxes. Although the government is already taking too much from the Value Added Tax (VAT), especially from petroleum products, he does not want to reduce it to give the taxpayers some relief.
And what about the bonuses (MWSS officials have bonuses almost every week, at the same time that it cannot provide enough water for the people) and rewards that GOCC officials receive from private companies for investing their corporations’ money in those companies (such as what the SSS chair got from Union Bank)? They belong not to them but to the people. Such abuses have to stop.
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