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There’s the Rub

Still, getting back

/ 10:10 PM September 25, 2013

The loot is bigger than the P900 million released through the Department of Agrarian Reform to Janet Napoles’ NGOs from 2004 to 2010. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. According to the Commission on Audit, no less than P23.6 billion from the Malampaya Fund was “haphazardly” disbursed by the Department of Budget and Management to the Arroyo administration. Some 60 percent of that was used up in the last few months of that government as its officials tried to make hay while the sun still shone. There was practically no accounting.

The “irregularities” included: cash allocations exceeding official allotments by close to P4 billion; several checks totaling P271.798 million released to unidentified people without authorization papers; no accountability in the release of P2.609 billion to local governments; recipients not obliged to report their use of the funds; and the DBM did not give disbursement vouchers to the audit. In one case, in 2010, the DBM gave P7.07 billion from the Malampaya Fund to the Department of Public Works and Highways though the identified projects had nothing to do with energy.

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All this is a good reminder of a couple of things. One is that much of the thievery that pork represents happened during Arroyo’s time. Which is really obvious though that tends to be forgotten: Napoles operated her P10-billion scam over a period of 10 years. That means a great deal of it happened during Arroyo’s time, at the heart of the culture of impunity. It is a facet of that culture of impunity. That culture had to do not just with the ease with which people could murder other people, it had to do with the ease with which people, notably public officials, could steal.

Two is the astounding scale of its pillage, which made the Arroyo regime the most venal and larcenous after Marcos. The sums are almost unreal in their proportions, like play money, enough to allow it to go past the public radar, which it actually did for a long time. It’s only now we are beginning to appreciate the viciousness of it, in the corresponding scale of want and misery it spawned. It’s only now we’re beginning to grasp the reality of it, and get furious about it. Twenty-three billion pesos almost makes Napoles’ P10 billion penny-ante given particularly that much of it disappeared like a rabbit in a magician’s hat but a few months to compared to Napoles’ 10 years.

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Which brings us to the question: What to do about this?

I’m glad we’ve gotten round to prosecuting not just Napoles but the legislators that took part in the scam, some of them aggressively. It’s a robust sign of political will, the current government showing a willingness and determination to push through with it. Though thankfully, P-Noy was in Mindanao over the last couple of weeks, dug in in the trenches, preventing the accused senators and congressmen or their intercessors from making a beeline to Malacañang to plead their cases. Many of them were allies in the impeachment of Renato Corona.

This is far more important than the trial and conviction of Erap, which smacked of politicking, thereby leaving no deep or lasting impressions. Or producing any ripples over space or time. Given particularly a roused and vigilant public, the Ombudsman’s work has that awesome potential today.

But there is one thing we ought to be doing as well but are not. Which is really the astonishing thing: It’s the one thing that’s right there before us but cannot see.

That is to move to recover, retrieve, get back what has been stolen from us.

Jailing them will of course go a long way toward giving order to our universe, toward giving justice to the aggrieved. But nothing punishes crooks more than hitting them right where it hurts, which is in their greed, which is their venality, which is in their katakawan. Nothing punishes them more than getting back what they stole. Nothing punishes them more than making them give back to us what they took from us.

That has always been the missing link in our anticorruption campaigns: recovering the wealth and giving it back to us, those two not necessarily being one and the same. Recovering the wealth is hard enough, never mind recovering the wealth for us. That has never really happened, notwithstanding the creation of the Presidential Commission on Good Government after martial law. Though the PCGG did manage to recover some loot, it never got the bulk of it. The loot remained with the Marcoses and their cronies, giving us the sensation, each time Bongbong Marcos talks of becoming president, of being fried in our own fat.

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Today, the PCGG has reached a pass where it’s seeking its own dissolution on the ground that it can do no more. When in fact it’s needed now more than ever, not just to continue hounding the Marcoses and their cronies but to begin hounding Arroyo and her cronies. Indeed to begin hounding as well the perpetrators of pork and other scams. Why should we want to recover only the ill-gotten wealth of the past and not the present? Yet that is the one thing we cannot propose as a national priority. Hell, that is the one thing we cannot even see as a need.

It’s the strangest thing in the world, our lack of any compelling need to get the loot back. Or our lack of capacity to see that it is as naturally linked to ferreting out corruption as getting paid is to getting a job. I’ve always said that fighting corruption won’t get anywhere until we ourselves get to grasp the concept of taxpayers’ money, that what is taken from us in VAT every time we watch a movie or buy mami is our money. Well, nothing drives home that point more than recovering the loot our crooks in barong Tagalogs and butterfly dresses stole from us. It’s not Congress’, government’s, or our public officials’ money. It is ours.

It’s time we got it back.

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TAGS: Commission on Audit, department of agrarian reform, Janet Napoles, Malampaya Fund
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