Prove him wrong
Senator Jinggoy Estrada must be one disappointed man. Not only is he in the dock for plunder, charged with having misused a huge amount from his Priority Development Assistance Fund. And when he used the power of his position to deliver a privilege speech intended not only to defend himself but also to implicate certain of his other colleagues in the criminal enterprise he is accused of—“We’re all in this together” was his basic message—the public responded with a collective shrug. Worse, many took an even dimmer view of the senator for his belated revelations.
The much-ballyhooed “exposé” clarified nothing, least of all its author’s culpability in the pork barrel scandal. Estrada is accused of having diverted some P183.79 million of his PDAF to fictitious nongovernment organizations controlled by Janet Lim-Napoles. The whistle-blowers in this case, led by former Napoles factotum Benhur Luy, have testified that the NGOs were in effect used as laundering houses to funnel back the money to senators and congressmen, while Napoles kept a portion as commission. The covert kickback scheme had all the requisite paperwork from the pertinent government agencies—including, most crucially, the official endorsement of legislators like Estrada—but no project was ever built or implemented, not even a measly barangay hall or a neighborhood basketball court. The money vanished into the pockets of legislators and their purported principal enabler.
That is a heinous crime by any standard, but curiously, Estrada didn’t even deign to explain how his signature ended up in the PDAF endorsement letters, what he knew of the multimillion-peso transactions under his watch that the Commission on Audit has identified as irregular or dubious, or how he came to know of the bogus NGOs such that they were able to earn his coveted endorsement. He presented no exculpatory documents, no alternative narrative, no plausible explanation for his involvement in the scam. Instead, he delivered a non sequitur: None of his colleagues has the right to claim the moral high ground, he said—because, three months after they voted to impeach former Chief Justice Renato Corona, they all availed themselves of an extra P50 million to their PDAF, disbursed allegedly by Malacañang ally and now Senate President Franklin Drilon.
As defenses go, Estrada’s was an exceedingly lame one, and the public verdict was immediate and harsh. He was excoriated in the social media and the airwaves for his bald squid tactics. People made clear that they had no love lost for the other senators; the PDAF scandal was a vast web that conscripted many up and down the governmental food chain, and it was clear that guilt did not stop at Estrada or his coaccused senators, Juan Ponce Enrile and Ramon Revilla Jr. But they are the biggest fish so far among the 38 accused by the government of having misused their PDAF. The least Estrada could have done was explain himself well, not point fingers at others and proclaim that they are no less greedy.
Because that, in the end, was what his argument amounted to. He wasn’t guilty, not because his PDAF disbursements were all aboveboard, but because everyone else had dirty hands as well—a fact, as it happens, that the nation knows well by now, hence the collective shrug. If the institution to which he belongs is as rotten as he now admits it is (and he did accept his own extra P50 million), how is that necessarily a personal defense against the charge of plunder? Someone is not giving the senator the best advice in this case.
But he may have a point about the government’s selective prosecution—if the Department of Justice fails to follow through on its promise to roll out indictments against other persons as soon as the investigation results warrant it. Secretary Leila de Lima has mentioned that prosecution will be carried out in tranches, and that no one will be spared, friend or foe of the administration alike.
While the public is keen to see the likes of Estrada made to account for their handling of taxpayers’ money, it is as keen about not being taken for a ride by Malacañang by being used as a battering ram against its political opponents. Estrada’s shotgun attack, while clearly a diversionary tactic, should serve as a reminder to the DOJ to speed up the cases against other pork barrel miscreants—especially those allied with the administration.
Estrada is crying “selective justice.” We’re waiting for the government to prove him wrong on that one.
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