Grave matters | Inquirer Opinion
There’s the Rub

Grave matters

/ 09:16 PM October 27, 2013

Late last week, the Shandong Provincial Higher People’s Court upheld a lower court decision giving Bo Xilai life imprisonment for corruption and various other crimes. Bo was a high-ranking politician, a member of the Chinese Politburo, who looked headed to the very top.

Arguably, his conviction was also the result of politics. The party boss of the city of Chongqing, Bo had shot to nationwide fame by leading a Mao-type campaign calling for marches against social inequality and corruption in government. Which proved unsettling to a government that had arisen under more moderate times and would not abide a return to a radical past.


But even more arguably, Bo’s crimes were patent. He was found guilty not just of embezzlement and bribery but of abuse of power. As party boss of Chongqing, he had terrorized the place, jailing people he accused of carrying out mafia-type activities, but who in fact were prominent businessmen whose properties he lusted after and went on to confiscate. “He controlled the police, prosecutors and courts,” said a lawyer whom he jailed too for defending an accused in court.

Bo’s wife was also found to have murdered a British businessman, and was jailed.


It’s yet another example of how our neighbors punish wrongdoing and/or deal with criminals. Which is severely. It’s all of a piece with the way Korea and Japan jail even former prime ministers when they find them guilty of corruption and related crimes.

It’s a good thing to look at, gaze at, and marvel at as we embark on the hearing of Janet Lim-Napoles and its implications for three senators and several congressmen. Hell, it’s a good thing to look at, gaze at, marvel at as we look back at the Maguindanao massacre and see how little it has progressed since the Ampatuans’ arrest. What the Ampatuans did—how hard can it be to determine guilt or culpability in a barbaric act wreaked in broad daylight in front of a horde of witnesses?—makes Bo’s terrorism look like a temper tantrum.

Of course we’ve also managed to jail a former president, who was Erap, but that had token more than anything else written all over it. The public never really felt a sense of closure, or satisfaction, over it, the galling thing being that it was Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who saw it through.

Certainly, it carried no sense of opprobrium, no sense of shaming, no sense of turning the jailed into a pariah, which is the fate that befalls the convicted in other countries. Erap in any case lived in fairly commodious surroundings, enjoying the luxury of having the mountain come to Mohammad rather than Mohammad having to go to the mountain. You need further proof of it, look only at the fact that

Erap nearly became president again and has completely become mayor of Manila.

The challenge of jailing big fish where they are found guilty—and the way evidence stacks up in this country, that’s often just a question of will than of wit—remains today. Never mind Napoles, she may be big fish in the amount of money she stole, assuming she had no partner or  kabakas  there, but she is just small-fry in her significance. Jailing her will just take on the aspect of us finding a scapegoat. The real question is: Will we be able to jail Jinggoy Estrada, Bong Revilla, and Juan Ponce Enrile?

As it is, the three are already complaining about Leila de Lima calling for their passports to be revoked. It’s a violation of his rights, Revilla fulminates, he hasn’t even been charged yet, let alone found guilty. Well, there’s such a thing as probable cause: Napoles hasn’t been charged yet too, let alone found guilty, but she has been detained on probable cause, she has had her freedom of movement curtailed on ground of her


being a flight risk. The senators have not been arrested, which they really should have been.

Of course, fair is fair. We do not want to go back to the repressive ways of martial law when you could be arrested and detained indefinitely without charges and without trial, however it is tempting to give Enrile, albeit late in life, a taste of the ordeal he gave a lot of political prisoners. But being fair is not being blind, being just is not being inept, being impartial is not being impervious to fact. The Commission on Audit reports are there, the witnesses are there, the paper trail is there. What more do you need—the confession of the senators themselves that they took the money and ran?

What has laid low the P-Noy government’s moral ascendancy over the last few months aren’t just things like the P50 million for the senators who voted against Renato Corona, the Disbursement Acceleration Program, and P-Noy’s insistence on retaining pork in another guise. It is also, and far more so, his government’s perceived powerlessness in running after crooks. Where’s the sense in exposing them if you’re not going to punish them, if you’re not going to make them return their loot? What’s this: It’s enough that they’ve been ferreted out? It’s enough that they have become the subject of text jokes?

Look at China, Korea and Japan, and wonder no more about why their system works. It has nothing to do with communism, it has nothing to do with state capitalism, it has nothing to do with authoritarianism. It has everything to do with a sense of justice, with a sense of right and wrong, with a sense of crime and punishment.

Now is the best time to draw the line, to give the country a reason to say “Never again!” When the country has gotten roused, amid the spectacle of teeming poverty, amid the panorama of crushing want, to the atrocity of corruption, to the monstrosity of wanton pillage. Corruption is a grave matter, pillage is a grave matter, stealing from a hungry child is a grave matter. And not just of the stuff that makes for Halloween.

Grave matters have grave consequences.

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