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Editorial

Calculated chaos

/ 12:12 AM May 16, 2014

Instead of infusing clarity, the proliferation of lists naming senators and representatives allegedly involved in the pork barrel scam has wrought confusion—and confusion of a particularly debilitating kind. The deliberate objective was to confuse the issue and to fudge the line between the legal and the illegal, between good and evil. The intention, in short, was to sow a moral confusion, the kind that makes corruption the norm (“everyone does it”) and gets plunderers off the hook (“why single us out?”).

Let us be clear: Those determined to have lined their own pockets with allocations from the Priority Development Assistance Fund or the Malampaya Fund, or both, should be brought to justice: suspended, tried, convicted, barred from political office for all time. But the lists are only a possible indicator of corruption, not outright proof; they cannot be the sole basis of any finding of probable cause.

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When the Inquirer broke the story on the pork barrel scam last July, the allegations of the whistle-blowers led by Benhur Luy were both vetted by editors and backed by documentary support. The first politicians identified as having personally benefited from the scam allegedly masterminded by Janet Lim Napoles were named only on the fourth day of the series. In other words, the story wasn’t based on a mere list.

What, after all, is the value of a simple list? Ex-senator and rehabilitation czar Panfilo Lacson, who indulged a craving for distraction from his frustrating post-“Yolanda” work by offering a version of the so-called Napoles list, inadvertently showed the limitations of evidence-free listings. He told reporters that his political enemy

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Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago was on the list, but in fact Santiago was not in his own version of the list but in someone else’s. That raises not only a basic question (why are there different lists?) but also a profound one (who gets to interpret the truth of the lists?). Lacson self-evidently thought his own version was true, except for the inconvenient detail about leaving out Santiago altogether.

To be sure, Santiago is included on a new list, one that has been culled from Luy’s own digital record. Does this mean she was in fact party to the scam? Not necessarily—but, unfortunately for her, she now has to prove that the details of the budgetary documents found in Luy’s “file” on her are mistaken or that the transactions she helped fund were all aboveboard. It is a task more difficult than those that face other lawmakers recorded in Luy’s digital hard drive as without any paper trail at all, but not insurmountable.

Contrary to Santiago’s most recent statement, Luy (as corroborated by other whistle-blowers and whose testimony is supported by reams of documentation) remains the best source of information on the pork barrel scam. Best does not mean ideal. But Luy’s testimony is the most credible precisely because it is imperfect; it contradicts itself in some parts, and therefore could not have been merely scripted.

Take his response to Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano’s direct question at a Senate blue ribbon committee hearing, for example. Asked if there were senators present at the hearing who were also implicated in the scam, aside from those already named and who had inhibited themselves from the committee inquiry, he gave a categorical answer: No.

How does this simple answer square with the data in his files? Was the record-keeping sometimes done from memory (which may explain the lack of a paper trail in some instances)? Was it done by dictation?

As we urged in this space last Monday, it is time to call Luy back before the blue ribbon committee. He can help make sense of the documents he himself kept.

But Justice Secretary Leila de Lima must also expedite the vetting of Napoles’ hospital-bed statements, and her department’s investigation into Luy’s digital files.

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Not least, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales must take the necessary next step; now that she has signed off on three special resolutions in the plunder and graft charges, she must file the appropriate case before the Sandiganbayan.

All these steps have a moral dimension: They can help bring clarity to the issue, remind us that there is a real difference between rumor and proof—and restore our sense of right and wrong.

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TAGS: Alan Peter Cayetano, Benhur Luy, Malampaya Fund, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, PDAF, pork barrel scam, pork scam, Priority Development Assistance Fund, Sandiganbayan
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