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There’s the Rub

About time

It made my day the other day.

That was our story about the Philippine National Police ready to welcome impending additions to its prison complex in Camp Crame after finishing the renovation of its new bungalow for detainees. I still retain a pretty good idea of how it looked from visiting some of its inmates there in times past. I’m not likely to be visiting the new ones. They include Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla.

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A police official said the place was being readied specifically for them. The Ombudsman is expected to soon send to the Sandiganbayan the plunder case against them in connection with the Janet Napoles scam, and the order for their arrest should come shortly.

Well, it gives a sense of direction to what’s been happening these past months. It gives some solidity to something that has seemed unreal and remote these past months. The thought that the three could actually see the inside of a prison, never mind the conditions of confinement, is something to look forward to. Should it happen, and it’s never over until the fat lady sings—even if Napoles no longer literally qualifies as so (she has lost a great deal of weight from her own confinement)—I’ll light votive candles in Quiapo Church.

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Indeed, should it happen, it will be as rich in poetic justice as in plain justice, if not more so.

For Enrile in particular. It was in neighboring Camp Aguinaldo, if not in Crame itself, that Enrile administered martial law, in which capacity he oversaw the detention of a great many political activists of the time. It was in neighboring Aguinaldo, if not in Crame itself, that he managed to make people forget that role, holing up there 14 years later along with a handful of military rebels after Marcos uncovered their coup plot against him. And emerging an accidental hero after being a deliberate heel for so long.

It truly would be a storyline written in heaven if he should end up in Crame, if not in neighboring Aguinaldo, in his twilight years, to ponder a long and not very glorious life. He should have waited for the final chapter before writing his memoirs a couple of years ago.

Not quite incidentally, to add to the poetic justice of it, he will have the company of the Tiamzons, Benito and Wilma, to drive home the contrast between being incarcerated for principle and the lack of it.

As to Estrada and Revilla, they can always remind us that they and their fathers did their bit to glorify hoodlums in movies. Life imitates art, such as those movies might be called art.

Arguably, over the past few months, the number of those implicated in the Napoles scam has grown, as have the lists themselves. Enough for people like Ping Lacson to wonder if the Senate itself might not collapse from the sheer plenitude of senators, past and present, who figure in them. Indeed, enough for you to wonder, particularly when you’re abroad and are able to look at events here with the objectivity of distance, if corruption isn’t so ingrained in public office, or our concept and practice of it, if it will ever go away.

The other people who have been named in the scam, as well as in related scams like the routine acquisition of fabulous commissions, make the supposed kickbacks of Enrile, Estrada, and Revilla look like loose change. Zenaida Ducut, for one, stands accused of making off with P40 million over the last decade as broker for the congressmen with Napoles; it is doubly cringe-worthy because she remains in office. Rolando Andaya, for another, stands accused of making off with an even more mind-boggling P255 million in commissions from agrarian reform projects.

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Which raises the question: Won’t the jailing of Enrile, Estrada and Revilla be selective justice?

Not at all.

To begin with, the fact that we now have a plethora of accused does not make them generally innocent, as that proposition “everyone does it anyway” suggests, it makes them universally guilty. Nor does it not lighten their individual guilt. It makes it weigh even more, each one of them contributing to the savaging of this country’s poor and hungry.

We won’t have enough jails to accommodate all of them? Why ever not? Forget renovating existing ones, just expand them, and if that isn’t enough, build more. And feed the jailed the kind of leavings to which they have condemned the ragged masses of this country, the better to improve their appreciation of misspent lives.

But we have to begin somewhere, and like eating places that tend to attract a horde, we can do with a policy of “first come, first served.” The three senators were the first ones to be named as coconspirators in the Napoles scam. The three senators were the first to be weighed and found wanting. The three senators were the first to be charged.

The three senators should be the first to be jailed.

The tack has the merit of two things. Not least is that it makes it all the easier to go after the others. Justice in this country has never been a matter of wit, it has always been a matter of will. It has never been lack of evidence, it has always been a refusal to see it. Putting the three behind bars shouldn’t just improve the prosecutors’ energies, it should improve their eyesight.

More than that, it gives direction to what’s been happening these past months, it gives purpose to what we’ve been doing these past months. There will be no end to the charges, there will be no end to those charged. We already have three lists that are spawning more lists by way of refined or revised versions of those lists. We need to start somewhere by way of sanctions, by way of punishment. The time of Ducut will come, the time of Andaya will come, the time of the others will come, and with the three senators safely behind bars, not very far behind.

But first Enrile, Estrada, Revilla: Their time is now.

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TAGS: Bong Revilla, Janet Lim-Napoles, Janet Napoles, Jinggoy Estrada, Juan Ponce Enrile, ombudsman, Philippine National Police, pork barrel scam, pork scam
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