The past few weeks have sadly again confirmed that in this country, corruption pays. The announcement of the Commission on Elections that it could no longer go after former commissioner Virgilio Garcillano and a number of other Comelec officials for possible violations of the Election Code in connection with the alleged rigging of the 2004 presidential election results in Mindanao was very disheartening. It’s as if the infamous “Hello Garci” conversation that almost toppled the Arroyo administration never happened; the fraud perpetrators will go unpunished, and the people who obstructed justice by coming up with their own version of the tape were amply rewarded.
As if this were not enough, just a few days earlier the Office of the Ombudsman announced that former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had no culpability in the fertilizer scam where P728 million in government funds were diverted to mainly administration officials a few weeks before the 2004 presidential election. The Ombudsman said the complainant had failed to provide authenticated documents that would directly link Arroyo to the fraudulent disbursements. In addition, based on a previous circular, the Office of the Ombudsman is precluded from conducting its own evidence-gathering to support the complaint, and thus had to rely solely on the filings of the complainant. This is very bothersome because the vast powers of the Ombudsman to ferret out and prove the truth were not used.
The dropping of charges against Arroyo simply goes against logic and common sense. Why would Luis Lorenzo and Jocelyn Bolante, then agriculture secretary and undersecretary, respectively, authorize the release of the funds unless they were ordered by the then president herself? Also, there must be other ways of ferreting out the truth for justice to be served and the guilty to be punished. For one, the Ombudsman could have speedily filed the plunder charges against Lorenzo and Bolante where the evidence is very strong, and had them incarcerated in ordinary jails and not accorded the special treatment now enjoyed by Janet Napoles. Once these two are behind bars and sleeping on plywood or concrete floors together with ordinary criminals, one or both of them would most likely offer to provide the testimonial evidence necessary to link the former president to the scam.
Sadly, the “Napolists” (or numerous versions of the Napoles list of government officials involved in the pork barrel scam) bring back memories of former officials of the Arroyo administration presenting their own versions of the “Hello Garci” tape—with the end in view of discrediting or casting doubt on the authenticity of the real tape. These Napolists appear to be intended to cast doubt on the testimony of witnesses and the original list itself, making them inadmissible in court! Granting Napoles immunity, as talks have it, will not serve justice. Aren’t the testimonies and documentary proof provided by Benhur Luy, Ruby Tuason and other whistle-blowers not enough? Would Napoles legally qualify as a state’s witness considering that she allegedly orchestrated the pork barrel scam and was also a supposed key perpetrator in the Malampaya Fund scam, which would make her not the least guilty?
These developments are not doing the P-Noy administration any good, and are harming his own anticorruption platform which was a key reason for his being elected. He has barely two years left in office, not counting the lame-duck months leading to the 2016 presidential election, to leave a positive mark that would define his six-year administration. He needs to act fast in order to leave behind a legacy that would transform the Philippines into the country dreamed of by his father, Benigno Aquino Jr., and his mother, former president Corazon Aquino.
The misappropriated billion-peso pork barrel funds could have been used to provide our marginalized fellow citizens with access to badly needed social services, good public schools and education, and infrastructure to fuel economic activity, which in turn would have created jobs. The theft of taxpayer money is thus a crime committed against the Filipino people and the Philippines. The perpetrators should be meted punishment commensurate to the crime.
And the snail’s pace of the justice system, under which many years and even decades have to pass for the final court decisions to be reached, needs drastic correction. The needed laws and rules that would ensure the speedy resolution of cases are in place, but need to be strictly implemented for justice to be served promptly. It would take direct marching orders from the President and the Supreme Court for these cases to be resolved with dispatch. Within the next six months, the Filipino people should see the incarceration (in regular jails), trial and conviction of at least 40 of the sitting lawmakers, as well as other administration and opposition officials, involved in the pork barrel and Malampaya Fund scams. This should apply as well to other former top officials involved in tax evasion, the fertilizer fund scam, and other infamous corruption cases.
This is the legacy by which we the Filipino people would want to remember President Aquino and his parents.
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