At this writing, plunder charges had just been filed in the Sandiganbayan against Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr., Janet Lim-Napoles, Gigi Reyes, and four others. It had seemed an interminable wait but in a triple whammy, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales’ joint orders issued last Wednesday not only clarified crucial questions of culpability in the pork barrel scam but also cleared the way for the prosecution of the first batch of respondents.
With the controversy involving the Priority Development Assistance Fund dragging on for months and becoming mired in the noise and fog of one dilatory maneuver after another by various quarters, Morales had also come under scrutiny for seemingly taking her sweet time in filing charges against the three senators first implicated in the scam. The perceived delay gave shadowy parties ample space and opportunity to push back with black schemes, such as sundry “lists” materializing from everywhere, with obvious intent to confuse the public and tar everyone within spitting distance of the PDAF-Napoles web as equally guilty.
The Ombudsman’s June 4 orders go a long way toward hacking through the thicket of misinformation and lies that has sprung up around the scam. First, she denied Napoles’ motion for immunity—a no-brainer, given the businesswoman’s apparently central role in, and extensive, first-hand knowledge of, the elaborate mechanism set up to plunder public funds. Napoles had claimed that she was merely “the victim of a wrong system in society that I thought was normal and legal because this became the practice for a long time.”
But Morales did not buy it: “Napoles appears to be among the most guilty of all respondents in these cases,” she noted in her order. And so Napoles will be made to account for her actions, and those of her coconspirators, with the full brunt of the law bearing down on her. That is about right.
Morales also denied the applications of three government officials implicated in the scam—Rhodora Mendoza and Victor Roman Cacal of the National Agribusiness Corp., and Dennis Cunanan, head of the Technology Resource Center—to become state’s witnesses and thereby be immune from suit.
But she granted state’s witness status to whistle-blowers Benhur Luy, Merlina Suñas, Mary Arlene Baltazar, Gertrudes Luy, Marina Sula and Simonette Briones—all former employees of Napoles who handled her voluminous records of transactions with the high and mighty in government, as well as the unctuous bureaucrats up and down the line who were needed to speed up the paperwork for the funds’ release.
The state’s principal reliance now on the eyewitness testimony of Luy et al. is, we think, justified. Among the conflicting versions of the PDAF controversy offered so far to the public, Luy’s side of the story is the one that has held up the most under investigation and close scrutiny. His records of Napoles’ transactions have largely tallied with pertinent government records, and his recall of crucial details appears to be more authoritative and exhaustive than those offered by confessed bagwoman Ruby
Tuason, who has been similarly granted immunity despite glaring lapses in her testimony, or even Napoles herself in her so-called hospital confession to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.
Morales’ third order was no less consequential. She rejected the motions for reconsideration filed by Enrile, Estrada and Revilla to stop their indictment, paving the way for the filing of plunder charges against them in the Sandiganbayan. Once the anti-graft court finds sufficient basis to issue arrest warrants for the non-bailable crime of plunder, the nation will be in for a historic moment: the spectacle of three incumbent senators being marched off to jail for corruption.
A historic moment, yes, but certainly not enough to slay the hydra-headed monster of governmental rot and sleaze. After all, arresting and detaining the three senators make up only the formal start of the quest to exact justice and accountability for the plunder of taxpayer money. The pork barrel scam was a P10-billion operation that involved hundreds, perhaps thousands, of individuals.
But it is a good start, if only because of the rarity of the law ever touching the powerful and influential in this country. It sends the desired signal, it revives the flagging hope, that the public may see the beginning of the end of mendacity and thievery in government.
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