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There’s the Rub

It can be done

About time somebody did something about it.

Four petitioners led by Greco Belgica have just asked the Supreme Court to compel the Commission on Audit to issue “notices of disallowance” to the lawmakers responsible for the pork barrel scam. The notices would order them to refund the amount disallowed. “Given the scope of the audit, we expect to see thousands and thousands of notices of disallowance,” said Belgica. “This year alone, we estimate P6 billion worth of them.”

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From the other end, Levito Baligod is building a case against Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her son, Dato, for money illegally funneled to seven nongovernment organizations run by their supporters. The money amounted to P391 million and was part of more than P1.2 billion from the President’s Social Fund (PSF) transferred without accounting to various beneficiaries.

“There are funds other than [the Priority Development Assistance Fund] that were malversed,” said Baligod. “Funds intended for our farmers and fisherfolk were interdicted to benefit corrupt officials. Even the [PSF] was not spared.”

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This has been the missing link in the campaign against pork in particular and corruption in general. We have been strident in demanding that Janet Napoles and the lawmakers who took part in her scam be ferreted out, indicted, and jailed. We have not been as strident in demanding that the loot they carted off—P10 billion over 10 years is the general reckoning—be gotten back.

It’s astonishing, particularly in light of our desperate need for means to fund our most desperate needs. Chief of them is education, and chief of that is alleviating the plight of public school teachers. ACT estimates that to raise the public high school teachers’ salaries to P25,000—it’s currently a little more than P15,000, which is sweatshop pay—all that’s needed is P3 billion a year. Just recover the P6 billion from the wayward lawmakers by way of issuing COA disallowances, and you can cover all of it with half of that.

It’s astonishing, our lack of fury about the looters being able to get away with their loot, or indeed our willingness to let the looters get away with their loot, even if they themselves do not get to do so. It’s as if we find it punishment enough that they are booted out of public office—or, as in the case of Marcos and his cronies, out of the country itself, if all too briefly—that they are indicted, that they are jailed. Though in the case of Erap as well, all too briefly even after he was convicted by the courts. It’s as if we find it punishment enough that they are brought low not just by justice but by disease, like Marcos wasting away from lupus in Hawaii, and like Gloria emaciated by whatever it is that emaciates her at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center.

We feel no compelling need to get back what they took from us. We find it the easiest thing to accept an explanation like the one Napoles gave a couple of weeks ago, that she has lost pretty nearly all her money, if at all she had it to begin with. That she can barely pay for her expenses, let alone give unto government anything remotely resembling P10 billion.

You hear something like that and you go, or ought to: “Really? Then seize her properties to the last BMW owned by her children until you see a shadow of P10 billion.” The same applies to Senators Enrile, Estrada, and Revilla and all the others who would be proven to have taken part in the pork scam. The same applies to all the others, lawmakers or lawbreakers, also called Customs officials, who would be proven to have stolen in ways other than pork. Indeed, the same applies to Marcos and his cronies and Gloria and her cronies who continue to taste the fruits of their poisoned tree without suffering any appreciable ill effects.

The Bureau of Internal Revenue, as Manny Pacquiao found out to his consternation after his euphoric victory over Brandon Rios, is empowered to freeze assets and/or seize property when you do not pay your taxes. The principle is simple: You owe, you pay. And that is over unpaid taxes, which may or may not be due, the due-ness of it in Pacquiao’s case Mommy Dionisia hotly disputed, saying her son earned his money quite literally by the sweat of his brow and not stole it quite literally by the sleight of his hand.

So why can’t we freeze the assets and/or seize the property of crooks? The principle is even simpler, and more obdurate: You steal, you pay. With your loot, and whatever else arises from it—they are the fruits of the poisoned tree—quite apart from your freedom. The best way to get back at a crook is through his pockets. That is the part of his body he values most, having no heart.

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Astonishingly, there’s a huge disconnect between ordinary life and national life, between life as we know it and life as we don’t know it. In ordinary life, somebody lifts our wallet, snatches our cell phone, or grabs our handbag, we make it a point to get back that prized possession, not particularly minding that the culprit is beaten black and blue when he is cornered in the street or thrown in jail. In national life, ah, we say, but what they stole is not really our possessions, prized or not, it is theirs, whoever “they” are. In in any case, it’s hopeless, it can’t be done.

Well, the Ombudsman has just shown that what can’t be done can be done. The Ombudsman has just shown that what’s unthinkable is thinkable. It has indicted Enrile, Estrada and Revilla. It has paved the way for jailing Enrile, Estrada and Revilla.

I’m glad Belgica, Baligod and others have done what they have done. It’s a beginning, but the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. The recovery of a billion pesos begins with the first centavo. It can be done.

And what can be done will be done.

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TAGS: Commssion on Audit, Conrado de Quiros, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Greco Belgica, Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, Juan Ponce Enrile, Levito Baligod, opinion, Rsmon “Bong” Revilla Jr., Supreme Court, There’s the Rub
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