The week began with a front-page story in the Inquirer reporting the result of the Supreme Court investigation concerning Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Gregory Ong. Tasked with the inquiry, retired Supreme Court justice Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez recommended Ong’s dismissal “for gross misconduct, dishonesty and impropriety.”
Ong had chaired the division that acquitted Janet Lim Napoles in 2010 on the corruption case involving a P3.8-million contract in 1998 to supply Kevlar helmets to the Marines. The case tested the strategy later used for the scam involving the Priority Development Assistance Fund: exploiting connections with decision-makers to win fraudulent contracts for dubious companies headed by relatives. But the key element in the Napoles strategy was networking beyond the extended family to gain access to public officials.
Persistent tugging at the threads of the Napoles-Benhur Luy relationship eventually caused the entire fabric of her smoke-and-mirrors enterprise to unravel. Napoles was exposed as an inclusive, equal-opportunity corruptor. She has managed to ensnare in her web officials from the executive branch, the House of Representatives, the Senate, local governments, and, with Ong, the judiciary.
“Ensnare” is not the right term. Those who collaborated in the projects were not injured, innocent victims; they were partners, who also feasted on the Napoles prey. They did their part, busily weaving strands that expanded and strengthened the web and helped to protect the Queen Spider. Her various scams could not have worked without official collusion.
Without the exposure of the PDAF scam, it is unlikely that the Supreme Court could have reopened the Kevlar case. Hopefully, the pork barrel scam serves as the heavy brick to finally break the back of the camel, which had for so long borne the burden of corruption. We are now witnessing government initiatives to identify and prosecute criminals in public office.
The same Inquirer issue that carried the Ong-Kevlar story also covered the case of Baguio Rep. Nicasio Aliping Jr., who pushed a road-building project through a protected watershed. The project destroyed grown trees and tree saplings, allegedly polluted a water source for the city, and endangered the stability of the Ibaloy burial caves.
Another story reported on the cases that Customs Commissioner John Philip Sevilla is launching against nearly a hundred agents. The cases involve suspected connivance with smugglers to misclassify and undervalue imported goods to avoid paying the correct taxes.
One retired employee tried to extort payment from a businessman for the release of his goods. The extortion target reported the attempt and helped an entrapment operation catch the criminal. Such citizen cooperation requires confidence that government will do the right thing.
We should be glad that the government is pursuing these cases and that the media are reporting on them. This will encourage the public to be more vigilant in exposing and combating corruption. Still, the narrative of how people to whom we have entrusted power to protect our interests have used it for so long to exploit and oppress us and to enrich themselves and their families triggers both depression and anger.
The flood of corruption cases brings to mind a wooden plaque I had seen fastened on the wall of a Buddhist temple in Yangon. It carried a warning to the faithful to beware the 10 “curses.” Along with plagues and natural calamities, the list included government as a curse on the people.
With corruption seemingly so pervasive and entrenched, it is tempting to interpret the Buddhist warning as a judgment of everyone in politics and government as equally corrupt. We know that this is not the case. Without honest officials in government, we would not now witness so many corruption cases coming to light. But this is what those who have been caught want the public to believe.
The more dirt they can smear on P-Noy and the administration officials who have brought them to justice, the easier to project their plight as the result merely of a change in the political weather—and themselves as victims of political persecution. We should now expect extreme efforts to equate the PDAF and the DAP (Disbursement Acceleration Program).
But we must distinguish between the offenses attributed to officials of the executive branch and the offenses that have led to plunder charges. We must ask which caused the country the greater harm: the way the funds were sourced or the way the funds were used. And let us also be clear that legislators who used the DAP the way the indicted senators used the PDAF—as an opportunity for kickback—must also be held accountable.
The theme of political persecution as a ploy to solicit sympathy also offers the guilty the comforting hope that they can expect deliverance, when fickle political winds once again blow their way.
Which prompts another thought to cause depression and anger. With the 2016 elections just around the corner, who can say they are delusional?
Edilberto C. de Jesus ([email protected]) is professor emeritus at the Asian Institute of Management.
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