Technically, it is of course hearsay. Benhur Luy did not personally witness Bong Revilla, or his bagman, Richard Cambe, receive his “rebates”—what a gloriously shady
euphemism—from Janet Napoles. He only had Napoles’ word for it. But quite apart from why Napoles would lie about it—she was free as a bird then and Luy was her bookkeeper—there were other pieces of evidence. Among them the hard drive he submitted to the Sandiganbayan the other day to block Revilla’s bid for bail. On the whole, Revilla’s case is a leaking roof which he would be hard put to, well, panday.
I leave the case to the lawyers and the Sandiganbayan. I mention it only to highlight what’s happened after the State of the Nation Address. Which is that after P-Noy’s judicious avoidance of a confrontation on the Disbursement Acceleration Program, indeed his virtual nonmention of it at all, and insistence instead on going back to basics, he has swung things around to what they were before he got waylaid by the distraction. Chief of them is bringing back public attention, or discourse, on the senators who have been jailed for their part in Napoles’ racket. That was where we left off early last month.
I don’t know how well or deeply we’ve really appreciated the impact of that event. The criticisms that have been hurled against the P-Noy administration notwithstanding, principally that it practices selective justice or double standards, the indictment and jailing of the three senators are near-universally held by the public to be just and welcome. In any case, the criticisms against the administration have to do only with legal infractions, real or imagined, not with corruption. The beef against the three has to do with corruption, and most Filipinos at least do not doubt its reality.
Its impact has already been felt in terms of public officials, notably members of Congress, taking care to clean up their act, or clean up their past, whichever is the more urgent, particularly in light of the list of potential “prosecutables” growing longer. Lito Lapid is but the latest casualty of the Commission on Audit’s dogged effort to ferret out the sins of the past, having been charged by the Ombudsman with diverting P5 million of his “fertilizer fund” in 2004 to the presidential campaign of his kababayan, Gloria Arroyo.
The picture of him that appeared in our pages along with his protestations of innocence says it all. That is the face of worry. That is the face of fear. That is the face of the damned.
The jailing of the three senators has given impetus to government’s anticorruption drive and has produced a chilling effect on public officials, notably the lawmakers who had until late last year flown under the radar with their then perfectly legal pork barrel in the form of Priority Development Assistance Fund, making them a little more scrupulous about their use of taxpayer money. It hasn’t removed the corruption, Customs remains hugely prone to it, the sums involved being huge, but it has made them hugely careful. Being hugely careful does tend to reduce corruption. At least it tends to discourage a regard for taxpayer money as fair game, or as the people’s tribute or balato to government officials they can do with it as they pretty much please. Which was the case before the three senators were dragged before the Ombudsman.
Some chilling effects are better than others. Certainly this is one chilling effect this country would not want to thaw.
The question however is how deeply this change has taken root. Or more to the point, the question is how long this change will last. Some questions are more chilling than others.
Last week’s Sona drove home that question forcefully. Specifically in the form of what happens after P-Noy’s term ends. That is just two years away.
That is just two years away, and we’re still looking pretty much at a vacuum. P-Noy himself drew attention to it when he spoke of the need for the country to put in place someone who can pursue a commitment to tapat na panunungkulan, to dedicated public service, without naming who that someone is. It couldn’t have helped that while omitting to mention Mar Roxas, he remembered to mention in his extemporaneous remarks at the end Jojo Binay in a rather flattering light, a comrade-in-arms from way back when he got a second lease on life. Thankfully—for Roxas—the cameras did not pan on to him to get a reaction shot when P-Noy said that.
The change that has taken place since P-Noy undertook his anticorruption drive, and especially since he showed his resolve in jailing the three senators—that bears the mark of the executive as much as the Ombudsman and the justice department—is real and palpable. But so is the possibility of it being reversed a couple of years from now. Even now, you hear talk of the indicted and soon-to-be indicted not having to worry too greatly about their fate they have only two years to wait and they can always have the charges against them dropped, or have themselves acquitted, by friendlier courts.
All this makes you wonder if the strength—and weakness—of the P-Noy
administration doesn’t lie with P-Noy himself. It is his personality, or reputation, or legacy that limns his administration in light, that allows his administration to pursue its anticorruption drive to these lengths. When he speaks of wanting to work a transformation of the country because he owes it to his parents, you can believe him. Unfortunately, you cannot say that same thing of the people around him. The aura does not extend to them, it dims them by contrast. The stature does not raise them to great heights, it dwarfs them by contrast. Who will continue his work? Who will continue to prosecute the prosecutable? Who will continue to jail the jailable?
The change is real, but for how long?
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