‘Steal, get reelected and ye shall be forgiven’
Thank god it looks like the Supreme Court will abandon the “condonation doctrine.” Promulgated in 1959 and copied from American jurisprudence, the doctrine says that if elected officials facing administrative charges are reelected, they are deemed to have been forgiven by their constituents and the charges against them are dropped. Any person who is not a lawyer will readily see that it is a crazy doctrine.
With it, politicians can steal public funds to their heart’s content and then, using part of the loot to buy votes and terrorize voters, get themselves reelected. Their reelection would be interpreted as forgiveness by their constituents and they can no longer be prosecuted for their crimes.
Imagine what that would do to our campaign against corruption. It would be like Manny Pacquiao knocking out Floyd Mayweather Jr. in the first round.
For decades, corruption had been the No. 1 problem of the Philippines. Public officials had been routinely stealing the taxes paid by the people. To combat corruption, Congress created the Office of the Ombudsman and the Sandiganbayan to prosecute and try, respectively, public officials accused of the crime. It is only now that high-ranking public officials are being detained and tried for corruption.
Now a Supreme Court ruling in 1959, in which an administrative charge against the mayor of San Jose, Nueva Ecija, was dropped just because he was reelected, is being used by the lawyers of Makati Mayor Junjun Binay to defend him against charges of corruption. The charges stem from the construction of the Makati City Hall annex building that was started during the term as Makati mayor of his father, now Vice President Jejomar Binay, and that he completed.
The magistrates were so angered by this tactic that, according to news reports, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and other justices chastised and lectured the Binay lawyers on corruption and the law.
“It is the duty of this court,” the Chief Justice said, “to promote honesty and integrity in public service, because the Constitution is, first and foremost, our most important document and covenant that we must uphold. Because if we uphold your theory, we are basically going to say, with respect to all those laws and those offenses, they cannot apply to reelected officials.”
In layman’s terms, it would mean an open season for thievery in public office.
So as not to be stymied by judges who are quick to issue restraining orders, the law creating the Office of the Ombudsman provides that no court can stop the preventive suspension of a public official accused of graft. Nevertheless, the Court of Appeals issued a temporary restraining order and then a writ of injunction on the Ombudsman order suspending Mayor Binay.
This has earlier prompted Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV to accuse two CA justices of accepting bribes to issue rulings favorable to the mayor. Trillanes said each of the two justices was given P20 million for the TRO and another P5 million for the writ of injunction, for a total of P25 million each. The senator said he has a witness to the transactions.
The two justices have of course denied the accusation. The CA head justice has ordered an investigation of the two justices.
Alas, rumors of corruption in the judiciary are common. But because bribery is necessarily a secret affair with hardly any witnesses, it is very difficult to prove.
Nevertheless, because of the very slow administration of justice and the penchant of judges and justices to issue TROs, many Filipinos believe that talk of corruption in the judiciary is true, thus eroding public faith in the judicial system.
With the Supreme Court seemingly ready to overturn the “condonation doctrine,” maybe some of that faith will be restored.
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Ironically, it seems that even key Cabinet members in the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, whose promise and battle cry are to eliminate corruption, are not immune to it. The Commission on Audit has reported that the Department of Agriculture under Secretary Proceso Alcala and the Department of Agrarian Reform under Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes wasted billions of pesos intended to help farmers and agrarian reform beneficiaries.
Note that these two departments were the biggest contributors to the pork barrel scam allegedly masterminded by Janet Lim Napoles, who is now in prison after having been convicted of the illegal detention of her relative and former associate Benhur Luy. She is still being tried for the pork barrel scam, along with three senators, former and incumbent congressmen, and other public officials.
In its latest report, the COA said the DA lost P14 billion and the DAR lost P12 billion. In a retort to defend himself, Alcala said the COA report was just a guide and “not a finding of guilt.” There is still no comment from the DAR’s De los Reyes.
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