Last week, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte and Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone called on Justice Secretary Leila de Lima “not to be selective” in prosecuting government officials involved in the pork barrel scam, which so far has seen charges filed against two batches of high-profile respondents, among them Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla. De Lima had earlier remarked that the Department of Justice no longer considered it a priority to go after a third batch of people suspected of involvement in the scam concerning the Priority Development Assistance Fund, or even the plunder of the P900-million Malampaya Fund. As it happens, the third batch reportedly includes personalities allied with Malacañang and/or members of President Aquino’s Liberal Party, such as Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, former Pangasinan representative Rachel Arenas and Tesda (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority) Director General Joel Villanueva.
To accusations that De Lima was being partisan, Belmonte, a Liberal Party stalwart, was quoted as saying: “The DOJ should not discriminate whom to file.”
Never mind the awkward language. Mind only how absurd the issue has become, the charade into which it has degenerated: A leader of the ruling party with deep vulnerability in the most explosive political development of the last five years attempts to take the higher road by calling on an agency of the very government of which he is a pillar to look more closely at his party mates’ ways with the people’s money. How virtuous—and how farcical. It indicates how unsavory De Lima’s apparent partiality toward government allies comes off, with Belmonte now appearing to be more high-minded and respectable than the indefensible decision to spare from investigation those lucky to be buddy-buddies with Malacañang.
It wasn’t too long ago that the Aquino administration trumpeted the DOJ’s filing of charges against three sitting senators, their powerful aides and various other individuals in the bureaucracy for the PDAF scam as not only a high-water mark in the anticorruption campaign but also a mere part of a wide-ranging investigation meant to uncover a vast conspiracy to defraud the people of billions of pesos in taxpayer money. Through all the missteps and blunders of the administration, many people have believed that President Aquino himself, for all his apparent deficiencies, is incorruptible, and his drive against corruption sincere. It was only under his watch, after all, that three senators of the realm found themselves haled to court and clapped in jail on plausible charges of milking the public till through an elaborate money-laundering scheme allegedly run by businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles.
The hour of reckoning, at last, many had thought. And Mr. Aquino, through his justice secretary, stoked that hope by following up the initial flurry of charges with a second batch of respondents charged with the same offenses. The scam involving the PDAF had run for years and needed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people within and outside the government bureaucracy for the money to change hands with utmost discreetness and efficiency. De Lima said that the investigations would favor no one, that the net would fall wherever it should, and that the filing of charges against a third batch of people was in the offing. And why not? Surely there were more people involved than the 72 individuals (38 in the first batch, 34 in the second) that she had slapped with plunder, graft and related charges.
A year and seven months later, De Lima’s enthusiasm has inexplicably waned. Her department is not keen on pursuing the rest of the PDAF cases, she says, because she has too many other investigations on her plate, and she needs to prioritize her tasks before she winds down her term at the end of the Aquino presidency.
And just like that, a once-promising campaign against venality in government turns out to be yet another mirage, just another shabby exercise in selective justice and political hardball. The validity of this administration’s “daang matuwid” watchword rested on one thing: how fairly it applied to friend and foe alike. It now appears clear: Malacañang’s friends enjoy exemption, and more.
It’s indefensible. Does De Lima think her record can make her a senator?
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