WHAT one hand giveth, the other taketh away.
As yesterday’s editorial of this paper proclaimed: “Binay’s day is here.” This referred to the filing by the Ombudsman of charges of corruption in the Sandiganbayan against the former vice president and 2016 presidential candidate. With the filing of the charges, said the editorial, “[Jojo] Binay has formally been asked to do the one thing that was repeatedly asked of him by various quarters—the Senate, the media, his eventual cocandidates in the presidential race, citizens on social media—from the time allegations of corruption against him surfaced and found traction in the news, but which he dodged and evaded every time: Answer questions.”
In fact, I would say it was this stubborn refusal to “answer questions,” the dodging and evading, that cost Binay the presidency.
By many measures, he was leading the race for the presidency many months before the campaign got off the ground, but the shadows cast by the charges, and his staunch refusal to directly address the issues raised against him turned off voters. Toward the last days of the campaign, despite his bluff and bluster, Binay’s aura steadily darkened, and in the presidential debates he appeared sullen and resentful, throwing around blame and denunciations when he should have been offering hope or even just coherence.
Even so, while we might welcome the formalization of the charges against Binay, which, before this, had been aired mainly in Senate hearings and in media, another development brings to doubt the durability of the hard-won campaign against high-level corruption in this country.
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WE’RE talking, of course, about yesterday’s Supreme Court decision dismissing the charges of corruption against former president and now congresswoman Gloria Arroyo in connection with a plunder case before the Sandiganbayan.
The high tribunal, voting 11-4, granted Arroyo’s petition seeking the dismissal of the case filed against her for alleged misuse of over P300 million from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office. In voting to acquit Arroyo, the justices paved the way for the former president’s release from detention.
So while our former vice president must now face a formal court action to explain anomalies in connection with overpriced construction projects carried out during his term as mayor of Makati, our former president has blithely (we suppose) put a four-year detention behind her. The next time the public might see her, it could very well be at President Duterte’s State of the Nation Address before Congress this coming Monday.
So it’s a decidedly mixed message we get regarding the fight against corruption in these islands. Though public opinion polls show that Filipinos think public thievery is the biggest problem confronting the country, when “big fish” are snagged and punished for stealing from the treasury, there are those still uneasy about the consequences, who still nurse misgivings about the heavy hand of the law ever falling hard against people of some stature.
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PARENTS might well ask now: What do we tell our children? How do we explain these twin developments?
We are taught that stealing is a crime, but punishment, it seems, is meted out only to the poor and the powerless. Binay’s legal Calvary has just begun, and he could very well wait out the interminable proceedings in the comfort of his Batangas ranch with a formal English garden.
Arroyo, of course, spent a not-too-uncomfortable term inside the Veterans Memorial Medical Center, where she, so we heard, was waited on hand and foot by a coterie of nurses and doctors who were daily subjected to her whims and demands.
The rich and the powerful are really different from you and me. While ordinary folk face detention in crowded jails and subsist on slop while serving their sentences, those in the higher echelons enjoy cushy accommodations even as they cry persecution or vindictiveness on the part of opponents.
And indeed those in our miserable jails might even count themselves lucky. They could very well have ended up among the hundreds that have been killed (many of them shot execution-style) for alleged drug dealing and drug use. Or they could have been arrested en masse even if the government doesn’t have room in the existing drug rehabilitation establishments, putting into question the alleged goal of the antidrug campaign to put addicts back on the straight and healthy path.
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THE alacrity with which our justices ordered the release of Arroyo, so soon after the inauguration of President Duterte, may even lend credence to speculations that among those who helped finance the Duterte campaign were the Arroyos. Those who, in the words of former first gentleman Mike Arroyo, “have shown unwavering loyalty to President Arroyo and the Arroyo and the Macapagal families in their hour of deepest darkness, through the trials brought about by unrelenting prosecution and demotion perpetrated by the previous regime.”
Indeed, are happy days here again?
Jojo Binay must be gnashing his teeth at his misfortune for choosing to run against Duterte. How many millions could have won him his freedom today?
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