Will powerful senators and other suspected pork barrel thieves face arrest and prosecution?
It depends on the quality and strength of Aquino’s moral leadership.
When Archbishop of Manila Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle learned that billions of pesos of the people’s money were systematically being stolen by already filthy rich senators and other officials, he cried. This man of God wept because he knew the terrible conditions of the poor in his city of Manila and other crowded Philippine cities. How much anguish this good man must have felt when he perceived the terrible injustice inflicted by unconscionable thieving politicians and other officials on their fellow human beings.
Thousands of the poorest of the poor live in subhuman conditions in slum areas. These unfortunates and their innocent emaciated little children roam the streets night and day digging into smelly garbage cans near restaurants hoping to gather scraps of “pagpag”. These are thrown away sometimes rotting leftover foods. “Pagpag” is the Tagalog word for shake. The poor shake these food scraps to get rid of the ants and dirt, place them in plastic or paper bags and take them home to eat. If they don’t find “pagpag”, they go to bed hungry at night.
In makeshift homes and in crowded hospital free wards, parents quietly weep just helplessly waiting for their sick children to die because they have no funds for needed medicines. Many slum children do not go beyond grade six because of lack of funds – a terrible waste of talent and human potential. These various human sufferings could have been alleviated by the billions of pesos from tax moneys collected from the people if these were not misdirected to the personal coffers of politician thieves disguised as public servants.
I too weep whenever I return to the Philippines and see dirty looking innocent thin children eating out of garbage cans. The only difference between them and my own kids when they were young is the grace of God. I also try my best to be a man of God but there is a terrible ugly anger within me that needs to be suppressed or it could translate to violence and vengeance which also are evil inclinations. Many Filipinos I am certain, must feel as I do.
It is a reaction to the callous greed of certain senators and other public officials who have been engaged in systematically stealing billions of tax moneys collected from the people. Janet Lim Napoles made it easy for them by setting up straw NGO corporations which are made to appear as organizations providing services and goods helping poor people or carrying out worthy projects.
The so called pork barrel funds allocated to senators, congressmen and other officials are directly paid to these illusory NGO corporations for various projects. In actuality, no such projects exist. Napoles funnels back 70% of funds amounting to billions to the senators and other officials and keeps 30% for herself. Out of her share, she scatters a certain amount “for the boys” who facilitate the release of funds or who close their eyes to the massive fraud being committed against the people.
Certain prominent Senators were identified by various reports in newspapers as allegedly having turned over millions of their pork barrel funds to Napoles’ fake NGOs or are otherwise connected with some pork barrel wrongdoing. Among these are: Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, Bongbong Marcos, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., Lito Lapid, Vicente Sotto III, Gringo Honasan and twenty three Congresspersons. Other government officials including many mayors also connived with Napoles and engaged in the same modus operandi.
A Manila Times news item reported that not only did Commissioner Grace-Pulido Tan of the Commission on Audit validate the allegations, she also detailed the manner in which the scams were perpetrated. Napoles has gone into hiding and is now one of the most wanted fugitives in the country.
While there are laws against all kinds of crimes including those against public officials who plunder – in the Philippines, effectively implementing them is another matter. The late dictator Marcos is still listed in the Guinness book of records as the greatest thief in history. Yet none of his family members who have billions of dollars in identified bank accounts nor his cronies who fronted for him has successfully been prosecuted despite overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing.
Why? Because the Philippine justice system stinks to the high heavens. Corrupt investigators, law enforcers, prosecutors and judges can be bought. And so we have a country with very angry people who are constantly betrayed by elected and appointed officials who remain immune to successful prosecution.
Well-meaning people cannot allow to continue these massive thievery and all kinds of frauds inflicted on the people by callous government officials. These thieving officials essentially are stealing the people’s money. They are stealing good things from our people: food from the mouths of poor children, medicines to save the lives of our sick, education for our children, public works infrastructures – and so many other benefits for the people that they have no business stealing.
Their heinous unconscionable plunder crimes cry out to heaven for justice. Here in the US, no one is above the law. With similar evidence available, these senators and other public officials would surely have been arrested and prosecuted.
What can we do? We should keep on pressing the government for reforms. We should also make sure not to reelect officials who have engaged in stealing the people’s money or otherwise engaged in wrongdoing – and even campaign against them. We need to do whatever needs to be done to have a better government and country.
How about President Simeon Benigno Aquino III? What do the people wish him to do?
The present situation is a defining moment for Aquino. He is given the rare opportunity to be remembered as a great man and to prove himself worthy of his calling. He not only has all the resources at his command to bring about real reforms and changes in Philippine government – he also has the people’s support. Does he have the intelligence, determination, moral courage, spiritual fortitude and inner strength to create a better Philippines and a better world for Filipinos?
For sure, he has control or influence over the different agencies involved with the country’s justice system: the Department of Justice, the Ombudsman’s office, the National Bureau of Investigation, etc. He can push these agencies to prosecute powerful politicians. If he so wills it, he can crack the whip against crooked judges. He is also Commander in Chief of the Philippine Armed Forces and other police government agencies.
As such, he has enough power and influence to enable him to do the right thing and go after those politicians and other public officials who are thieves disguised as public servants. And he should not be selective in carrying out justice. Even those in his own party or who may be his friends should be prosecuted if they had engaged in wrongdoing.
I pray and hope that in these challenging times, he assumes the spirit, courage, moral conviction and the clarity of purpose of his father Ninoy. I’ve had the privilege to be with, talked to and was able to listen to this man’s deepest thoughts – a few days before he left for the Philippines and to martyrdom. Ninoy’s sacrifice brought down the oppressive Marcos regime.
If President Aquino does not prove himself equal to the task of being a great president by not listening to his deepest noblest self and making courageous moral decisions and instead just be like an ordinary small minded traditional partisan politico – he would have wasted a great opportunity to fulfill the dreams of his father – of a better life for Filipinos and a better Philippines.
Note: Atty. Ted Laguatan is a human rights lawyer based in the San Francisco area in California. Email [email protected]