Filing plunder charges against ‘pork’ thieves should not be this slow
I have high respects for Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales but her statement that it will take “less than a year” before she can file charges against the pork barrel thieves bothers me. It appears to suggest that it will take about a year for her to file charges. Given the massive thefts of the people’s money and the public outrage involved, a year is just too obscenely long.
Understandably, a prosecutor wants to put together a case that he (or she) can win. Some cases are more difficult than others, especially when there is a lack of uncertainty as to what actually happened, who actually committed the crime and if the evidence is insufficient. In such cases, more investigation and more evidence are needed in order to successfully prosecute a suspect.
Of course, notions of fairness to a suspect and due process rights also come into play in democratic societies. Ethically, a prosecutor should objectively examine not only evidence that suggests guilt but also that which exonerates.
But essentially, these pork barrel scam cases are not really that difficult to prosecute. What happened over 10 years is quite clear. The pattern of wrongdoing or modus operandi utilized by the suspects over the years repeated itself regularly. The accused senators, congressmen, other public officials and supporting conspirators and abettors were essentially repeatedly engaged in the same identifiable pattern of wrongdoing: Legislators and other officials regularly channeled their allocated pork barrel funds to so called non-government organizations (NGOs) for supposed publicly beneficial projects.
These NGOs ran by Janet Lim Napoles were revealed to be straw organizations and the projects turned out to be non-existent ghost paper creations. Huge amounts of money were regularly released to the Napoles NGOs over a period of 10 years or so. Napoles would pocket a certain percentage which in many cases amounted to 30 percent of the total and kicked the rest or the 70 percent back to the lawmakers and other public officials or to their agents. The others who were also accused by the Department of Justice are bureaucrats who were bribed by Napoles to facilitate the unconscionable transactions.
The bottom line: Public moneys amounting to billions meant to benefit the people were repeatedly efficiently systematically stolen by so called public servants eventually winding up in their pockets or bank accounts or those of their bagmen and Napoles.
It’s incredible how a woman who grew up in the province with only two years of college in an ordinary school was able to smoothly run this incredible scam for 10 years involving massive amounts of money with the participation of powerful politicians and other officials. The scam would not have been exposed if her relative, Benhur Luy, had not blown the whistle and gave the details on her shady operations.
Napoles may not have acquired an MBA from Wharton to learn how to make money, but she definitely understood human greed and used this like a skilled puppet master to make senators, congressmen and others dance to her dark music.
Successfully prosecuting suspects is a matter of identifying them, showing their malicious intentions by demonstrating their criminal modus operandi and presenting credible and sufficient evidence against them. In the Philippines, a very important extra element is having an honest conduct of the trial – especially when moneyed influential defendants are involved.
The necessary damning information as well as evidence in the form of witness statements and voluminous paper trails including bank accounts are already in the possession of the Ombudsman. It has been about three months now since the pork barrel scam investigations were initiated by the Department of Justice and the Office of the Ombudsman. Why should it take any longer to file charges of plunder against the suspects?
Secretary of Justice Leila de Lima has already submitted a list of suspects and various evidence to the Office of the Ombudsman indicating probable cause that serious crimes were committed by the suspects including and especially plunder – a no bail offense.
To her credit, Ombudsman Morales had announced that to speed up the cases, she organized three teams to investigate and analyze the cases. I take it that her “less than a year” statement to analyze and investigate these cases before she can file charges – was made not to reflect actual reality but just a media statement guesstimate to allow her a generous wiggle room time before she actually files the plunder and other cases.
At this point, the pattern of wrongdoing is already clearly established. The volumes of records from Commission on Audit Chairperson Grace Tan Pulido and whistleblower Benhur Luy and others and their testimonies – should be credible and sufficient evidence to now file the cases. Investigations for more information and evidence, if still needed, does not have to stop as the cases proceed. If she anticipates delays because her office lacks logistical support and she needs funding for additional competent (and honest) investigators and prosecutors, she should exert all efforts to acquire this. These Pork Barrel cases are of supreme importance to the life of the nation.
The President has just a little more than 950 days in office. He, more than anyone else, should know the limited time left – to successfully prosecute the wrongdoers. In the future, his presidency will be judged by the way he handled these terrible Pork Barrel crimes against the people. If the “wrong” President sits in 2016 and these cases are not yet completed, the probability is that these cases will be dropped or the wrongdoers pardoned.
The alleged plunderers are actually on the defensive. Caught red handed, the lame defenses they present to the public range from the absurd to the ridiculous. One Senator’s defense amounts to an admission: “I’m not the only thief.” Another: “It was my staff who did the stealing.” Another one: “My signature was forged.” One thing they cannot deny, tons of money from Napoles’ NGOs ended up with them or their assignees.
National interest compels the Ombudsman to file plunder and other cases against the suspects as early as possible. Why?
The outraged global Filipino community both in the homeland and outside are demanding a speedy prosecution of the suspected pork barrel thieves. The extent of the massive looting of the people’s money and the length of time over which this has been going on – caused the people to be extremely upset….no, furiously angry. Understandably so, as they have been blatantly abused and scammed.
Many feel that imprisonment is too mild and too kind as punishment for these vultures…okay, alleged vultures. In actual effect, these bloodsuckers grabbed the food from the mouths of innocent hungry children, stole medicine from seriously ill people and deprived our young of better schools. Stoning to death or hanging are some of the recommended punishments angrily expressed in households, social gatherings, bars, carinderias, restaurants, barbershops and inside taxicabs.
The national consciousness of Philippine justice moving at molasses flow rate also has everyone anxious and wondering whether these instant cases will be just like the Ampatuan massacre cases. Four years have passed and not a single Ampatuan defendant has been convicted.
The people are also aware of the fact that none of the Marcoses or their cronies have been convicted nor has the bulk of their stolen wealth been recovered. This lengthy or failed prosecution of defendants who clearly are guilty as hell is a damning reflection of the Philippine justice system.
The longer it takes to file charges, the more Filipinos continue to lose faith in their government. Already, many Filipinos are becoming increasingly doubtful of the possibility of jailing the big politico sharks. They are also concerned that with all these delays, the suspects are given so much opportunity to move and hide their loot and destroy the evidence. In other jurisdictions in the world, as a matter of common sense and practicality, warrants for immediate seizure of evidence would already have been long issued.
It is obvious to deeper thinking observers that the ultra-left forces and the propaganda forces of the powerful accused suspects together with the Marcos and Arroyo forces – have combined to misdirect the people by putting the blame instead on Aquino. They want to make it look like it is Aquino who is the wrongdoer instead of the actual thieves. Of course, it serves the interest of the ultra-left connected to Beijing to bring down the government. Whereas it serves the interest of the specified others to bring down Aquino.
Aquino should just ignore the taunts of the enemy. He should just continue to do the right thing – aggressively relentlessly bear down and even increase efforts in the fight against corruption and corrupt people. Results are what people appreciate and recognize.
The longer the Ombudsman delays in filing plunder cases against the accused, the more frustrated the people become – including those who support Aquino in his anti-corruption crusade. That frustration can very well eventually turn against President Aquino as the delay can be used by his enemies to question his sincerity.
While the Ombudsman is theoretically supposedly independent in carrying out her job, the public perception is that the President appointed her and therefore, he can influence her to step on the accelerator. The more she delays, the more the President’s credibility and rating goes down.
This is Aquino’s defining moment and a great opportunity for the country. He can either be a consistently strong moral leader, take the bull by the horns, throw all the bad guys in jail including certain allies, make his martyred father’s impossible dream of a better life for Filipinos come true – or get discouraged, fail to do all these and fizzle as a dud winding up forgotten in the dustbin of history.
Hopefully, the Ombudsman can read the sign of the times, be constantly sensitive to the fact that she is the representative of the people in bringing to justice erring public officials who betray the public trust. She must have a good feel for the public pulse. And what do the people want?
The people are justified in wanting and demanding speedy justice. They want plunder and other charges against the Senators, Congressmen and other officials filed as soon as possible. They want them arrested and jailed now. If this is done within the next 45 days, watch Filipinos and the world stand up and applaud. Filipinos and the rest of the world who hold us in affection – want crooked politicians and officials who have been blatantly stealing the people’s money and causing suffering to millions – to stop their corruption and get the punishment they deserve. Period.
The only real way we can rid the Philippines of endemic widespread institutionalized corruption is to alter the mindset of our people. The nation needs to impose harsh penalties against corrupt officials instead of rewarding them. We should also teach and develop among our people a deep appreciation of the value of honesty as a way of life. We should impress to our children the culture of honesty from the time they start school and preach it from every pulpit and shout it from every podium.
Well-meaning people understand the reality of the difficulties in the jobs of President Aquino and the Ombudsman. But as long as both and other officials continue to act in good faith in the sacred quest for a better country, they will not be lacking in support in fighting to end the powerful evil forces of corruption and social injustice that plagues our people.
Note: Atty. Ted Laguatan is a human rights lawyer based in San Francisco, California and is officially recognized by the California State Bar as among one of only 29 lawyers officially certified for 25 years as Expert-Specialists in US Immigration Law. Email [email protected] Tel 650 991-1154
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