I’m sorry to come back to this issue because almost every other columnist seems to be doing the same, but I feel it’s important to keep it alive. And now that “the list” is out, there is something to focus on. We can’t allow it to go the way of all other scandals—nowhere.
Three weeks ago I said three senators should resign out of delicadeza. Resign in recognition of their failure to carefully look after our money, which we entrusted to them. They haven’t resigned, not even apologized. Now we have seven incumbent and eight former senators to add, plus two incumbents who may have gotten campaign funds under question. No doubt they will all claim innocence, without exception. But my logical mind has to ask: If they are all innocent, every single one of them, then what is this list all about? Is it a completely fabricated list?
And if so, for what purpose? If those listed were all opposition members, or all government loyalists, you could suspect some kind of scheme. But it’s a mix of everyone: government, opposition, representatives from the south, the north, Christians, Muslims (no atheist, though, I think; I wonder if that tells you something). It can’t be an orchestrated campaign by someone.
Some claim it was their staff members who were involved without their knowledge. Did they all choose such poor, disloyal staff? Some claim their signatures were forged. Is forgery so common today that so many can be caught by it?
I have no doubt there are some in the list that truly are innocent of the charges. Former senator Jun Magsaysay is one of those. I know him and his family well enough to fully vouch for him. Others, too, quite possibly—but all?
It defies acceptance.
Can this scandal bring the Senate down? Not in its entirety because the number is below a quorum (13), but as it is, it puts the Senate as a whole into question. It may be the catharsis we need, the revolution of the political systems that needs to occur. Removing the pork barrel was only a necessary first step—but was it really removed, or will it surface surreptitiously in another form? That we need to watch.
Whatever the truth, it must be left to the Office of the Ombudsman, the Department of Justice, and the National Bureau of Investigation to determine with complete independence. The President has shown a weakness for protecting friends. There are no friends in this unraveling. He must keep out of it completely so that independent investigation can not only be done but also be seen to be done. He must follow the example of his friend, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia, who stood aside while a number of his own friends and partymates went to jail.
The President will stand tall if he does; it will confirm that his daang matuwid is indeed what drives him. We will have a cleaner society we can all be proud of if justice is allowed to follow its course unhampered by political interference, quickly (Supreme Court, please note). And “quickly” is what must be pushed, for the sake of clearing the innocent if nothing else.
Unfortunately, I can’t be too hopeful on this; the history of high-end cases in Philippine courts is dismal. The Chief Justice needs to effect a revolution, defense lawyers need to be brought into line. Other countries can do it, so why can’t we? I fear no one will go to jail as the unconscionable (that means “without conscience”) shenanigans of unscrupulous so-called lawyers will get them off the hook on “technicalities.” Perhaps the judges can exercise some real judgment here and throw those technicalities out—on a technicality. Let’s have action.
I have made my point that there is a moral failing, but it’s been ignored. So let’s ensure that there will be no legal failing, too. Yet even this early that’s starting to look possible. On April 1, the Office of the Ombudsman said it found probable cause to file charges against the three senators, their “agents,” and Janet Napoles. That was eight weeks ago, yet charges have yet to be filed with the Sandiganbayan. In a case that is riveting the nation, isn’t this too slow? I think so.
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Our political leaders can learn from those in India.
As a start, Narendra Modi won on a probusiness platform, and probusiness performance. Tata Group, India’s largest conglomerate, moved its Tata Nano Motor Plant from Singur in West Bengal to Gujarat because Modi, who was then Gujarat chief minister, provided tax incentives, cleared land permits, and built vital infrastructure such as highways and power lines, all crucial for the operations of the motor plant.
Other provinces that had also been trying to win Tata promised all these, too, with no results. Modi delivered, so Tata went where the action happens. The Philippine government also makes promises but doesn’t fulfill them—and foreign investments don’t come.
The second lesson Filipino politicians can learn is how to lose graciously. Just listen to what was said by the vice president of the India National Congress, a party that had been in power for 48 years: “I wish the new government all the best. The party has done pretty badly, and we have a lot to think about. I’ll hold myself responsible.”
Wow! Now that last statement is something our pols can accept now. The theft of the funds entrusted to them—not to their staff or anyone else—is their responsibility and no one else’s. “I’ll hold myself responsible.”