Why Janet Lim Napoles is the perfect fall-guy in the Philippines’ P10-bn pork barrel scam

janet_lim_napoles_on_the_runJanet Lim Napoles is now on the run. That makes her the perfect fall guy for the P10-billion “pork barrel scam” that is rocking the Philippines’ political establishment. A high-profile fugitive attracts all the attention and, not necessarily living up to the principle of scientific criminal investigation, all law enforcement resources. Never mind that the pork barrel “scam” is a product of a systemic issue of which Napoles (if the allegations are true) is but one cog in a vast kleptocratic clockwork, The deeply-institutionalised thievery that is Philippine-style pork barrel politics has the following key components in its gravy train:

The President of the Philippines – who formulates the National Budget and consistently includes the pork barrel as a significant chunk of it year in and year out.

Philippine Congress – the state body that, amazingly, approves the National Budget, a big chunk of which involves the very funds that end up in its members’ secret bank accounts.

The Philippines’ financial system – a black-box conduit for mob funds that is hopelessly convoluted by archaic secrecy laws, lax and corrupt regulatory bodies, and tight family ties (many with links to the very law enforcement offices currently “investigating” this case) that greases the cogs.

Where does Napoles fit in the above?

Whatever the answer to that question is does not really matter. She is all but one item in what should be a long list of persons of interest in this case — perhaps one that includes bank executives, NGO managers and sponsors, senators and House representatives, and last but certainly not the least, President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III himself. The latter is where the buck stops as the old cliche goes. BS Aquino, after all, is the man who submits the National Budget proposal and, as such, is the ultimate originator of the pork barrel allocations to begin with. This is the very same man who back in 2010 prematurely trumpeted his place in history as the country’s unprecedented Corruption Killer. Midway through his term, one can say that President BS Aquino is certainly living up to his two-letter initials.

Either way Napoles is screwed. Her now being a fugitive makes her guilty as sin in the Court of Public Opinion. But if she had willingly submitted to the Philippines’ criminal justice system’s “due process” (a proven oxymoron in the Philippines looking back the last couple of years) she would’ve simply gotten a fair trial followed by a fair hanging. The very way with which the Department of Justice exhibited its goal to “arrest” Napoles is, itself, suspect. Why, after all, did a big fanfare-surrounded announcement of the issuance of this arrest warrant have to be made? It is hardly surprising under this light that Napoles had the time to make arrangements for her quick escape.

This is a country after all where crooks rely on family ties and the Philippines’ traditional feudal social infrastructure to remain above the law. Unfortunately, Filipinos’ small-minded approaches to “rooting out” corruption is hardly one that involves a systematic effort. It is based more on personalities — smear campaigns, publicity stunts, media placements, and good old-fashioned demagoguery to distract a famously daft Filipino public from the system of crime itself and focus, instead, on an arbitrary strawman. Unfortunately for Napoles, she is the Strawman of the Month.

Of course, this cat-and-mouse telenovela currently gripping the nation’s finest minds will not be complete without casting the Top Cat — Department of Justice Secretary Leila De Lima who is now in her moment. Tough luck for the country’s top copper. She has a boss who has his hands tied by family ties as her speckled record of trying to get her boss to walk the walk shows….

We were impressed at how [de Lima] pushed the administration to get to the bottom of how a fugitive senator was able to flee the country and then return with no known records whatsoever.

She also handled well the investigation into who really was to blame for the botched rescue operations during the Luneta hostage crisis three years ago. Her report was swift and unequivocal: several officials were in breach of their mandate, and they had to be made accountable.

Unfortunately, her boss, President Aquino, rebuffed her recommendations on both occasions. He quickly rekindled his friendship with the senator—the arrest warrant for whom was voided shortly after he resurfaced. There was no more discussion on why and how a lawmaker would even trifle with the legal and law enforcement systems for his personal benefit.

Similarly, the recommendations to sanction some of the President’s allies fell on deaf ears as they were given mere slaps on the wrist.

Is Napoles really the bad guy here? She is, perhaps, in her small way if the allegations are true. But the real BIG BAD GUY here is the person and his minions who have it entirely within their power to put an end to the disbursement of the Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF) — the pork barrel that has become the whole singular point of Congressional politics.

Why is it that all the obvious solutions to Philippine wretchedness are not taken?

It is because Filipinos choose to dance to the tune of the powers-that-be and focus on small fish like Janet Lim Napoles rather than maintain a sniper-like focus on the real crooks that run the country.