As indignation-fuelled momentum mounts in the lead-up to the planned “million people march” to the Luneta Grandstand at 9 a.m. on the 26th August, Monday, the obvious question What happens next? comes to mind owing to the immense challenge of bringing erring senators and House representatives to justice. The scale of the outrage over the decades old thievery surrounding the use of Congressional pork barrel funds is unprecedented and all indications so far point to what will likely be a successful rally on that day. This makes the current situation ripe for action. The proverbial iron is hotter than it has ever been and it would be a shame if there is no organised follow-through post the 26th August.
My fellow author Fallen Angel outlined some key questions any project manager would ask following a heated brainstorming session out of which some great ideas were identified:
What is the plan for all the politicians who will be investigated and found to be involved in the pork barrel scam? What is the plan to make sure that the pork barrel doesn’t come back under another fancy name or, most especially, a more inconspicuous form? If the protesters get the attention of people who are sympathetic to the cause and are in positions of influence and/or power, what is the proposal for the method by which the pork barrel will be eliminated?
I’d like to step back a bit further and focus on the crux of all this — the whole point of what this should be all about from which the ultimate outcome becomes obvious:
What is the roadmap leading to the identification, investigation, prosecution, and punishment of everyone found to have abused pork barrel funds?
The status report on what the Filipino People have so far achieved as far as bringing all concerned to justice, as I see it, so far reads thus:
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(1) Identify persons of interest | Status: GREEN
A report recently issued by the Commission on Audit (COA) following a review of the disbursement of pork barrel funds and the entities that have received these has so far named names. So the obvious next step is to investigate all who have been named.
(2) Investigate persons of interest | Status: YELLOW
The trouble lies in the integrity of traditional bodies and personalities propped up by the media and partisan groups as supposedly spearheading these “investigations.” The usual candidates people look to to “investigate” things, however, are all tainted by personal agendas and, as such, hobbled by conflicts-of-interest. Senate and Congressional “inquiries” which made media circuses of big-ticket issues raised by “whistleblowers” of dubious character in the past have become mere footnotes in history. The Department of Justice (DOJ) headed by Secretary(?) Leila De Lima has proven to be ineffective given its failure to bring to justice the obvious people to blame in the media-facilitated massacre of Hong Kong tourists in 2010.
And then there is the Philippine Media which is a notable common denominator across everything to do with Filipinos’ flaccid approach to putting crooks in prison. “Investigative journalism” is nice. But ultimately, all that industry achieves is bump up newspaper and broadcast minutes sales as well as make dubious “heroes” and social media celebrities of self-described “thought leaders”.
The only government agency whose real job is to investigate stuff (in the real sense of the word) is, who else: the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). Where are they? I can’t answer that question off the top of my head because the usual bunch of media whores prefer to speak for the fine agents of the bureau. Perhaps we should hear from them directly rather than hear what they have to say from people whose arms are being twisted from behind by their political handlers.
What would really be groundbreaking is to at least get to a point where proper investigations have led to a conclusive identification of people — senators, House representatives, bank executives, NGO officers, and, yes, middlemen like Janet Lim Napoles (if the allegations are true) — on the basis of sound evidence gathered legally.
(3) Prosecute the suspects. | Status: YELLOW
This is where the judiciary takes over. Once evidence has been gathered during a proper investigation carried out by the NBI, suspects are identified among the persons of interest. A judge then issues an arrest warrant and the suspects taken into custody. A formal complaint can then be lodged and criminal proceedings initiated to prosecute the suspects, establish guilt, and convict the guilty.
The one thing going for this process is that a farcical demonstration — the Corona “impeachment trial” — now exists to serve as an example of what bringing a high official to justice should be NOT.
(4) Punish the suspects found guilty. | Status: GREEN
One thing I can say about the Philippine justice system that works is that people found guilty are actually imprisoned. It is getting that guilty verdict that is the hard part.
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Some people will argue that getting some big fish convicted is not really that unprecedented and will cite the case of former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada who was actually convicted of “plunder” and maybe even the case of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who is currently under house arrest on trumped-up charges. But, see, the difference with those two is that they became easy pickin’ because they were no longer in power at the time. What will really prove Filipinos’ coming of age as a truly democratic and modern society is if their society can demonstrate that guilty political crooks can be caught and hanged while they are in power.
Ironically, one of the medals President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III pinned on himself is after having purportedly achieved just that — by “impeaching” former Chief Justice Renato Corona who at the time was sitting as the country’s top magistrate. The only trouble with that dubious “achievement” is that Corona was not really tried in the real sense as his judges were all “senator-judges”. The “court” was not really a criminal court but one where verdicts are determined on the basis of their popularity rather than modern criminal science. And the “complaint” lodged against Corona was one House Representatives were coerced into signing by no less than the President himself. And, lo and behold, even in that Corona circus, all roads lead back to, you guessed it, the pork barrel. It is easy to see now that Corona’s trial before this Senate “impeachment court” was itself tainted by pork — it was a judgment body on BS Aquino’s pork payroll all the while!
Just the same:
Wouldn’t it be awesome to see senators and congressmen handcuffed and walked out of their homes and offices by NBI agents? Now that will be the Photo Op of the Century!
Unfortunately for these “honourable” senators and House representatives, parliamentary immunity in this instance will not help them…
Section 11. A Senator or Member of the House of Representatives shall, in all offenses punishable by not more than six years imprisonment, be privileged from arrest while the Congress is in session. No Member shall be questioned nor be held liable in any other place for any speech or debate in the Congress or in any committee thereof.
The only thing that will make the “million people march” to Luneta truly productive is if we can latch on to that vision of handcuffed senators and congressmen and aspire to get there. If it means building an entirely new oversight capability managed from the grassroots to ensure that the NBI and the Judiciary do their jobs properly perhaps this needs to be explored. DOJ Secretaries and Senate committees will never be moved by a mass protest alone.
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