Justice Secretary Leila de Lima described the filing of plunder cases against those involved in the diversion of P900 million Malampaya Fund “another act of faith and courage.”
The DOJ secretary needs all the faith and courage in this world. Those being called to account are former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya, Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman, and 20 other men and women in and out of the government.
Three weeks before, cases were filed, also for plunder, against three senators—Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, and Ramon “Boy” Revilla Jr.—and a number of former congressmen, along with their chiefs of staff, for funneling their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to spurious non-government organizations (NGOs) and getting kickbacks amounting to hundreds of millions of pesos in return.
The central figure in both the Malampaya Fund and PDAF scams is Janet Lim Napoles, who allegedly set up those NGOs whose primary purpose was to come up with documents showing the existence of projects where there were none at all.
Although she didn’t say it, Ms. de Lima must have been thinking that in this country the rich and powerful get acquitted notwithstanding their guilt, if they are tried at all.
The respondent in the scams are no Dominga Cadelina, the maid sent to jail by the investigating prosecutor supposedly for stealing jackets and underwear on the mere say-so of Napoles’s husband Jaime and brother Reynald Lim. The maid has since been freed, but her imprisonment for eight months was clearly a terrible injustice.
The three senators—and those charged with them—enjoyed popular support until the scam unraveled. Moreover, they are moneyed and powerful, and the Sandiganbayan is not known for convicting such people, even if its very mandate is to go after them.
Of course, the exception is former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada, but we will reserve discussion of his case another time.
Could we expect the Sandiganbayan to return a guilty verdict?
We’re not even sure if trial on the merits would be held. The Ombudsman, in the person of Conchita Carpio-Morales, will have to evaluate the cases before filing them. After Ms. de Lima’s act of faith and courage, that is the next hurdle. Another is, will the Sandianbayan agree with the Ombudsman’s finding of probable cause?
The Sandiganbayan once acquitted a person, who by all accounts was guilty of the crime she had been accused of.
In the anomalous Kevlar helmet deal with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Ms. Napoles—yes the Napoles of the Malampaya Fund PDAF scams—was acquitted by a Sandiganbayan division presided over by Justice Gregory Ong despite overwhelming evidence offered in support of the graft and corruption charge against her.
Can we substitute our opinion (a mere opinion we must admit) for the court’s decision? Yes, if that decision diverges from logic and common sense. For isn’t it a fact that the law is but the distillation of logic and common sense?
Normally the court has the last say on the matter, but only if we assume that the justice system works in this country.
It didn’t work in the case of General Carlos Garcia and LtGen. Jacinto Ligot, both accused of pocketing funds in millions of pesos—funds intended for the purchase of guns and equipment for troops on the ground,
Neither did it work in the case of former Governor Joel Reyes of Palawan. The panel of prosecutors found “no sufficient evidence” to indict him for murder despite the testimony of the hit man that he had masterminded the murder of Gerry Ortega, a broadcast journalist who was critical of his policies on mining and, yes, of his alleged misuse of the province’s share of the Malampaya Fund.
Again it failed to work in the case of the fertilizer scam, where—surprise!—Ms. Napoles also played a major role.