The Philippines has many laws that are either conveniently forgotten or blatantly disregarded. Sadly, the country never runs short of lawmakers breaking its laws either unwittingly or deliberately.
The three senators — Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, and Bong Revilla — embroiled in the multi-billion peso Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam and are awaiting arrest warrant from the Sandiganbayan following their indictment last Friday have separately denied the accusations that they pocketed a few hundred million pesos in kickbacks by diverting their pork barrel allocations to bogus foundations from 2004 to 2012 in spite of testimonial and documentary evidence that have so far come out.
Senate President Franklin Drilon said a couple of days ago that he would appeal to the arresting officers, presumably sheriffs from the Sandiganbayan to observe institutional courtesy by not arresting the senators while in attending session or inside the Senate building.
Institutional courtesy appears very simple to grant. But who deserves it? The Senate rightfully deserves respect as an institution. Do members of the Senate deserve respect? Now, that becomes a big issue.
The crime that the senators who are facing arrest and detention without bail was committed right at the Senate building. Did respect and institutional courtesy to the Senate ever cross the minds of the three senators and their ilk when they were signing papers and accepting kickbacks from dubious pork barrel projects?
For sure, the senators know what they were doing and what they were getting into when they got themselves involved in those “profitable” projects that were supposed to benefit the poor that they had sworn to serve.
Enrile, born as Juanito Furagganan, finished his Bachelor of Laws degree as a cum laude from the University of the Philippines in 1953, and ranked 11th with a rating of 91.72% in the bar exam the following year. He took post-graduate studies at the Harvard Law School where he obtained his Master of Laws degree in 1955, specializing in taxation and corporate reorganization.
His resume appearing in the Senate website said Enrile practiced law for 12 years, from 1954 to 1966 as a law partner at the Ponce Enrile, Siguion Reyna, Montecillo, Belo and Ongsiako Law Offices. He also taught law at the Far Eastern University – College of Law from 1956 to 1964.
At the start of his current fourth term in the Senate, he was elected as Senate President. He vowed “to discharge my duties and responsibilities with honor, with total devotion to our institution, and with fairness to all members.”
Enrile’s involvement in the multi-billion peso PDAF scam certainly does not have a tinge of an “honorable” act nor does it show “total devotion” to the Senate as an honourable institution, nor was it fair to all members.
Further, Enrile promised: “No partisan consideration will blur or color the treatment of any member of the Senate. We are all senators elected by the people to serve them with dedication to their interest and well-being and devotion to our responsibilities.”
And he enjoined his colleagues “to uphold the independence and integrity of this Senate, without abandoning our duty to cooperate with the other departments of the government to achieve what is good for our people.”
The pork barrel scandal has destroyed the image that Enrile built for himself over the years, from his notoriety in his role as implementor of martial law into a Bible-bearing Christian. His handling of the impeachment trial of former Supreme Court chief justice Renato Corona earned him praises. But the PDAF scam brought it all down.
Jinggoy Estrada, born as José Pimentel Ejército, Jr., may not have earned a degree in law but his official resume said that he earned an AB Economics degree from UP Manila and took up law for four years at the Lyceum of the Philippines while serving as vice mayor of San Juan. The Laguna State Polytechnic University gave him a doctorate in humanities “in recognition of his academic excellence and socio-civic achievements as public servant.”
His resume in the Senate website said Estrada “is very much focused in keeping his commitment to the Filipino masa to do his very best as a legislator and as a public servant in securing a future far better than what we are all made to contend with, today.”
Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., born as José Marie Mortel Bautista, was described in his official resume as “an icon of a man of action and defender of the poor and the oppressed.”
In 1979, he finished his elementary education at Jesus Good Shepherd School in Palico II, Imus, Cavite. He finished his secondary education at Fairfax High School (Los Angeles) at Los Angeles, California, United States in 1982. Because of his performance as public servant, he was conferred doctorate degrees (Honoris Causa) in Public Administration by the Cavite State University and in Humanities by the Nueva Vizcaya University.
All three certainly have good academic backgrounds and decent pledges as senators. But what have they done to their oaths of office? They certainly know the laws but conveniently disregarded those probably because they thought they would not be caught.
When they entered public office, they should have been aware of the provisions of Republic Act No. 6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Government Officials and Employees, and RA 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
The accusations against the three senators are not simple cases of misbehaviour. Plunder as defined and penalized under RA 7080, as enacted in 1991, is a serious crime that cannot just be forgiven and forgotten. Violators deserve to rot in jail for depriving the public of the opportunities and services that should have been funded by the monies that enriched them.
They surely have yet to be found guilty or not. But their actions and words in responding to the testimonies and pieces of evidence that have so far been brought out against them are not convincing enough to make us believe they were innocent.
Instead of coming out with proof that their hands were clean, all three separately and through PR works tried to muddle the issues by trying to create scenarios and involve other people into the mess.
Considering that many politicians, government officials and employees, as well as private individuals are involved in this labyrinthine plunder of the public coffers, should we just ask them to repent and reform, and then, forgive and forget what they had done?
Lest we forget, the three senators were nurturing dreams to become president of the country.