The 2008 financial meltdown in the US led to the popularization of a highly-debatable, controversial acronym—TBTF or Too Big to Fail . TBTF represented a collection of banks and other financial institutions that were bailed out by US taxpayers on the theory that their collapse would cause a financial chaos of inconceivable magnitude. A development that would spread financial havoc across the globe.
TBTF essentially saved the giant AIG from ruin. It provided capital to wobbly banks: Wells Fargo, Bank of America , JP Morgan Chase, etc. The rescued financial institutions have mostly repaid their loans and are now profitable, some of them immensely. It is now about five years after the near-collapse and Americans feel the bailout was wrong.
As Americans mark the 5th year of TBTF, the Philippine has a variation of it, called TBTJ, or Too Big to Jail. It is, like its US counterpart, an issue that involved big names. But instead of big banks driven to desperation with the possibility of imploding due to worthless mortgages, the Philippine version involves major political personalities –heavyweights is the term – that are in real trouble, with a non-bailable plunder charge on top of their many woes.
The plunder charges are an offshoot of ghastly revelations that senators and congressmen have traded their Priority Development Assistance Fund—which under the rules should go to real projects and real assistance to the needy through a transparent and accountable process–for instant cash: duffel bags of money from a slick operator who has mastered the corruption of congressional pork barrel.
Can we jail the big names in the plunder charges, names that include a former Senate president and a former Senate president pro tempore and a viable presidential contender in the 2016 presidential election? Or, are those in the plunder charges Too Big To Jail ?
The Justice department said that the three will not be the last of the heavyweights in Philippine politics to be charged with plunder. It will not stop at the three names: former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, former Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada, and Lakas-CMD top honcho Ramon Revilla Jr ., all of them incumbent senators. (PNoy leads the cast of those recently charged with plunder but it was essentially a non-Napoles-related story and there is doubt that it will prosper at all.)
It said so while exuding the full confidence that the cases would be elevated by the Ombudsman to the Sandigangbayan. Meaning, the triumph of justice.
On the question of whether the judicial system is ready and mature enough to prevent a TBTJ scenario, Filipinos have taken three views. First are those in the De Lima-Baligod – NBI axis who are supremely confident that they will get a conviction. Second are the worrywarts, or those who clamor for justice to be rendered but do not trust the strength and intensity of the judicial system. Third are those unconcerned, or those who either hold the view that the public sector is essentially corrupt if not malevolent or those who have resigned themselves to the frailty of a Filipino who is in the class of the powerful.
Those in the very confident bracket, or the De Lima- Baligod- NBI axis, have the tiniest membership. Not that the plunder charges have been filed in a haphazard manner and the documents and evidence submitted cannot stand in court. The boxes of evidence presented can fill one Hall of Justice building and those who are ready to take to the stand are more than a dozen.
The public is rooting for a conviction and this is one issue that unites groups from the extreme right to the extreme left. Yet, yet, this camp has not been getting enthusiastic following , despite its dogged efforts to convict.
The worrywarts are in the majority. The snail-paced grind of justice in the Maguindanao Massacre, in which more than 50 people, including more than 30 journalists were murdered in cold blood during a campaign season in that dirt-poor province, is enough basis to worry about the integrity of the judicial system.
Here is a case of mass murder, in which evidence is not only clear but overwhelming against those who did it. Yet the trial has been going on for five years without a clear light and hope for those widowed and orphaned. The accused are led by a former governor and a sprinkling of regional warlords. They are not even, take note, senators of the realm.
In the category of the indifferent are those who dismiss the public sector as essentially corrupt and reckless with public money. With such low expectations of the public sector, they just accept official corruption as a way of life, even the egregious kind. This sector also has a dim view of the zealots now crying for blood and those in the forefront of the frenzied effort to scrap all forms of pork by elected officials.
The thinking is, these crusaders, given just a small opening, will do what politicians do: steal with impunity.
So, what is your view on TBTJ?
No matter what view you hold, there is one big piece of news from the Sandiganbayan. It has started building more cells and detention areas with the hope that justice is blind and there are no species called TBTJ.