Impunity (for journalists) and leniency (for white collar criminals)

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Marlen V. Ronquillo

For Filipinos with no investments in equities – and that is 90 percent or more of the total population – the big news on the alleged self-dealing by top executives of the Social Security System (SSS) was beyond their comprehension. The private workers around which the state-run pension fund is built are deeply worried of the news break but can’t grasp the full significance of the alleged self-dealing. That was the same sense expressed by the aging and sick SSS pensioners. I belong to this group, that relies on their meager pensions for basic needs such as food and medicine.

The state of financial literacy is widespread and irreversible in a country like ours where the ATM for salary withdrawals is the only known link of the majority of the population to the financial system.

Uppermost in the minds of the SSS members and pensioners was this. What was the inquiry Mr. Valdez was talking about? Or this: Are they fooling around with the pension fund? The usual voluble Amado Valdez, chairman of the SSS, basically failed to explain in terms and words understood by the laymen the problem of the state-run pension body and its top executives being probed for serious ethical breaches.

Those suspected of self-dealing at the SSS are not of the dwarf gourami species, they are barracudas. They are Rizaldy Capulong, the executive vice president for investments (the big man on investment decisions ), equities investment division chief Reynaldo Candelaria, equities product development head Ernesto D. Francisco Jr., and chief actuary George Ongkeko Jr. This quartet of alleged self-dealers more or less decide where 30 percent of the SSS reserve fund should be placed.

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Two have resigned while two others have been placed on “floating status,” according to Mr. Valdez.

While the four will be in the headlines within the next few days, the news on the alleged self-dealing will soon die a natural death like the previous cases of white collar crimes both benign and horrible. All white collar crimes in the country do not go the way of the Bernie Madoff /Enron endings and the perpetrators just reinvent themselves to continue with their old ways under fresher guises and forms.

Or, after a couple of years, these four will surely find grand niches in the private insurance business that sorely lack actuarial talents.

One with a little sense of background and history will have this sad discovery. All of those found involved in sophisticated investments and pyramiding scams over the past five decades, just check the records of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the courts, have received either reprimands or slaps on the wrists.

Worse, after a reinvention, they can go on to their next gig of duping people.

The white collar criminals bleed ordinary lives of their hard-earned money, in an act of cheating so venal and remorseless. Their victims are robbed of their lives and their future. The bankrupt pre-need educational companies may have shattered the college dreams of tens of thousands of young men and women but the fund administrators just routinely, and seamlessly, go into their next acts – as advocates of corporate social responsibility.

The bankrupt life insurance companies, bankrupted by the huge conglomerates, are unapologetic about their scams. The founding tycoons, when they depart amid the wails and tears of the poor victims, will get glowing tributes from the so-called pillars of society and profuse paeans from the various business groups.

Who, then, in this country are at the receiving end of impunity?

Journalists, without question. They are routinely waylaid and murdered, and this is the sadder part, for attempting to right wrongs and expose evil in society.

The segue from the white collar criminals that get mere slaps on the wrists to the widespread and never-ending impunity that is often the fate of journalists was not drawn by this column from out of the blue. On the same day the headlines screamed of the alleged self-dealing and insider trading at the SSS, another screaming headline reported what we have known for so long – that the Philippines is one of the countries that murders its journalists routinely.

Based on the findings of the Committee to Protect Journalists, the New York-based press group that prepares a yearly Global Impunity Index, there are 12 countries that murder, torture and jail journalists on a routine basis.

Of the 12 dangerous countries, the Philippines ranked fifth on the Impunity Index based on the number of unsolved killings over the past 10 years, from 2007 to 2017. The routine intimidation, the routine harassment and the small and big ways a journalist is told to back off from a story with an “or else” are not even part of the Committee’s findings and narrative.

What flashed often in the collective memories of the watchdogs who wrote the report was the Maguindanao massacre. More than 30 tri-media journalists on the most routine of reporting jobs – covering the filing of a certificate of candidacy – were waylaid on the way to the filing site and murdered along with more than 20 others.

The murdered journalists were then pummeled by government-owned backhoes. Another government-owned bulldozer dug a mass grave. The backhoe scooped the prostrate and mangled bodies, then dumped them into the mass grave in open daylight by a political clan crazed with power and warped by a sense of invincibility.

Justice has not been rendered and like the Napoles scam, the murder of the more than 30 journalists is becoming a forgotten thing.

Only the foreign “meddlers” keep it alive. Hopefully, up to the point justice is rendered and before the grim imagery of the massacre and impunity completely vanishes from the national memory.

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