Early this month, the Court of Tax Appeals dismissed the tax evasion case against Jeane Napoles, daughter of the alleged mastermind of the P10-billion scam, Janet Lim-Napoles.
A few days later, a store clerk went to jail for stealing a can of corned beef worth P31.50 in hunger and in desperation. The spoiled daughter of the alleged pork barrel queen got off easy.
Poor Paul Matthew Tanglao was in jail for a week, prompting many conscience-stricken newspaper readers to declare Tanglao as our own version of Jean Valjean, Victor Hugo’s character in Les Miserables.
While the circumstances on why they got into their own personal messes were different (the first were of whims and the other of poverty), the outcomes have been predictable, the sad reality in a country that skews everything in favor of the rich and powerful and against the likes of Tanglao, who falls right into the constituencies cited in the Sermon on the Mount. And who lives in Dickensian sorrow.
Theirs is a story of two countries, one for the haves and one for the have-nots. It is the Yuletide season, the season of joy and good tidings and it is depressing to write about the Tanglaos of our world. But we all should be aware of his fate to jolt, to stir, our generally numbed consciences that are the new normal in our country today. Borrowing from TS Eliot, “to stir dull roots with spring rain.”
To remind us of our two countries, one for the likes of Napoles et al and one for the likes of Tanglao.
Who is Jeane Catherine Napoles?
At about the same time, Paris Hilton was showing off on social media her life of wealth and uber privilege, Jeane Napoles was doing the same thing on the same grand scale. Her playground was the party scene of California.
She lived in a $1.2 million condominium at the Ritz-Carlton, drove a luxury sports car, partied with the Hollywood set and lived the life of an entitled princess.
After the P10-billion pork barrel scam allegedly masterminded by her mother was reported by the media, Jeane deactivated her social media accounts but what was dredged up suggested a lavish lifestyle beyond the reach of 99 percent of young Filipino women. Clothes, shoes and accessories from Chanel, Louboutin, Louis Vuitton, Hublot and YSL. Partying with Justin Bieber, Josh Duhamel and Justin Timberlake.
And she had a social media post that showed her literally swimming in a bathtub of notes.
In Manila, the young Napoles drove Porsches, plural – a Cayenne SUV and a Boxster.
“Afford nila,” said a Napoles lawyer, adding they had “businesses “that financed Jeane’s lifestyle. And, exactly, what was the “business” referred to?
According to public filings and the records of congressional investigations, Janet Napoles, the mother, masterminded the most daring congressional scam in history. She organized fake farm organizations and fake coops, which she used as beneficiaries of Special Allocation Release Orders from legislators she was in cahoots with. It was an unprecedented SARO-for-cash exchange that funded paper projects, with a sharing scheme of 60 percent for the legislator-principal and 40 percent to Napoles.
Before the daring SARO-for-Cash exchange, the then timid legislators merely demanded 10 to 20 percent of the project cost from their suppliers/contractors. Napoles, according to public records, crafted a scam that was both bold and done at an unprecedented level of corruption.
Paul Matthew Tanglao is the 21-year-old former supermarket clerk, who, gripped by the pangs of hunger, stole and consumed a can of corned beef at the store’s warehouse on Dec. 10. Hungry and desperate, and with just P20 in his pocket, he exorcised the ghost of all fears, to commit that wrong.
He was caught by the store’s security team and promptly confessed to his misdeed. He was fired and charged, and he stayed in jail for a week, the time his mother spent looking for money to bail him out. The police said the cost of the documentary requirements required to back up the charge against Tanglao more than exceeded the cost of the stolen corned beef. But the store owners pressed on with charging Tanglao, perhaps to teach others a lesson.
“I felt like I have been shamed and embarrassed before the world. I’m not saying what I did was right. I know it was wrong. All I’m am saying is that I was really hungry that day and I did not have any money.”
Remorse and perhaps repentance. In contrast to the lawyer’s quip that the young Napoles could live that kind of life because “afford nila.” The regret of the hungry poor and the arrogance of the pampered rich.
Of course, the grind – and the outcome – of the judicial system is all that predictable. The Court of Tax Appeal has dismissed the tax evasion case against Jeane Napoles. It took a week before the mother could raise the pittance bail money needed to get the young Tanglao out of jail.
Meanwhile, the lifestyle pages of the newspapers have been religiously covering the lavish parties for the season of the rich. In Biliran, a poor province that is home to many of the country’s poorest, rescuers are digging through mountains of mud and debris to recover the bodies of landslide victims.
One who is observant and sensitive enough knows immediately that even in this season of good tidings and joy, there are two countries here – one for the poor and desperate and the other for the wealthy and powerful.