So the Office of the Ombudsman has finally gotten around to filing charges against Luis “Chavit” Singson, a full 14 years after the supposed commission of the crime.
The Ilocos Sur governor was accused of releasing P26 million of tobacco excise tax to Multi-Line Food, a company supposedly engaged in job creation, in 2001.
Actually, Mr. Singson failed to account for P1.3 billion in tobacco excise tax from 1999 to 2005.
By releasing the funds to that company, the Ombudsman charge sheet states, Mr. Singson “acted with manifest partiality, evident bad faith, gross inexcusable negligence. . . .”
Hell, if the allegations are true, that was plain and simple thievery.
Multi-Line Food was privately owned and organized for profit. Therefore, it was not qualified to receive government subsidy. The company was established solely to serve as conduit for the transfer of money from the government to the conspirators. It thus folded up after receiving the last installment.
If tobacco excise tax sounds familiar, it should. In October 2000, during the aborted impeachment trial of President Joseph “Erap” Estrada, Mr. Singson testified that the then president had taken P130 million of the province’s share of the tax.
Largely because of the revelation, Mr. Estrada was charged with and convicted of plunder after his removal from office. He drew a life sentence, but was pardoned by his successor, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
But as early as 1999, or a year earlier, the NBI had already recommended that Mr. Singson should be charged with graft for misusing the tax.
In fairness to Ombudsman Conchita Morales, it was her predecessor, Merceditas Gutierrez, who sat on the case.
The excise tax was supposed to be used for projects designed to benefit the poor tobacco farmers from whom it was exacted. Its diversion by politicians already wallowing in riches was reprehensible, to say the least.
It’s about time somebody was held accountable for the crime.
No, we’re not prejudging the case. But we demand that Mr. Singson answer the charges against him in a full-blown trial, and this time we want to see case brought to its logical conclusion.
The public is sick and tired of politicians getting away with murder, sometimes literally. Usually, no case is brought against them. Or if there is a case, they delay it, as Mr. Singson seems to have successfully done for more than a decade.
If his lawyers fail to delay the case, the accused gets the judge to downgrade the crime to a lesser offense.
Army M/Gen. Carlos Gracia and then Ombudsman Gutierrez cut a deal to get the charge faced by the former downgraded from plunder, a capital offense, to the much lesser offense of bribery.
The Sandiganbayan approved the plea bargain agreement. And the general got to keep half of the P303 million he had plundered.
Mercifully, the Supreme Court stopped its implementation.
Now we want to hear what the former Ombudsman and the justices of the Sandiganbayan have to say. Likewise, we will watch what course Mr. Singson’s trial will take, if it moves at all.
The redemption of the justice system in the eyes of the people will depend on the resolution of the two cases.