“I remember she wore a black duster type dress accented with pashmina shoal [sic]. I personally handed the cash to Ruby amounting to Ten Million Five Hundred Sixty Thousand Pesos.”
The Janet Lim-Napoles’s affidavit submitted on May 26, 2014 reads less like a dry legal text than it does a yellow press weekend essay or an experimental piece of political satire. Expecting to slog through a dense legal text, I instead found the pages fly by as I avidly read the affidavit on my phone, unable to wait to reach a computer. Taken as a work of literature, it would be the darkest, best satire I’ve read in a very long time. That it is not deliberately a satire only makes it still darker and more searing as such. From the eating tour of Manila, the vivid description of mundane details, the tsismis, the cast of known characters, the abject state of our government, and the incredible scam details, to the sheer scale of governmental corruption, this affidavit is a would-be satirical masterpiece. Depressing, hilarious, and incredible, it shows the deep farce of our government.
The superfluous, detailed description creates a nearly ironic tone—“During the delivery [of 18.525 million Php for Ruby Tuason and 12.825 million Php for Senator Enrile], Al brought a tray of Palabok and BBQ for my staff. He was wearing a green shirt at that time.” The tone of the piece is hardly contrite; it’s deadpan, with the egregious corruption merely part of the prosaic mundane. “The advance commission was picked up by Ruby Tuason in my unit at Pacific Plaza. We had small talk over lunch, I even gave her three (3) pieces of blouses [sic]that I got from Japan because she liked the same one that I was wearing that day. I showed her the cash and we counted it in my bedroom and I placed Senator Enrile’s cash in a colorful duffel bag (Ten Million Nine Hundred Twelve Thousand Five Hundred Pesos — Php 10,912,500.00) and hers in a s smaller [sic]shoulder bag (Two Million Four Hundred Twenty Five Thousand — Php 2,425,000.00). When she left I escorted her to the lobby of our condominium with her [sic]and saw her board a Toyota Camry.”
The tour of local restaurants similarly sets the stage for satire, but its flat earnestness only makes the irony that much more effective. From Inagiku at EDSA Shangri-La Plaza Hotel, the Pancake House in Malayan Building in Ortigas, to the L’Opera on Fort Strip, the reader finds him or herself unmistakably in Manila. Moreover, we’re invited to incorporate the existence of corruption into our daily lives, from our next Pancake House meal to our sighting of Tips and Toes on Wilson St. in Greenhills. The affidavit satirizes us too if we presumed that the corruption was not taking place all around us.
The true opening line of the piece is the first statement of her position on page three: “I am NOT THE MOST GUILTY and NOT THE ‘MASTERMIND’ of the alleged 10 billion pork barrel scam nor of the Malampaya fund scam.” Franz Kafka’s 1952 The Trial begins: “Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested.” As does Kafka’s, Napoles’s opening gambit rests on interpretation and pits truth against Truth.
The slippage of the spelling of names in the affidavit destabilizes the grounds of Napoles’s testimony as well as the reader’s ability to establish a stable, shared reality and to corroborate its facts. If this were a piece of literature, the slippage between Ruby Tuazon and Ruby Tuason, would be a masterful sleight of hand. In the affidavit, it consistently returns us to the question of interpretation and truth, and that is what is at stake in this case—with the multiplying lists, the incomplete evidence, the distracting ping pong of counter-claims, on what grounds does our Truth rest and is Truth expedient or possible?
Indeed, Napoles raises our attention to the inconvenient Truth—that she is not the ultimate mastermind, for the problem is systemic, and, in which case, she truly is not The Most Guilty in a larger sense. “The Priority Development Allocation Fund (PDAF) existed even as early as 1922. I was not even born then nor my parents…Even as early as 1925, the misuse of the funds in the form of pork barrel was already questioned…Though it changed names over the years, the function and use of the said fund have remained the same.” Napoles is symptomatic of the much deeper malady. Even if we prosecute Napoles and her colleagues in crime, will we have changed anything in our system at all?
Here we have a testimony of business as usual, of the normal functioning of our political system, and through her tone, Napoles invites her readers to remain as unfazed as she even as “business as usual” involves “two small sized balikbayan boxes, which contained Twenty Seven Million Five Hundred Thousand Pesos (Php 27,500,000.00) for the Senator.” Indeed, this fact is followed by another: “When I got there, [Pauline Labayen] met me outside the parlor and she transferred the box from my car to the trunk of her car.” Napoles continues, “I remember she had personalized plates.”
The detailed realism and veracity of the world of prosaic corruption in which we reside provide us with the darkest lived satire, indeed.
Nicole Del Rosario CuUnjieng is a PhD Student in Southeast Asian and International History at Yale University.