REMOVING plunder from the list of heinous crimes to be covered by the proposed restoration of the death penalty has added spice to the already divisive proposed bill pending in Congress.
Congressmen, led by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, should realize that they are in power to serve the people, and not to save and exempt themselves from accountabilities and liabilities. They were elected to legislate laws that will serve the interest of the majority, not their own.
If some of our lawmakers believe that persons found guilty of rape, arson, car theft, murder, and drug-related offenses must be sent to the death chambers, why can’t plunder be considered in the same league?
Are they taking plunder out of the list of heinous crimes covered by the death penalty because most of those committing the offense are in their ranks, or are their patrons or allies?
What will they come out with next, an amendment to the plunder law that raises the covered amount to P100 million, or P1 billion?
One who commits plunder rapes the government coffers, resulting in higher costs or lower standards of projects, or both. For every million-peso that goes into a public official’s pocket, how many hungry mouths it could have fed, how many children could have been deprived of scholarships, or classrooms that could have been built?
In a 2001 study conducted by the World Bank, it was estimated that from 1995-2000, a total of P 609 billion pesos was lost to corruption. Some 20 percent of the total budget is also wasted to corruption.
In the current budget of P3.35 trillion, 20 percent is P670 billion. Whew!
Plunder is big-time corruption. Under Republic Act 7080, plunder is penalized with life imprisonment and with perpetual absolute disqualification from holding any public office. At the time it was enacted, the death penalty was suspended. But in 1993, RA 7656 later included plunder among the heinous crimes punishable with death. RA 7656 was, however, repealed in 2006 when capital punishment was abolished.
Representative Reynaldo Umali of Oriental Mindoro, chairman of the committee on justice and one of the chief proponents of the bill reviving the death penalty, said that a majority of his colleagues wanted plunder to be removed from the list of crimes punishable by death because they consider it a “very lame” crime that involves money, not life.
Umali’s exact words were: “This is just a money matter, anyway, as they say, too lame for others to include it.”
I’d say that was a very lame excuse. It gives us reason to distrust and disrespect politicians more.
The proposed legislation identifies 21 major offenses to be punished with death through lethal injection, firing squad, or hanging. The crimes include plunder, treason, qualified piracy, murder, rape, kidnapping and serious illegal detention, and drug-related offenses.
Apart from plunder, other crimes would be removed from the list in a bid to make it easier to have it approved in plenary. The House of Representatives began plenary debates last week on the issue, and it appears that the leadership would force a vote on it before the chamber goes into recess for Holy Week next month.
Alvarez had threatened to remove Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of Pampanga as deputy speaker because of her stand against the death penalty. It was during Arroyo’s presidency that the death penalty was abolished. Arroyo faced plunder charges after her presidency, but the case was dismissed on technicalities last year.
Joseph Estrada, now a second-term mayor of Manila, was convicted of plunder in 2007 but Arroyo granted him pardon and he was out of jail less than a week after conviction.
Right now, former senators Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla are in jail while on trial for plunder involving misuse of millions of pesos in pork barrel funds. Former senator Juan Ponce Enrile is also on trial for plunder but he is out of jail, courtesy of the Supreme Court that found him too old and sickly to be kept in detention.
Many more of our public officials may have committed or are committing plunder but they manage to get away with it because of our flawed legal and justice system. These plunderers pocket hard-earned taxpayers’ monies and deprive our citizens of even the most basic services that could have made life a bit more comfortable.
You may not see blood oozing from victims of plunder, but the monies stolen are from the blood and sweat of taxpayers.
The death penalty may even be more acceptable to the public if it were to be restored only for plunder, but please don’t take plunder off the list of heinous crimes punishable with death, if you are restoring the death sentence.
It’s a wrong move, Mr. Speaker! Don’t pursue it, please!