Profiles in corruption: The 'honorable' senators

First of a series

WHILE still fresh in our memories, we review some of the great accounts of corruption in the country. These are cautionary tales for BBM, who is perceived to be taking his administration on a crusade to whitewash his father's deeds. I don't blame the son for undertaking this admirable filial duty. This partly explains why BBM has to constantly travel all over the world, brandishing another face of the Marcoses.

Perhaps he is out to repair Macoy's reputation abroad and reverse the iconic symbols of profligacy during the martial law years, among which is a wretched parody of an image imprinted globally — his mother's 3,000 pairs of shoes. But all these matters do not matter if the son revisits the corruption issues of his predecessors, from Cory to the Deegong, learns from them, and even — my fervent wish — pursues and rectifies these travesties. Even if BBM does nothing in the remaining four years of his presidency but resolves these corruption issues and punishes the miscreants, he will be on his way to becoming a great president.

This column begins a nostalgic but bizarre review of corruption, most of which were investigated and, for a time, caused their perpetrators their 15 minutes of fame and then either quashed, relegated to the back pages, forgotten, or eclipsed by subsequent scandals. The events are not sequenced in chronological order but organized as to their impact on our political culture, defining each post-Ferdinand E. Marcos administration.

PNoy and Corona

A case in point is the Chief Justice Renato Corona affair during President Noynoy Aquino's watch. To refresh our memories, toward the end of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's presidency, she appointed Corona as Supreme Court chief justice upon the retirement of Reynato Puno. This so-called midnight appointment was controversial as it came on May 12, 2010, shortly after President Aquino 3rd's election on May 10. Arroyo installed a close ally purportedly to protect her from possible corruption cases during her administration. President Aquino preferred another ally Maria Lourdes Sereno — who, in fact, was appointed to replace Corona but was later impeached herself during the next administration of President Duterte.

Bribery allegations

The ruling of the Corona-led Supreme Court that President Nonoy Aquino's family Hacienda Luisita (4,916 ha) was to be distributed to 6,000 farmer-beneficiaries and reversed the P5 billion payment to the Cojuangco clan to the original valuation of only P200 million, and making this resolution "final and executory," may have sealed Corona's fate. "It would be the height of irony if the Cojuangco family lost Hacienda Luisita when Noynoy Aquino became president." (Carmen Pedrosa, PDI, April 29, 2018.)

The Senate, acting as an impeachment court, found Corona guilty of culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust. Based on trumped-up charges, he was removed from office, making him the first chief justice in Philippine history to be impeached and convicted.

But this is not the end of this sordid tale. One of the senator-judges, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada revealed in a curious privilege speech that discretionary funds to the tune of several billions were used to influence the proceedings against Corona, with President Noynoy openly pushing for his conviction. Jinggoy stated, "...after the conviction of the former chief justice, those who voted to convict were allotted an additional P50 million ... I maintain, however ... that I stand by my decision in my vote to convict the former chief justice and assure our people that I was never influenced by this incentive which came after the fact."

No serious investigation was made on the allegations of bribery, for who will investigate the powerful who hold the levers of power, backed by the presidency. There were 20 senators who voted to convict and three to acquit. The three were Joker Arroyo and Miriam Defensor-Santiago, now deceased, and the third was Sen. Ferdinand Marcos, Jr.

Of the 20 who voted Corona "guilty," eight are still sitting senators — the Cayetano siblings, Alan Peter and Pia; Escudero, Lapid, Legarda, Koko Pimentel, Revilla Jr. and Jinggoy Estrada — who spilled the beans on the alleged bribery. The other 12 are Angara (deceased), Drilon, Guingona 3rd, Honasan, Lacson, Osmeña 3rd, Pangilinan, Sotto 3rd, Trillanes 4th, Villar, Enrile and Recto.

DAP/PDAF scams

Three years after the Corona debauchery was practically swept under the rug, another scandal erupted. The scam involving the PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund), also known as the pork barrel, was a series of corruption scandals involving the misappropriation of government funds intended for development projects.

The main architect of the PDAF scam was a well-connected businesswoman, Janet Lim-Napoles, who set up fake nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to siphon off public funds, which were allocated through the senators and congressmen's PDAF.

Some of the senators involved in the Corona impeachment and bribery fiasco were implicated in the PDAF scam: Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla. These honorable gentlemen were accused of channeling their PDAF allocations to Napoles' spurious NGOs in exchange for kickbacks. These three were later arrested, detained, and faced trial on plunder and graft charges.

Enrile was initially detained, but the Sandiganbayan allowed him in 2018 to post bail for humanitarian reasons. Enrile, who will be 100 years old next month, is currently the chief presidential legal counsel in BBM's government.

Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla were both arrested in 2014 and faced trial for plunder and graft charges but were released on bail after three years of detention. The Sandiganbayan acquitted both of the plunder charges but found them guilty of graft while sitting senators. Both were sentenced to a minimum of six years and a maximum of 10 years in prison, and both remain free on bail as they have filed appeals against their conviction.

These three plunder defendants who were up for reelection in 2019 were allowed to run for office as they were not administratively sanctioned by the Office of the Ombudsman, and the judgment of conviction on several graft cases was not final and executory. In the subsequent mid-term elections, Enrile lost, but Estrada and Revilla won and are currently sitting senators of the land.

The same fate has not befallen the other co-accused and those implicated in the scam, including Richard Cambe, the former chief of staff of Revilla; Jessica "Gigi" Reyes, former chief of staff of Enrile; and Janet Lim-Napoles, an ordinary influence peddler albeit a criminal genius but did not have the kind of status accorded the powerful. In July 2023, the Sandiganbayan found her guilty of graft and malversation of public funds in relation to the PDAF scam, sentencing her to a total of 70 years, five months, and 13 days in prison.

These dramatis personae of the two corruption issues, the Corona impeachment bribery case and the PDAF scams, are powerful people gifted by the Filipino electorate to these prestigious positions: exemplars of the nobility of public service. After cursory investigations and some convictions that may go nowhere, they took advantage of the massive publicity surrounding these scandals and parlayed this notoriety to propel them to greater heights in the political firmament. All these transgressions forgotten and perhaps even forgiven.

This, too, is a sad indictment of the Filipino electorate.

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Read 148 times Last modified on Thursday, 25 January 2024 22:35
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