Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Political prosecution

In the first year of his presidency, President Noynoy Aquino was successful in having impeached former Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, whom he considered one of the main obstacles in his objective of cleaning the government of corruption, a promise he made during the election campaign. The other obstacle is former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who is currently in hospital detention and waiting for her day in court on charges of plunder and election sabotage.
Now, the Aquino administration is determined to flush out some high-profile members of Congress for allegedly taking part in a pork barrel scam that involved billions of pesos that were supposed to be earmarked for projects under the Priority Development Fund (PDAF). Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr. are all prominent members of the opposition, with the latter being touted as a presidential hopeful in the 2016 elections.
Members of President Noynoy Aquino's poltical opposition who are target of
of the current PDAF scam investigation. Photo courtesy of rappler.
The President’s Secretary of Justice, Leila de Lima, has promised to add more senators to the list of the accused in the scam. Likely to be accused are Senators Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and Gregorio Honasan and about 23 representatives in Congress, all members of the opposition.
There is a very clear pattern in President Aquino’s crusade against corruption in high levels of government. From the ousted former SC Chief Justice Corona to ex-president Gloria Arroyo and the senators and representatives named in the PDAF mess, the objective appears to be the annihilation of the opposition. If this is not political prosecution, what else is it?
President Aquino, a member of Congress before becoming president, and all other members of the legislature could have collected their share of their PDAF allocations during the COA audit year 2007 to 2009. Singling out only members of the opposition as culpable for receiving bribes under the PDAF scam, while overlooking others simply because of their affiliation and support of the president’s political party, is a hallmark of a systematic prosecution for political purposes.
Besides, PDAF represents only 1.3 percent of the national budget. This means that there are other and bigger sources of corruption for which the current government is being opaque about.
The President’s so-called social fund, which is actually discretionary funding not subject to oversight and audit, is far larger than PDAF and about 1.5 trillion pesos. If the President is sincere in his desire to wipe out corruption in government, he should start being transparent at home. His entire cabinet may not be as clean as the president would like the public to believe.
There is a public perception, which the current president will probably admit, that the entire Philippine government, from the Executive to the Legislative to the Judiciary, has been immersed in the culture of open and pervasive graft and plunder. This cancer of corruption has once earned the country of being “the most corrupt country in Asia,” or the “perpetual sick man of Asia.”
The Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) of Transparency International for the year 2012 ranks the Philippines at 105 among countries and territories on how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be. A ranking of 105 means that the country is more corrupt from among the countries surveyed, with a lower ranking indicating a country is least corrupt, like Denmark which stands at number 1. The Philippines is virtually tied with Mali, a country in West Africa that is in turmoil because of Islamist rebellion. This index of corruption for the Philippines would certainly be altered by the PDAF scandal depending on the results of the ongoing investigation and possible prosecution of all those involved.
What is probably more disturbing with the PDAF mess is not the exposé of the massive use of these funds but how those accused of corruption are being prosecuted. Prosecution of the corrupt in government, if done honestly and through due process of law, will change not only our perception of corruption but strengthen everyone’s respect for the rule of law. But if the corrupt are prosecuted for the purpose of decimating the opposition and preserving the status quo of those in power, this will only encourage more corruption, disdain for accountability, and the perpetuation of a culture of impunity.
Totalitarian or repressive governments do not have a monopoly of political prosecutions. They can also happen in a democratic system, albeit a failed one, like the Philippines. It is quite easy to spot when a government considers it politically expedient to prosecute its enemies, detractors and critics.
Former Chief Justice Corona was an easy target and thus became a fall guy for the previous administration that he served with blind loyalty. Deposing him for his failure to honestly disclose his statement of assets and liabilities net worth (SALN) is a shallow rationale when his colleagues in the court or even other high-ranking officials of government might equally be guilty of the same omission. Corona was indeed guilty for serving his master by accepting his midnight appointment as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, which shows a lack of integrity when he could have simply allowed the incoming president to exercise that prerogative.
The senators and other members of Congress named as respondents in the PDAF complaint represent a clear and present threat to the president’s rule, thus it becomes politically expedient to prosecute them in order to preserve the transfer of power to his anointed successor(s).
Janet Napoles, suspected mastermind of the P10-billion peso scam in
government custody. Photo by hereisgone2003.
In the PDAF case, the justice system is being exploited by the incumbent government to preserve itself and ensure continuity of its stranglehold of power to the next government, which of course will be sympathetic to its administration and will simply ignore whatever abuses or corrupt activities it had committed. The timing and circumstances of the continuing PDAF investigation are particularly suspect because if the government is successful, criminal charges against the accused may disqualify them for running in office in the next elections.
We have the flashpoints of whether the present PDAF investigation and prosecution is politically motivated. We all know that all those named in the complaint are high-profile members of the president’s opposition. They may seek election to the high office of the land, which is a threshold inquiry. This is not saying that being in the political opposition carries an expectation of immunity because those in the opposition can still commit a crime.
Plunder is such a high crime that prosecuting those accused would be equally difficult, but it can achieve so much media coverage and publicity that the current government may need to deflect public dissatisfaction of the President’s inept leadership. For instance, incessant news coverage of the PDAF scandal can mute the ongoing difficulty and frustration of President Aquino and his military in containing the Muslim unrest in Mindanao. In the same way that President Aquino uses favourable ratings of his administration despite the failure of an increased economic performance, like a spike in investor confidence when this has not been translated in an increase in employment and reduction in poverty.
The conduct of the investigation of the PDAF scandal has also a bearing on the political motivation of the government to prosecute its detractors. Parallel investigations likewise add to the confusion, such as the Office of Ombudsman conducting a review of the complaint, the Department of Justice continuing to forage additional evidence so it can add more names in the list of the accused, or the Senate convening a Blue Ribbon committee for its own investigation of the scandal.
The trial of the respondents, of course, would be the biggest indicator of whether the accused are being politically prosecuted. But we don’t know yet if this case would see the light of day. The Department of Justice seems to be conducting the case in the press, so the public is becoming more anxious to see a public lynching. When mainstream newspapers and the social media attempt to build public sympathy or support the charges brought, the stronger the indication of a politically motivated prosecution.
It is entirely possible both that the accused legislators are guilty of the crime of plunder and that the prosecution is politically motivated. But whether the prosecution is politically motivated is something we can separate from the question of guilt or innocence of the accused. With its sweeping mantra of daang matuwid, everyone in government could be found guilty of plunder and other forms of bribery. And when the prosecutor is out to get the accused as part of a political agenda, the act of prosecution is an assault on democratic institutions.
The human rights lawyer Scott Horton, in a 2008 article in Harper’s Magazine, wrote about Andrei Januaryevich Vyshinsky, Stalin’s prosecutor, who is best known for his use of prosecution as a political tool. Vyshinsky used the criminal justice system to destroy Stalin’s enemies. He pioneered the notion of the “show trial” in which the defendant would be brought before the world as a broken and hollow man, confessing his crimes like a one act in a longer play in which his crimes would be staged before the world. Vyshinsky would not only eliminate the accused, but even destroy his memory, limiting the likelihood that an opposition group might form around him.
At the rate the PDAF investigation is going, such a conclusion that Vyshinsky envisaged is not a far-fetched scenario.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Plunderers’ row

Anyone with an Internet connection can check the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) website to find out if his or her favourite or most detested public official, whether a police chief or mayor, governor or cabinet member, has faced charges of graft and corruption. The PCIJ website has accumulated a database of Sandiganbayan cases against Philippine public officials from 1979 to 2012.
It’s no surprise if you find in the PCIJ database the three highest ranking government officials ever charged with plunder: former presidents Ferdinand Marcos, Joseph Estrada and Gloria Arroyo-Macapagal.  
Protests against corruption in government heat up as Napoles, 37 others face
plunder, graft raps. Click link to view press conference of the Dept. of Justice,
Ferdinand Marcos had been implicated in several cases involving bribery and other forms of corruption in government for all the years he had ruled the country with an iron fist. Whether by a stroke of luck or aggressive lawyering by his defence team, the Sandiganbayan simply failed to find any liability against Marcos.
Take the case of Herminio Disini, a Marcos crony who was found by the Sandiganbayan in 2012 guilty for receiving bribes in connection with the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP). Disini was ordered to return to the government $50.6 million in commissions he received for helping two foreign firms win the BNPP contract. While the Sandiganbayan found Marcos to have had a “personal financial interest” in the transaction, the court could not find evidence to show that either Marcos or his wife, Imelda, received any part of the commissions from the BNPP deal.
Disini is still a free man and rumoured to be living somewhere in Europe in a castle he bought for himself. Marcos died a long time ago but his family is back in political power. Although there is no statute of limitation in recovering the Marcos’ ill-gotten wealth, the government has simply not done anything as if this has been a forgotten issue.
Everyone knows what happened to Joseph Estrada. Two years into his presidency, he was charged with plunder and convicted by the Sandiganbayan. Estrada was sentenced to life imprisonment or reclusion perpetua until he was pardoned by his successor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Arroyo, who herself would be charged with plunder after her presidency and more than two years into her supposed trial by the Sandiganbayan, remains in hospital custody while eagerly waiting for her day in court. Estrada has been elected mayor of Manila while Arroyo has been re-elected as her district’s representative in Congress.
The Sandiganbayan as an anti-graft court was established during the term of the dictator Marcos, apparently not a serious feature of his repressive government, or to be expected to become an effective arm of the government in combating corruption of public service employees. According to Senator Frank Drilon, the current Senate President, there are at least 2,600 graft cases still pending before Sandiganbayan, which is only able to resolve less than 100 cases yearly.
Overwhelmed with an enormous number of unresolved cases, how then can we expect the Sandiganbayan to speed up the much-awaited trial of the senators and members of Congress who were named in the complaint filed by the Department of Justice in the recent pork barrel scam? Judging by the Sandiganbayan’s appalling inefficiency, there is virtually no hope for the public for a swift and early dispensation of justice for the nation’s collective indignation. What a waste for the people’s hue and cry?
The unpleasant track record of the Sandiganbayan merely confirms that morality is rigged in favour of the powerful. The mighty that have stood up in trial for their high misdemeanours against the nation are either pardoned or simply locked up for the moment until everyone has learned to forget, even perhaps, to forgive. Or better yet, waiting for the right moment for all their charges to be swept under the rug.
Public consciousness has been aroused about the evils of corruption in government. The people are now getting more and more exposed to the various camouflages that conceal corruption that goes unrecognized. But it is the government and the powers it yields that now prove weak in wrestling with this conundrum. Or maybe, the government and our current crop of leaders are not serious enough, like their predecessors, in combing out corruption because if they were, they would similarly be the object of public lynching. Not by the organized opposition but because their own hands are also dirty and the public knows it.
This is clearly evident in the current complaint filed by the Department of Justice against 38 defendants—three senators, some members of Congress, and others allegedly involved in scamming the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). All lawmakers named in the complaint are known stalwarts of Noynoy Aquino’s opposition, which could rightfully infer bias and political motivation to stymie the potential rivals of the current government’s anointed successors.
The information contained in the complaint is very shoddy and alludes to pieces of evidence yet to be gathered. It smacks of a fishing expedition, a careless preparation just to allay a restive public that is bent on holding more and bigger protests against the government’s feeble response to the nation’s outcry.
According to the special report of the Commission on Audit (COA) for the years 2007 to 2009, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have been violating the use of funds under PDAF without an appropriation law or ordinance earmarking such amounts for their projects. NGOs were simply endorsed by legislators, thus funds were allowed to be transferred to NGOs whose status and existence turned out to be questionable, such as those run or incorporated by Janet Napoles, the alleged pork barrel queen.
It is also doubtful that the named defendants in the complaint were the only ones involved in the PDAF fiasco. The current president who was a congressman for nine years and a senator for three years before being elected president would certainly have received his share of PDAF allocations, whether through his own network of supporters or NGOs. Besides, as president, Noynoy Aquino has the discretionary spending power without audit and oversight which could tap into almost P1.5 trillion of revenues from the Malampaya fund and PAGCOR operations through regulation of amusements and gaming facilities. PDAF makes up only about 1.3 percent of the yearly national budget. It means that there are other potential sources for massive corruption that remain untouched if we simply focus on the PDAF scam.
But then, all the president’s loyal men claim Noynoy Aquino is incorruptible, honest and super clean—therefore, he should be spared of the people’s collective indignation against corruption in government. Of course.
In the same COA report, it also identified 54 PDAF-funded projects which were constructed on private properties belonging to members of Congress not named in the complaint. Obviously, these members of Congress are affiliated with the president’s party or known to be supportive of the current administration. Such use of funds, as pointed out by COA, is prohibited. According to law, public funds must be used to promote public welfare or purposes, and not individual advantage.
In the grand scheme of public corruption, we might as well declare all members of Congress in both houses, and the office of the president, or even the entire bureaucracy, as a big plunderers’ row. But as official morality seems to reside in the hands of the powerful, the sitting president and his party and supporters control the government. They have at their disposal all agencies and offices, including the media, to prosecute and persecute those they have deemed as enemies of the state.
Janet Napoles and the PDAF scam have become our national morality play. From the perspective of institutionalized corruption, this entire mess, according to the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG), “dramatizes only one aspect of a long entrenched tradition of lack of accountability by politicians and a culture of impunity enjoyed by the powerful.”

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A case for resistance

After the August 26th people march at Luneta, September looks like a spirited month for Filipinos to sustain and maintain their opposition to the pork barrel system.
It’s not just the congressional pork barrel, known otherwise by its euphemism, the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), that the people want to abolish, but also the presidential social fund or discretionary fund which is many times larger than the pork Congress allots to its members.  
Public protests against pork barrel intensify after the August 26th people march
in Luneta. Photo by AFP.
The president’s pork is reported to be more than 1.5 trillion pesos, and that easily makes the P25-billion congressional pork barrel a drop in the bucket. With that amount of money at the discretion of the president, there is a lot for a corrupt president and his cabinet of close allies and friends to be tempted to plunder.
What enhances the opportunity and motivation to steal from this enormous fund is the absence of review by the Commission on Audit (COA) and congressional oversight. Right now, the current administration dips into this fund whenever the government needs money to finance the President’s favourite programs like the conditional cash transfer fund (the 4Ps) and public-private partnership projects. Money for national emergencies due to unforeseen natural events such as typhoons and other calamities also comes from this fund, which the administration uses as a blanket justification for its discretionary spending.
Where does this president’s huge discretionary fund come from? It’s all easy money – royalties ($1 billion this year) from the Malampaya Deepwater Gas-to-Power project, a consortium between Shell, Chevron and the Philippine Department of Energy which was criticized as a sell-out by the Philippine government to foreign corporations; revenues from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) operation of casinos and slot VIP Clubs; the sale of sweepstakes and lotto tickets by the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO); and, revenues from other income-generating public corporations which are too many to enumerate here.
The Aquino government faces a September offensive of protests from various sectors of Philippine society for its stand on pork barrel. Aquino has been ambivalent on whether to scrap PDAF although it is Congress which has the power to repeal the dreaded pork barrel legislation. But the President remains adamant to preserve his discretionary fund which he said is exclusively for the purpose of implementing the government’s social programs and its response to national emergencies and calamities.
First off, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has called for prayer vigils across the country on September 7 which coincided with Pope Francis’ plea for a “Day of Atonement” as Catholics around the world celebrate the vigil of the birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Pope has asked all Catholics to offer prayers in atonement for their sins against world peace and in particular pray for the restoration of peace in Syria.
For its part, the CBCP also declared September 7 as a day of atonement for Filipino Catholics for sins against peace in our country. “According to our moral judgment, the present pork barrel practice in government is fertile ground for graft and corruption. Promoting the politics of patronage, it is contrary to the principles of stewardship, transparency and accountability. It is immoral to continue this practice,” the CBCP further said.
On September 11, Filipinos from different faiths will hold a prayer vigil at the Edsa Shrine under the initiative of a new movement called Edsa Tayo. There will be an inter-faith prayer, the lighting of the vigil candle and Freedom Flame, and some singing, all part of the continuing protest after the August 26th march to completely abolish pork barrel. According to the organizers, “Edsa Tayo will only be the kick-off a wider prayer vigil.”
Two days after Edsa Tayo, militant groups will also hold a mass action against the pork barrel system on September 13 at Rizal Park in Manila. Then on September 19, millions of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) will temporarily suspend their remittances to the Philippine government, which organizers dubbed as “Zero Remittance Day,” in support of the growing nationwide movement to abolish the pork barrel system.
President Noynoy Aquino’s spokesperson Edwin Lacierda immediately downplayed the planned demonstrations. He questioned why the organizers of the September 11 prayer vigil decided to hold their rally on the birth anniversary of the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Lacierda likewise belittled the announcement of Migrante International that some 112 Filipino migrant workers’ organizations from all over the world have agreed not to send remittances as part of the protest. He doesn’t think OFWs would be able to hold their remittances because it’s their families who would eventually  suffer. 
Anti-pork barrel protests zoom in on President Noynoy Aquino for insisting
that he should keep his presidential pork. Photo by
Lacierda and his boss, by extension, both miss the point of these September rallies. The Edsa Tayo organizers insist that they never thought of celebrating the birthday of the late dictator and that September 11 was just a convenient date.
But President Aquino and his spokesperson showed their brazen lack of appreciation of the OFWs’ decision to suspend their remittances. Overseas Filipino workers agreed not to remit on September 19 as a symbolic protest and a political exercise for Filipino immigrants to collectively demonstrate their outrage on issues that affect them. OFWs chose September 19 because it was on this day when the Philippine government implemented the Overseas Workers Welfare Assistance Omnibus Policies (OOP) that effectively made the $25 contributions to the Overseas Workers Welfare Fund mandatory per contract.
Describing the Overseas Omnibus Policies as “anti-migrant,” Migrante International said the Zero Remittance Day on September 19 will enable the voices of OFWs “to be heard in the call to abolish the pork barrel and re-channel funds for the people’s interest, including more efficient services and welfare assistance to overseas Filipino workers in distress.” Filipino migrant organizations from all over the world agreed not to send remittances to their families in the Philippines to express their outrage against the “widespread corruption, patronage politics and social injustice” in the Philippines.
The Zero Remittance Day by Filipino overseas workers is more than symbolic. It is beyond expression of their collective indignation. More than anything else, it is imagination in action, a call for resistance that could signal the beginning of more protests of civil disobedience against the current administration.
One Philippine newspaper wrote in its editorial that migrant workers have the right to be angry. These workers sacrifice their future so that the families they leave behind can afford a better life. With their income remittances, they have long been considered a lifeline to our troubled economy. But when the leaders they elect betray their trust, their hopes of returning to a better country are likewise crushed.
But not just migrant workers have the right to be angry. Every Filipino must be enraged with a government that doesn’t follow what it says. “Kung walang korap, walang mahirap,” the Aquino government proudly proclaims. Yet, its actions betray its words. Poverty is on the rise because this government is no match against corruption, more so with its complicity with the very venal act it condemns.
Our migrant workers are showing us the way to peaceful resistance. Their call for Zero Remittance Day is based on the belief that the pork barrel system is immoral, unjust and a dangerous policy. It is the kind of civil disobedience that is justified because it challenges a government that tolerates its own injustice to the people. Henry David Thoreau wrote of this form of civil disobedience as accomplishing a “peaceable revolution.”
While President Aquino and his administration may deem the migrant workers’ decision to suspend their remittances on September 19 as ineffective, perhaps absurd because it would affect their families even more as Lacierda claims, the harmlessness of such entirely symbolic protest may serve a higher purpose. It shows that collectively, Filipinos, short of a true revolution, are not without the means to redress their grievances. It also demonstrates other ways in the people’s arsenal of protests which they can unleash against a government that is not merely corrupt but also insensitive to their outrage.
There have been many historical instances of civil disobedience, such as those of Thoreau, Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Civil disobedience is a classic way of expressing defiance toward government and unwillingness to support its policies. Other forms of civil disobedience like boycotts, refusal to pay taxes, sit-ins like the Occupy movement, and general strikes will make it more difficult for a government to function. True, there could be public discomfort, but not for a long time, because the government will become more responsive and sensitive to the purposes of civil disobedience.
Rallies, prayer vigils, disobeying morally repugnant laws and policies, and other forms of public demonstrations must continue against the pork barrel system until the government engages the people in a moral dialogue toward an acceptable resolution. On the other hand, the government should not resort to heavy-handedness by using its coercive powers in silencing the people’s protest.

Monday, September 2, 2013

State witness or accomplice

Janet Napoles, the “pork-barrel queen,” has been the most hated Filipino woman in recent days, perhaps rivaling the public’s revulsion of former president Gloria Arroyo or even the first lady Imelda Marcos. For her notoriety, Napoles has been elevated to celebrity status and now the most popular butt of jokes in social media. Even her photo while being pushed around in a Louis Vuitton-designed wheelchair has been flashed on YouTube and other media along with the photograph of Lady Gaga’s similar wheelchair ride.
After several weeks of inept manhunt by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to apprehend Napoles on allegations of being the principal in a P10-billion pork barrel scam, and the growing suspicion of her scripted surrender to President Noynoy Aquino, Napoles has become a comical sideshow to the people’s outrage against pork barrel.
Mugshots of Janet Napoles. Photo courtesy of the Philippine National Police (PNP).
It is a misdirected public indignation. In this respect, the social media is equally to blame in turning Napoles into a clown instead of seriously focusing on the larger issue of corruption in government. The social media is turning Napoles to a hapless and miserable caricature. Whether Napoles is the scam’s mastermind or just an accomplice should not be the only focus of this ongoing sideshow, but the information she could disclose which is important in the pursuit of truth. There are people in the high echelons of government who could be possibly implicated -- this pork barrel scam is merely the surface of an almost bottomless pit of government corruption.
Right now, no charges have been laid against Napoles, except for alleged illegal detention or kidnapping of Benhur Luy, the principal whistleblower of the pork barrel scam. The Department of Justice and the NBI have not completed their investigation while the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee plans to conduct a separate inquiry. The stunning surrender of Napoles to President Aquino also raises the speculation that the government is planning to use Napoles as a state witness in prosecuting some senators and members of the opposition in Congress for their involvement in the pork barrel scam. In exchange for turning as a state witness, Napoles obviously could ask for immunity from prosecution or bargain for a lighter penalty for the role she played in the scam.
The current administration’s plan to make Napoles a state witness could easily be seen as a ploy to divert the issue away from President Aquino’s allies who were named in the Commission on Audit report. This would turn the investigation of the misuse and abuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) into a witch hunt that could target certain political enemies of the Aquino administration.
Whether Napoles can be turned into a state witness is debatable. Doubters argue that Napoles could be the most guilty, therefore, not qualified to become a state witness. But in the grand scheme of government theft, how can someone of Napoles’s stature as a mere commoner be the most guilty? Shouldn’t the usual suspects be those in power who have control of the purse and its disbursement? Or those who have the final authority to decide, which in this case happens to be our legislators and high-ranking members of the executive department?
Perhaps, it’s the entire system of government we have that is most guilty. But a government could only be as good or as bad as the people who run it.
Turning Napoles into a state witness will pervert the system of justice. Napoles will become a tool for the miscarriage of justice, especially if she is used to expose the corruption of some members of Congress on the pretext of cleaning the government. If not the scam’s principal which seems doubtful, at the very least, Napoles is an accomplice in the scam. Under the law, an accomplice has the same degree of culpability as the principal or primary offender, and faces the same criminal penalties.
Our most serious concern however, should be whether the investigation and the consequent trial of those culpably involved in the PDAF pork barrel scam would be tried under the full force of the law. There is no assurance that the testimony of Napoles could bring down the corrupt senators and congressmen who were allegedly involved in the PDAF scandal. And there is reason to be skeptical.
Just look at the history of cases of graft and corruption and other crimes brought by the government against our politicians. The Marcos family had been chased out of the country after the EDSA People Power Revolution in 1984, but several decades have already passed and yet Imelda Marcos still has to stand trial for her involvement in one of the greatest cases of plunder in Philippine history. Worse, some of the cases against Marcos have been dismissed. Where are the members of the Marcos family now? Imelda Marcos sits as representative of Ilocos Norte in Congress and her son Bongbong is a senator who may have ambitions of running for president in 2016. Daughter Imee is governor of Ilocos Norte and was once a member of Congress, too. Most likely, they have also collected their share of the pork barrel.
After almost four years since the mass killing, the cases against the Ampatuans and their co-accused in the Maguindanao massacre remain at a standstill. To date, the court is still hearing their petition for bail. Meanwhile, some witnesses have died or been killed or recanted their testimonies.  

Nearly four years after the Maguindanao massacre, the perpetrators of this
gruesome crime have not been found guilty by the courts.

Former president Joseph Estrada was impeached in the Senate and was ousted from the presidency in 2001 by EDSA People Power 2. Local newspapers reported as early as 1999 about a plot to embarrass Estrada by attributing to his administration all sorts of perceived faults and scams in order to cover up anomalies and scams committed by his predecessor, Fidel Ramos. Estrada was sentenced by the Sandiganbayan to life imprisonment for plunder but was later pardoned by his successor, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. He ran for president again in the 2010 presidential election and finished runner-up to President Noynoy Aquino. During the recent local elections last June, Estrada ran and won as mayor of Manila.
Whatever is happening to the cases of corruption and plunder against former president Gloria Arroyo?
Last May 25, 2013, the Office of the Ombudsman dismissed the charges of bribery and corruption against Arroyo for lack of sufficient evidence. Recall that on November 18, 2011, Arroyo was arrested following the filing of criminal charges for electoral fraud. She was incarcerated at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City as a form of house arrest for health reasons. Arroyo, despite winning back her congressional seat in Pampanga in the last elections, continues to be under hospital arrest in connection with a plunder case involving alleged misuse of Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office funds.
Arroyo’s detention is nearing two years already, yet she has not been tried for her crimes. Every citizen, whether she is the most hated or most evil person, is entitled to her day in court as guaranteed by the right to a speedy trial under the Constitution and the Speedy Trial Act of 1998, or Republic Act No. 8493.
The concept of reasonable time in which to have a trial seems to attract little value in the Philippine justice system. Although what is reasonable is left to the court to decide in the circumstances of individual cases, lengthy and unnecessary delays in trying the accused could violate his or her constitutional right. It is not just the infringement of a constitutional right which is important but delays may outweigh the strong societal interest in having serious charges, such as corruption and plunder, be tried on their merits.
The very slow wheels of justice in the Philippines will work to the advantage of Janet Napoles. Her lawyers could use every legal trick in the book to delay the trial of her case, if this ever reaches the courts. Certainly, those senators and congressmen who might be implicated in the scam can likewise employ the same tricks, in addition to parliamentary immunity. Thanks to pork barrel, they have the luxury of money and time to delay and delay their cases until the public has forgotten their rage.
The current pork barrel scandal, more than beyond exposing the corruption of Napoles and Congress, has also effectively disclosed the glaring contradiction between the current government’s pronouncements and what it actually does in practice. That the present government is not as spotless as it purports to be. For one thing, the Aquino administration justifies the morality of the pork barrel system by making it an important instrument for the government to carry out its mandate, despite programs which are not in the best interests of the people.
How can the people trust a government that doesn’t follow the words it says?
We should not vacillate in our protests against corruption in government. The current Aquino administration, being the staunchest defender of the pork barrel system, should not be spared of our collective outrage simply because the yellow media and the President’s spinmeisters have painted Noynoy Aquino as morally upright and incorruptible.