Express Week

Unclean Hands

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CHICAGO (FAXX/jGLi) – The pork barrel, which started as an appropriation by either a Senator or Congressman for certain projects to prop up their standing among their local constituents, might have developed into Frankenstein over time without members of Philippine Congress realizing it that it is fraught with risks.

 

After two People Power Revolutions that toppled Presidents Marcos and Estrada, and is threatening a third – jailed President Macapagal-Arroyo – and even after the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona, senators and congressmen still do not get the message – that stealing money while in power will lead to their fall from grace.

If there are senators and congressmen, who would be indicted for stealing from the pork barrel or Priority Development Assistance Fund, under the term of President Noynoy Aquino, they should be given harsher penalty as they brazenly defied Aquino’s mantra of tuwid na daan (straight path).

They could be among those senators and congressmen, who led the impeachment of Chief Justice Corona while they, too, have unclean hands.

Talk of Jesus’ Biblical injunction that “let those, who have no sin, cast the first stone”?

If all these senators and congressmen linked to the pork barrel scam are found to have pocketed the funds, I don’t know how they could wiggle themselves out of jail.

I agree with my friend, Ronnie M. Estrada, of San Jose, California, who finds it a lame alibi for Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla, Jr. to blame the release of his funds to a forger of his signature. My question is, when did Mr. Revilla first discover the forgery? If he did not call right away the police or the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) to investigate the forgery because he is a person of authority, by choosing to be silent, Revilla could just be as liable as the forger because his inaction to investigate the forgery was tantamount to encouraging, facilitating or aiding in the commission of a crime, which is a violation of Revised Penal Code.

If he could not call for a discreet investigation by the police or the NBI, Senator Revilla should have used one of his most potent arsenals – deliver a privilege speech and call out the Oversight Committee for a full-dress public hearing of the forgery. As the most underrated committee because it is not even listed in the House of Representatives, the Oversight Committee is supposed to check the President’s power and a balance against his discretion in implementing laws and making regulations.


FORGERY NOT EXEMPT FROM ARREST IMMUNITY

As you know, the penalty for forging a signature is prision mayor or six years and one day to 12 years imprisonment. This will not exempt Revilla from exercising his immunity from arrest while Congress is in session because such exemption is only applicable for offenses “punishable by not more than six years imprisonment.”

Senator Revilla will be worse off if he received a kickback from the pork barrel, which will be very easy to prove if he received a check payment and deposited it to his own bank account or to that of his “spouse, ascendants, descendants, relatives, or any other person.”

Or if this kickback went to an NGO (non-government organization), of which he is listed as director or his spouse, ascendants, relatives or any other person representing his interest in that NGO, he will still be equally liable.

If a senator or a congressman tries to return his kickback to the Department of Budget and Management after realizing his crime or mistake, a senator will still be liable for violating anti-fencing law. This also calls for imprisonment of prision mayor “if the value of the property involved is more than 12,000 pesos (US$285) but not exceeding 22,000 pesos (US$523).”

The conviction of Chief Justice Corona will be the template in asking the senators’ sources of their statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN). For instance, where did Senator Revilla get his SALN’s net worth of P169-M (US$4-M) as of Dec. 2012 when the annual salary of a senator is P485,100 (US$11,550)? Since he started serving as senator only in 2004 or nine years ago, for Revilla to make P169-M net worth, he will have to be a senator for 346 years!

If Revilla were proven to have violated R. A. 1379, the 1955 Forfeiture Law. the government will have to confiscate his “property found to have been unlawfully acquired by any public officer or employee.” If the legislators were also proven to have pocketed 40-70% of the pork barrel, they will be guilty of violating Sec. 10 of Art. VI of the Constitution, which says, “The salaries of Senators and Members of the House of Representatives shall be determined by law. No increase in said compensation (of legislators) shall take effect until after the expiration of the full term of all the Members of the Senate and House of Representatives approving such increase.”


ENRILE’S ARGUMENT LAME

Sen. Revilla is only No. 5 among the top 12 senators, who declared their 2012 SALN. They have to prove where they got their net worth they amassed in excess of their salaries although they are trapos (traditional politicians) all their lives and had not worked in the private sector. Naulingan po lahat sila (They were all smudged with charcoal soot).

In the case of Sen. Lito Lapid, investigators are waiting to know from Lapid where his wife, Marissa Tadeo Lapid, got the $40,000 (P1.6-M) and the $159,700 (P6.7-M) confiscated from her by the U.S. authorities in Las Vegas, Nevada early this year.

Like, Revilla, Lapid is one of the 15 out of 24 Senators (62%) and at least 180 out of 292 Congressmen (61%) who divvied up some P6.156-Billion (US$146-M) among 82 NGO’s. They will have the burden of showing liquidation receipts to the last centavo for these malversed funds.

I find it also a very lame defense for former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile to deny signing any documents relating to the fake NGO’s but “he confirmed to have authorized his chief of staff to sign on his behalf.”

A brilliant legal mind, Enrile appears to have forgotten the theory of liability enshrined in the Philippine Revised Penal Code. According to this theory, when you participate in crimes with other people, you are responsible for any other crime that is a foreseeable outcome of the crimes that you're agreeing to commit.

For instance, three people planned a bank robbery. Mr. A drew a sketch of the teller windows and the bank vault. He gave the sketch to Mr. B., who drove Mr. C. to the bank. Mr. B waited in the car outside while Mr. C got in the bank and robbed the bank. After scooping up the loot, Mr. C jumped in the car of Mr. B and the two of them took off.

Even if Mr. A was not in the car with Messrs. B and C, Messrs. A, B and C could be charged with bank robbery. Mr. C is the principal while Mr. B is an accomplice and Mr. C is an accessory and took part with the fruits of the crime.

The only possible way out from this crime is when the accused “did not encourage, aid or facilitate the crime’s commission; was falsely accused; withdrew from participating in the criminal activity; was merely present at the scene or perhaps even had knowledge about the crime, but had no duty to try to prevent its commission; and if he only facilitated the crime after its commission (he should possibly face lesser penalties as accessory after the fact).”

This massive corruption investigation underway against the senators and congressmen should send a message to other government officials, including the mayors and governors, that should deter wayward politicians from getting into politics that “if you run for office, you go to jail.” Hopefully, if all these corrupt politicians would go to jail, only honest and capable people would join public service. Let’s hope.

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