Jojo A. Robles

The coverup starts

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The fix is in, apparently. And if no lawmakers - except political foes who will refuse to help administration candidates win in the coming elections - are convicted in connection with the P10-billion pork barrel scandal pulled off by Janet Lim Napoles, you’ll know exactly what went down.

Two days before Gov. Rizalina Seachon-Lanete was granted bail by the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court, on April 12, the wife of a presidential candidate was in Masbate to attend a popular rodeo festival. In front of some local residents, the would-be president’s wife congratulated Masbatenos over the impending release of their jailed governor.

Why did this presidential wannabe’s wife know about the Sandiganbayan ruling in advance? And what reason would she have for making the announcement, if she did not want to take credit for the governor’s release - and convert the expected goodwill that will follow into votes for her spouse?

The granting of bail to Lanete and her co-accused, alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Napoles (or “Ma’am Jenny,” as Mar Roxas calls her) is significant. That’s because I think it set the template for the clandestine bid to absolve the political allies involved in the sensational scandal, just weeks before the May 9 elections.

Of course, the approval of the bail petition will have no effect on Napoles herself. Ma’am Jenny is, after all, serving time for her conviction on the charge of serious illegal detention involving her cousin, whistle-blower Benhur Luy.

Napoles will actually remain in the Correctional Institute for Women in Mandaluyong even if all the plunder complaints against her are dropped. It’s the politicians implicated with her for handing over their Priority Development Assistance Fund who are the intended beneficiaries of what appears to be a massive coverup in the manner of Lanete - with the approval of Malacañang Palace and the cooperation of the Sandiganbayan.

To those advocating for the prosecution and conviction of the lawmakers who stole their pork funds, the approval of the bail petition of Napoles’ co-accused Lanete, a Liberal Party member who was charged together with the alleged mastermind for the supposedly non-bailable offense of plunder, sends a clear message. The allies of the administration who have been linked to the scam will soon be exonerated - and those who aren’t allies will also be made similar offers, if they agree to make the LP candidate win.

The template is simple. The governor, who was charged, arrested and detained for allegedly handing over her pork to Napoles’ fake non-government organizations, was granted bail after the court found that the evidence presented against her was “weak.”

The anti-graft court put forth interesting arguments to arrive at the conclusion that Lanete must be granted bail. Here are some of those arguments:

First, the court said that because Lanete was never proven to have met Napoles in person, she could not have been working with the scam mastermind. It did not seem to matter to the court that Lanete’s chief of staff, a government employee who reports directly to the governor (who was a congresswoman at the time) was the one who repeatedly received money from Napoles, according to the prosecution’s evidence and witnesses’ testimony.

Secondly, the court broke up the amounts supposedly received by Lanete and arbitrarily ruled that she was being charged only for giving P10 million in her congressional pork to Napoles. Witnesses’ testimony, on the other hand, said that, over the period of 2007 to 2009, Lanete engaged in P100 million worth of transactions with Napoles and received kickbacks based on that bigger amount, which is double the P50 million minimum that constitutes plunder under the law.

Finally, the Sandiganbayan said that because it found that the supposed “ghost projects” implemented by Napoles NGOs that Lanete did business with were actual projects and not imaginary, she could not be charged with plunder. In other words, the court didn’t even consider the possibility that even if an actual project was implemented, a huge portion of the funds allocated for it could still have been stolen by Napoles and a percentage of that kicked back to Lanete.

* * *

Malacañang, through its spokesmen, has neither praised nor criticized the Sandiganbayan for granting bail to Napoles and Lanete. All it said was that the court was a part of the judiciary and not subject to the influence of the presidential palace.

But that doesn’t mean that the presidential candidate’s wife didn’t say in Masbate that Lanete was about to be freed, two days before everyone else knew about it. Or that there really isn’t a full-scale coverup involving the pork barrel scam.

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