Juan L. Mercado

Quaking in Florsheim shoes

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Mid-July, Benhur Luy blew the whistle on the P10 billion cornered by Janet Lim-Napoles through 20 bogus nongovernment organizations. Senators Ramon Revilla Jr., Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Gregorio Honasan, plus 23 congressmen, delivered the shekels, he claimed.


By August, the solo had turned into a choir. The 10th whistle-blower surfaced and admitted: He drove a Napoles courier and saw him ladle bundles of cash, from a duffel bag, in front of “Attorney Gigi.”

Lucila Jessica “Gigi” Reyes served as chief of staff to former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile until December last year. She quit after a  controversy erupted over Christmas bonuses handed out to senators by Enrile. “I do not know Luy,” Reyes said earlier. Now, no one answers her phone.

Cash boodles were unloaded in Reyes’ residence, between 2009 and 2011, No. 10 alleged. “There was no one else in the living room… I stood at the door and from there I could see,” No. 10 said.

Luy badgered to get into the government’s Witness Protection Program. If a warrant of arrest is served, we’ll inform Pasig Judge Danilo Buemio that Luy is shielded, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima shrugged. Whistle-blowers 2 to 10 came out because De Lima had guts. “Tiene cojones,” is how oldtimers dub spunk. De Lima has “balls.”

So has Commission on Audit’s Grace Pulido-Tan. Before the Senate blue ribbon committee, she documented COA’s findings: 82 fake NGOs cornered billions of pesos culled from the Priority Development Assistance Fund. Eight out of every 10 pesos were pocketed. “There was a complete breakdown of controls,” Tan said. We’ll leave that to the Ombusdman.

“Get a good lawyer so you can sleep soundly at night,” Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales suggested. Senators Revilla and Marcos, skipped the hearings and scampered for a patchy cover of delicadeza poses. Is Senator Estrada a “shiver in search of a spine”? He didn’t reply to COA’s request for confirmation of his pork. Instead, he played “injured.” The damaging data were a sham and to be “expected.”

At a St. Scholastica’s College forum, across town, students blew whistles. But whistle-blowers have a mixed history here. Protecting whistle-blowers is the job of cops, Senator Enrile insisted back in 2008. “Ingratitude,” snapped Whistle-blowers Association. Dropping witnesses after obtaining their testimony was thanklessness. This would discourage prospective whistle-blowers from coming out.

The system is flawed from the start. “Allocation for lawmakers has always been shrouded in mystery,” noted COA Commissioner Heidi Mendoza, whose probes led to the jailing of military comptroller Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia for plunder.

“A number of COA findings were published and cases filed in court. But as for the progress of cases and eventual prosecution of accused public officials, that’s another story altogether,” Mendoza wrote. “For as long as lawmakers have their say on utilization of funds, instead of only legislating laws, PDAF will always be abused.”

“Now, you see why the Commission on Appointments continued to shove the confirmation of Mendoza as COA commissioner into the freezer year after year,” Sun Star noted.

Indeed, “governments must create an environment that encourages, instead of penalizes, citizens who denounce venality,” urged the 9th International Anti-Corruption meeting in South Africa. The Philippines and 134 other countries cobbled that yardstick.

“The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” Banker Clarissa Ocampo testified that Joseph Estrada signed the Jose Velarde account—which she refused to certify; threats cascaded in. Ensign Philip Pestaño bucked in 1997 the misuse of Navy boats to haul illegal lumber and drugs; he was found shot in his cabin; Ombudsman Morales reinstituted the murder charges that have been stalled for decades.

Academic supervisor Antonio Calipjo Go exposed flawed textbooks; false charges were filed against him and some columnists smeared him. Land Bank’s Acsa Ramirez blew the whistle on tax scams; NBI agents shoved her into a police lineup which President Gloria Arroyo used for photo op. Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada testified before the Senate how a ZTE broadband loan, for $132 million, ballooned to $329 million; still guarded by Catholic nuns today, Lozada is harassed by charges, but the scam authors remain scot-free.

“Both the kind and extent of support that a legitimate whistle-blower should be able to expect remains unclear,” says an earlier Asian Institute of Management study titled “Whistle-blowing in the Philippines.” Thus, thieves are not ostracized. Cash ushers them to first places at tables. Those who could craft reforms are often the very persons whistles are blown at. Inaction is buttressed by a culture of impunity. Jerusalem also crucified its Whistle-blower.

There are signs it could be different this time. Monday was People Power, uncoiling in new forms, Inquirer’s Conrad de Quiros aptly said.

Demonstrators booed when cashiered Chief Justice Renato Corona invited himself in. They shushed groups, like left-wing demonstrators who hijacked protests in the past. Cellphones summoned crowds to People Power 2. Today, Internet has emerged as the new Plaza Miranda, but with a reach into the country’s remotest  barangay.

New media plastered Janet’s face on corruption. That prospect has tarred senators who must now be quaking in their Florsheim shoes. People Power 3 continues to unfold in ways that even its supporters are unable to foresee.

President Benigno Aquino is the unplanned inheritor of People Power’s legacy. He’ll wrest that for himself if he strips away burial shrouds on this pork scam and the prosecutions begin. . .

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