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MIND DA NEWS: More than Meet the Eye

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 6 Sept) – There’s more than meet the eye in the Malacañang-Napoles affair. This is coming out of various media reports – broadcast, print, online or social. Alluding to an ancient Greek myth, a Pandora’s box has been opened to put in serious question the efficacy of “Daang Matuwid” and “Kung walang korap, walang mahirap” – the “North Star”, the vaunted moral and ethical mooring of the Aquino III governance. The Palace is now in a vigorous damage control mode.

To this my late father would tersely remark in Hiligaynon, the Ilonggo tongue, “Libagon man ang ilang mga sugilanon (Their stories are out of tune).”

First: Why has Malacañang decided to accept Janet Lim-Napoles’ surrender and, by public perception, given “special treatment” from her surrender to her detention?

She and her counsel claim her life is in danger and President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III is the only person they trust. Now in a detention bungalow in Fort Sta. Rosa, Laguna, she is deemed “high-risk” – in the class of the bungalow’s previous occupants, then President (now Manila Mayor) Joseph Estrada (2001: detained for plunder); then ARMM Governor (also MNLF Chairman) Nur Misuari (2002: for rebellion); and Sen. Gregorio Honasan (2006: for rebellion in connection with the 2003 Oakwood mutiny).

Presidential spokesman Secretary Edwin Lacierda told the press at a conference why the government is protecting Napoles (Philippine Daily Inquirer, September 3, 2013:Palace cautious in ensuring Napoles alive for trial—Lacierda):

(1) “[H]is former law partner, Napoles’ counsel Lorna Kapunan, has bared the threats against her client.” Napoles, by her “plenty of dealings with those in government”, knows a lot about the misuse of PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund or pork barrel of the senators and House representatives). Those involved in the scam “would be better off” to see Napoles dead; but, “the government would like to see her alive than dead”.

[Aside: Was Lacierda kidding? Kapunan’s revelation at that press conference was not the first time the claim was bared. Napoles did it first in her 17 April 2013 letter to the President. It was in the grapevines. Could Lacierda not have known it especially that the loose talks said it was delivered through Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa?]

(2) Overkill, daw! “Shouldn’t government err on the side of caution, ‘di ba? We all know she is a central figure here (pork barrel scam), shouldn’t we be more careful? Some say this is overkill; … but where do you draw the line between overkill and not overkill? We will be criticized if something happens to Janet Napoles.”

(3) Our option: “We should rather err on the side of caution because, for all intents and purposes, we are government. People are free to criticize the manner of protecting her, but on our side, we are accountable to the people. We will get criticized but we’d rather be criticized doing our job than being criticized for not doing our job.”

Clearly, the Palace is protecting Napoles for what she knows about the PDAF scam. She is being ensured alive for trial of the yet to be filed PDAF scam case – for whatever crime.

But she and her brother Reynaldo are accused of “serious illegal detention”; their warrants of arrest are for that crime. She had eluded arrest for two weeks and her brother is still in hiding – his immediate arrest having seemingly taken the back seat after Napoles’ surrender.

The questions:

(1) Had she not been issued an arrest warrant for serious illegal detention, could the government have taken custody of her to protect her from those involved in the PDAF scam?

(2) Could the government invoke the probable case or cases against her and the eight senators and 74 House representatives that are still being investigated and studied as the reason to take custody of her?

(3) There is a pending petition for certiorari with the Court of Appeals questioning the legality of the arrest warrant issued against Napoles. Should the CA declare the warrant illegal, will Napoles not be released so the government can continue securing her life for the PDAF scam case still under consideration?

(4) If the Palace is not “overkilling”, is it not “overacting”?

Libagon gid matuod (It’s really out of tune)!

Kapunan considers illegal the Court of Appeals order freezing the bank accounts of Napoles and she will petition the CA to lift the order (Philippine Daily Inquirer, September 4, 2013: Plunder rap vs. Napoles faces delay). She said there is no case as the basis of the freezing – not the serious illegal detention she stands accused of.

But she does not find it odd to claim threat to Napoles’ life to justify her surrendering to the President or for her client to be groomed as a state witness. The alleged threat to Napoles’ life is from the people involved in the PDAF scam – not from Benhur Luy, principal complainant in the serious illegal detention case. Napoles is groomed as state witness against non-existent respondents in a non-existent case; she cannot be a state witness against herself in the illegal detention case.

Second: Media reports are intriguing.

(1) There is the popular perception, as reported in the national media, that the Napoles surrender to the President was scripted – that she was already in government custody when the President announced the P10-million bounty for her arrest at 9 a.m. on August 28; that arrangements for her detention and her becoming a state witness had already been agreed; that the Palace version of the surrender timeline was a cover-up.

(2) Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa is Napoles’ link with the President. MOST (“O” stands for “Ochoa”), the law firm he co-founded, represented Napoles at the preliminary hearing of the serious illegal detention case. His recently dismissed consultant Brian Yamsuan, Napoles’ liaison man with the media, arranged Napoles’ 3-day interview with Philippine Daily Inquirer. He is also said to be Speaker Feliciano Belmonte’s man in the Palace and has link with non-government firm involved in the PDAF scam.

(3) President Aquino and his fellow Liberals are using PDAF scam against their political opponents in anticipation of the 2016 elections. Media reports, especially from anti-Aquino media networks, show the partiality of the Special COA Report for 2007-2009 against Aquino’s political opponents despite later reports extending coverage to 2012 which implicated pro-Aquino members of the Congress.

(4) Reports from the presidential spokespersons can boomerang against the President. They can be interpreted as showing the indecisiveness of the President.

Malacañang wants to abolish five government agencies – the Philippine Forest Corp. (Philforest), National Agribusiness Corp. (Nabcor), Zamboanga del Norte College Rubber Estates Corp. (ZREC), Technology Resources Center (TRC) and National Livelihood Development Corp. (NLDC) – that fake NGOs are using to access pork barrel funds. President Aquino had asked the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel to study their abolition.

He had wanted these agencies abolished when he was senator. He questioned the continued operation of Zamboanga del Norte College Rubber Estates Corp. (ZREC) and the P340 million PDAF money allocated by the government to it in 2008; it should have been dissolved for being a big drain on government resources. In December 2009, he voted against the P1.54-trillion budget for 2010 mainly because it would perpetuate – based on COA findings – the illicit practice of using ZREC and Nabcor as conduits for senators and representatives to monetize their Priority Development Assistance Fund.

More than three years into his presidency he is still having their abolition studied. Of ZREC, Lacierda could only ask, “Why is it still alive up to now?”, during a briefing in Malacañang. The President could only feel “extremely disappointed” that the pork barrel scam has continued into his administration – in particular, the release to these agencies of P428.5 million in PDAF to finance pet projects of lawmakers.

Third: Evident transformation. In the English version of his State of the Nation Address 2013, he stated this about his fight against corruption:

“The transformation of our society is not just evident in the economy or in statistics. Now, Filipinos know: Rich or poor, with or without political connections, when you do wrong, you will pay the consequences. Now, justice is truly blind. We will not undermine the orders of our Bosses to hold the corrupt accountable, and to right the wrongs of a system that has long beggared our country.”

He enumerated examples of cases of corruption being prosecuted: TESDA overpricing, PAGCOR embezzlement, and PNP anomalous purchases. He assured that others were being investigated and would be charged as evidence would warrant. He enthused of having “uprooted the culture of corruption that seemed firmly entrenched in our public institutions”.

He, however, lamented, “But let us be honest: Even today, there are still those in government who seemingly refuse to change.” He identified the Bureau of Immigration and the Bureau of Customs as the agencies where the corrupt had refused to change.

Of the PDAF, the Cadavero (police rub-out) and MRT 3 (extortion) cases, he said: ”Just because the critics are not aware of what we are doing, they assume that we are doing nothing about these issues. If government possesses no data and yet announces who it will investigate, does that not send a message to the suspects to just hide the evidence? This is why we go where the truth takes us. The evidence decides our path.”

Did the Aquino government truly have no data or evidence of the PDAF scam as of July 22, 2013? Or, was it just playing deaf and blind? Or, was misuse of PDAF just too hot for delivery in the halls of Congress?

Yet, there was enormous evidence after Philippine Daily Inquirer had exposed the JLN P10-billion PDAF scam. COA named eight senators and 72 House representatives in its special report. Besides the JLN fake NGOs (non-government organizations), there were many more used for diverting the PDAF to private pockets.

Just three months after hinting lack of evidence his SONA, “truth” took him to where enough evidence compelled him to order the abolition of PDAF. There are now pending resolutions in both Houses of Congress for PDAF abolition.

Coming into the third year of the Aquino III governance, out of the JLN Pandora’s box fly the questions: Gaano ka tuwid ang “Matuwid na daan” (How straight is the “Straight path”)? Masusugpo ba ang korapsiyon upang tuluyang mawawalang lubosan ang korap at mahirap sa lipunang Pilipino (Will corruption be suppressed to completely banish the corrupt and the poor from Philippine society)?

Can President Aquino III emerge unbowed from the storm shaking the moral and ethical mooring of his governance?

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