Numbers Don’t Lie

The last of the triad of Senators accused of receiving hundreds of millions in kickbacks from the pork barrel scam walked away a free man on Dec. 7. Former Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla, Jr. was acquitted for plunder and was released by the Sandiganbayan from Camp Crame.
Revilla’s acquittal follows the release of Jinggoy Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile’s from police custody, both of whom were given back their freedoms after posting bail for a crime that is supposedly non-bailable.
It will be recalled that back in July 2016, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was also released from hospital arrest after being cleared of plunder by the Supreme Court.
It is now a clean sweep! The four big fish that were tried and convicted for graft and corruption are back walking among us. They are also back in the political fray — GMA as Speaker of the House and the three stooges as senatorial candidates.
Meanwhile, the woman who championed the drive to put these big fish behind bars, former Justice Secretary and Senator Leila de Lima is herself languishing in Camp Crame. The irony could not be more succinct.
At the heart of Revilla’s victory at the Sandiganbayan was former state witness Marina Sula, who changed her story and became a friendly witness for Revilla.
Sula testified that she did not personally see Revilla receiving money from Janet Lim-Napoles. She further stated that it was Benhur Luy, the other whistleblower and state witness, who supposedly forged the signature of Revilla for the release of pork barrel funds to bogus NGOs. She also said that it was former Prosecutor, Director Joefferson Toribio, who coached her on what to say when she first testified against Revilla back in 2013.
Records showed that Revilla received the largest kickbacks from Napoles amounting to P224.5 million, later recomputed down to P124.5 million.
Sula’s testimony is what convinced Justices Geraldine Econg, Edgardo Caldona and Georgina Hidalgo to vote in favor of Revilla’s acquittal. Respected ethics professor and the Sandiganbayan’s moral compass, Justice Efren de la Cruz, dissented.
I am not a lawyer, so my opinions are merely based on practical sense. It seems the three judges made a farce of the case and sold us out. These are my thoughts:
Granted, Revilla is not the sharpest pencil in the box, I don’t think he is imprudent enough to sign the endorsement letters himself, let alone collect cold cash from Napoles. The fact that Sula never saw him in the act doesn’t mean that he wasn’t aware of the scam and was not a party to it.
Also, why was Revilla’s right-hand man, Richard Cambe, found guilty while his boss goes scot free for the same crime? Are we supposed to believe that Cambe acted on his own accord without Revilla’s knowledge?
Further, according to a report of the Anti-Money Laundering Council submitted to the Office of the Ombudsman, the bank deposits and investments made by Revilla, his wife and their children amounted to P87,626,587.63 from April 6, 2006, to April 28, 2010. This was within the same period indicated on the ledger of Benhur Luy that Revilla received his share of commissions and rebates.
There are also glaring disparities on Revilla’s Statement of Assets and Liabilities (SALN) during the heyday of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam.
For instance, in 2008 and 2009, Revilla declared a total of P6.4 million and P6.5 million in cash and deposits, respectively, on his SALN. But the total inflows to his accounts for those years amounted to P16.1 million and P24.1 million, respectively. Why the disparity? Where did the extra cash come from?
Making matters more dubious is that the realty firm controlled by Revilla’s wife, Nature Concepts Development and Realty Corp., received P27.745 million in deposits during the period. The realty firm was not operating at this time. Again, where did the money come from?
These questions seem to have been glossed over by the Sandiganbayan and left unanswered. This is why I find the Sandiganbayan’s decision suspect. The Sandiganbayan is taking the Filipino people for fools!
The turn of events says a lot about the justice system.
First, it tells us that the Judiciary, including the Sandiganbayan and the Supreme Court, is not truly an independent branch of government but one swayed by the biases and influences of the Executive branch and even lower ranking government officials. The courts decide according to the preference of Malacañang, whether it be under a cape of yellow or red. We have seen it happen before — judges bend the rules, make exceptions and interpret the law in a manner that suits the agenda of the person they are trying to please.
A swayable (or negotiable) judiciary is a public threat. By being the obedient attack or defense dog of certain powerful politicians, the judiciary, in effect, ceases to be the mechanism for checks and balances against the executive and legislative branches. It is no longer an equal branch of government but one that is beneath and beholden to the two.
To Juan de la Cruz, it means that he cannot be absolutely certain of a fair trial should his rights be violated by Malacañang or any member of the legislature. The judiciary’s biased ways undermine the people’s rights to blind justice. It ceases to be become the refuge of last resort of the people.
Secondly, it tells us that the justice system treats those who are aligned with the administration with kid gloves while those in the opposition are made to face the full wrath of the law. The law has become selective, depending on one’s political persuasion.
It tells people currently holding government positions that they can escape the consequences of graft so long as they are in the right political party and have cushy relations with the people who matter.
By finding loopholes for convicted plunderers, the Sandiganbayan and the Supreme Court have opened Pandora’s box. They have practically declared an open-season for graft and corruption for those associated with this administration. If the three senators can walk away as free men after being convicted, why not other plunderers?
In one fell swoop, the judiciary negated the tenets of honest public governance that the past administration worked so hard to instill among government workers. It put us back to the dark age when corruption and abuse in government was the rule, not the exception.
We don’t have to look far to see how abuse among government officials has become the new normal. In our streets, government officials, down to some bloody congressman’s aides, bamboozle regular citizens out of their way to allow them unobstructed passage. They bully us with sirens and police patrol escorts as if their journeys are more important than ours. Shame is gone and entitlement is back in full bloom.
Third, it tells the rest of the world that we are losing our fight against corruption and that our law enforcement institutions are the problem, not the solution. Acquitting Arroyo and allowing Enrile to post bail was viewed as one step forward and two steps back in our fight against corruption. This negative perception is reflected in our global competitiveness rankings.
The World Economic Forum has ranked the Philippines a lowly 95th place (out of 140 nations) in terms of corruption; 123rd in term of reliability of police and law enforcement agencies; 105th in terms of the independence of the judiciary; 100th in terms of efficiency of our legal framework; and 121st in terms of conflict of interest regulations. Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index placed the Philippines as the 111th most corrupt country in the world out of 180 nations evaluated. It’s quite pathetic.
With the acquittal of Revilla and the release of Estrada on bail this year, I am certain our global rankings will take a new plunge next year.
The Philippines presently stands at 56th place in terms of global competitiveness. Looking at the various components of our assessment, it is clear that our weak institutions, principally our justice system, are dragging us down. This is because many judges are abettors of corruption and crime, not champions against it.
Until they are obliterated, the nation will never be free from the cancer of corruption. Our justice system is broken; it is the weakest link in our nation.
Andrew J. Masigan is an economist.