MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/20 June) — It took almost a year since the P10-billion pork barrel scam became staple political stuff for the Ombudsman to file graft and plunder charges against Janet Lim-Napoles, a few senators and congressmen and some other officials. Filipinos can only hope that this isn’t just for show, to prove that President Aquino’s “daang matuwid” has not taken a detour to the road of perdition.
Aside from former presidents Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo this is perhaps the only time that high officials are being made to account for questionable transactions involving hundreds of millions in public funds. Unfortunately for Senator Jinggoy Estrada, this would be his second time to face the Sandiganbayan. Then the mayor of San Juan City during the Arroyo administration, he was also charged with plunder along with his father.
So, is this administration’s fight against corruption on the right track? The best way to answer that is to count how many of the accused are allies of Aquino and how many belong to the opposition. So far Director General Joel Villanueva of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, who is said to have received P1.3 million in supposed kickbacks, is the only Aquino official included in the charge sheet.
What Villanueva allegedly got from the pork barrel funds is a pittance compared to the amounts that supposedly went into the pockets of other officials. Yet the Palace has not bothered to investigate the other personalities named by both Napoles and whistleblower Benhur Luy.
Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, for instance, continue to enjoy the president’s trust and protection – especially protection. Aquino even dismissed outright the allegations against the two officials, and said they should be presumed innocent unless proven guilty. There’s nothing wrong with upholding the principle of presumption of innocence except that as far as Aquino is concerned, it does not apply to his opponents. There’s nothing wrong with it except that the president sounded like he is convinced his allies are innocent even without the benefit of an investigation or trial.
By exempting Alcala and Abad from the inquisition, the investigations into how the pork barrel funds had been abused can only hope to scratch the surface. Note that the Agriculture and Budget departments had played key roles in the questionable transactions.
First, most, if not all, projects supposedly bankrolled by the pork barrel funds but which turned out to be non-existent, were implemented with the Agriculture department as conduit. Second, the Budget department decides the releases of allocations. How can Abad not know of such releases? He cannot just wash his hands even if we must presume that he ordered the releases of such funds without any malice in mind.
An ordinary citizen may be excused from criminal liability if he can prove that he committed a certain act without intending malice. However, high officials like Abad and Alcala cannot simply invoke this defense on the issue of the pork barrel fund scam, as they are expected to exercise a great amount of care and discretion in safeguarding taxpayer’s money. Like Senators Estrada, Juan Ponce Enrile and Bong Revilla Jr. and other personalities who happen to be opponents of this administration, they too have a lot of explaining to do. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)