A Zacchaeus Standard

by Joseph G. Lariosa

CHICAGO (JGL) – The Philippines is a Constitution-, statute- and tradition-based government. But from time to time, it can also resort to solutions to problems, by using faith-based teachings, like those found in the Bible.

In fact, even U.S. presidents use the Bible as inspiration on the way they lead their country despite the separation of church and state.

President Lincoln, one of the greatest U.S. presidents, expressed his appreciation of the Bible when he said:

 

“In regard for this Great Book, I have this to say, it is the best gift God has given to man.  All the good Savior gave to the world was communicated through this Book.”

Even President Aquino, in laying the groundwork to oppose the passage of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), invoked the Bible when he said, “The same spirit hews closely to our position on the issue of right of reply. As [the Bible] says, the truth will set you free. If two sides of a story are reported, if the details of every news are accurate and the freedom of all Filipinos to form their own opinion is valued, then any journalist has nothing to worry about, isn’t it?”

While I will not argue with the view of Mr. Aquino on the need for fair play for journalists, it seems his opposition to the measure that will compel transparency in the name of good governance, fell flat on its face. As promoter of “tuwid na daan” (straight path), Aquino should be reminded that a journalist can not compel a news source to speak up when the news source is hiding from journalist or is exercising his right to remain silent.

It will be very unbecoming of a journalist if a news source would reach out to a journalist and the journalist would not pick up his voice mail or answer his text/email messages.

BIBLE RICH RESOURCE OF LEGAL INFORMATION

There is no doubt, the Bible has been a rich source of information and has become an inspiration to many leaders in coming up with informed decision. The Good Book also becomes handy if justifications of official acts are nowhere to be found in legal statutes.

The popular usage of the Bible as the basis of official acts only proves one thing – moral law takes precedence over man-made law.

I am referring to the recent decision of the Office of the Ombudsman in the Philippines, which struck a deal with Filipino businesswoman Ruby Tuason, who was granted immunity to become a state witness in the pork barrel scandal.

The deal said Tuason is being granted the immunity after undertaking to testify on her personal knowledge on the cases (Priority Development Assistance Fund) and produce documents in her possession on the details of the alleged misuse of PDAF.

On top of her cooperation, the Ombudsman added the return of the 40-million pesos (nearly US$1-M) that Tuason benefited from the scam as the reason for the grant of immunity.

The deal said the immunity would be withdrawn if Tuason would stop from cooperating in her testimony.

If I were the Ombudsman, I would have reversed its decision to grant full immunity to Tuason. Why? Getting back the same amount of money stolen from the government will only send the wrong message that crime does really pay.

CONGRESS SHOULD RAISE THRESHOLD OF PLEA AGREEMENT

I would suggest that Philippine Congress raise the threshold of the amount of money Tuason or any theft of government property would have to return to the government before the government prosecutor entertains the grant of full immunity.

According to the Bible, in Luke 19: 8-10, Jesus granted “salvation” to Zacchaeus, the Tax Collector, after Zacchaeus gave “half of my possession to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

So, if Tuason cheated the Philippine government of 40-million pesos, she should pay back the government four times the amount or at least P160-million (nearly US$4-million). This is possibly the tact that the Philippine Bureau of Internal Revenue and other tax collection agencies, like the Philippine Bureau of Customs, should take. If they find taxpayers in the payment of income taxes like the corrupt government officials, doctors, lawyers and prominent entertainment and sports celebrities, etc. cheating on their tax payments, the government should take no prisoners. The government should ask the tax cheats to pay four times the amount of what they owe! Hello, Manny Pacquiao, are you reading this?

Perhaps, Jesus knew that if someone is able to amass a fortune from a tainted source, one can easily launder it by investing in legitimate stocks and bonds, gaining interests and making profits from other investments thereby making more than four times the original stolen amount.

Just requiring a repentant thief to pay the same amount of stolen government property, instead of four-fold, will not cut it. It is tantamount to tolerating thievery not only in the government service but also in the private sector.

By requiring a state witness to return multiple times of the amount he stole, it will surely deter others from committing the same crime. The thief would surely not let the government get richer at his expense, specially, if the money will only go to the pockets of corrupt politicians.

If the Philippine Congress is really serious in stamping out corruption in the government, it should pass a Zacchaeus law that assesses the thief to return the stolen goods by paying back four times the original amount of the theft.

I’m sure this measure will shore up the national treasury. And part of this treasure should be allocated to improve the detection of graft and plunder until the government officials and employees will realize that stealing funds from the government should never be the rule but a mere  exception.

E-mail: lariosa_jos@sbcglobal.net

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