Quaking In Florsheim Shoes

by Juan L. Mercado

Mid-July, Benhur Luy blew the whistle on  the  P10-billion cornered by Janet Lim-Napoles through 20 bogus non-government 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  choir. The 10th whistleblower 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  Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile’s chief of staff until December. She quit after a  controversy over Christmas bonuses 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. “There was no else in the living room… I stood at the door and from there I could  see,” No. 10 said.

Luy badgered to get into 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. Whistleblowers 2 to 10 came out because De Lima had guts. “Tiene cojone”, is how old timers 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 Priority Development Assistance Fund. “Eight out of every 10 pesos were pocketed. “There was a complete  breakdown of controls”, Pulido-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 Bong Revilla and Ferdinand Marcos Jr., skipped the hearings and scampered for patchy cover of delicadeza poses.   Is Senator Jinggoy 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 College forum, across town, students blew whistles.  But whistleblowers have a mixed history here.  Protecting whistleblowers is the job of cops, Senator Juan Ponce 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 start. “Allocation for lawmakers has always been shrouded in mystery,” notes COA commissioner Heidi Mendoza, whose probes led to 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 writes. “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 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 Joseph Estrada signed the Jose Velarde account—which she refused to certify. Threats cascaded in.  Ensign Philip Pestaño bucked in 1997 misuse of Navy boats to haul illegal lumber and drugs. He was shot in his cabin. Ombudsman Morales reinstituted murder charges 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 scam authors  remain scot-free.

“Both the kind and  support  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 Supreme Court chief justice Renato Corona invited himself in. They shushed groups, like left wing demonstrators,  that hijacked protests in the past.  Cell phones 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’  face on corruption. That prospect has tarred senators quaking in their Florsheim shoes. People Power 3 continues to unfold in ways that even it supporters are unable to foresee.

President Benigno Aquino is 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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