Restitution Check

by Juan L. Mercado

“Payback speaks louder than the washing of hands by thieves,” an old axiom says. Exhibit One is a P40-million restitution check given by witness Ruby Tuason to Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales. Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who crafts the pork barrel scam raps, stood as witness. All are women in a crumbling macho world.

The Ombudsman granted immunity to the former social welfare undersecretary of President Joseph Estrada. She agreed to “testify from personal knowledge” on the theft. That included personally handing cash to Sen. Jinggoy Estrada and Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile’s chief of staff, Lucila “Gigi” Reyes, among others.

To date, six senators, 24 congressmen, their chiefs of staff and assorted officials face charges of swapping pork slabs for cuts ranging from 19 up to 60 percent of allocations.

Enrile is rapped for blowing P332 million on bogus nongovernment organizations, and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. P413 million. Not one offered to return a single centavo.

Tuason is the exception—so far. She is deemed essential in determining the truth, said Assistant Ombudsman Asryman Rafanan. “The P40 million was admitted by Tuason herself. And the reparation amount was ‘computed by her own statement of having received 5 percent’ [commission].”

Senator Estrada scoffed at making amends: a “weak” witness, Tuason concocted the yarn; when she visited, it was to bring “merienda.” He will prove his innocence “in court.” He laughed at paying reparation for the P191 million he allegedly blew. That total was jacked up to sweep him into nonbailable plunder raps.

The issue of atonement goes back to the Seventh Commandment. “Thou shall not steal” is not a suggestion. It is mandatory.

Under Mosaic Law, stolen property had to be restored plus a fifth of the value.

The tax collector Zacchaeus defined redress. “‘Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor. And if I cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today, salvation has come to this house.’”

This doctrine anchored Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle’s appeal to alleged pork barrel scam “mastermind” Janet Lim Napoles: “Return what is not yours and tell the truth… about all those involved.”

Quis ipsos custodiet custodes? Who will watch the watchmen? Auditors are constitutional watchdogs. So, how did the pork scam metastasize without a whimper from resident auditors?

Ask former Commission on Audit chief Reynaldo Villar. He was arrested in Parañaque City last week in connection with the P366-million Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office scandal. The Sandiganbayan issued a plunder arrest warrant for seven others.

His mug shot was taken and, in crime beat reporters’ jargon, he “played the piano”—that is, he had his fingerprints taken. He’s the first COA head to be charged since the agency was established in May 1899 by a US president’s executive order.

President Aquino, in April 2011, picked finance undersecretary Maria Gracia Pulido Tan as COA chair. An auditor with 30 years national and international experience, Tan since then has pinpointed 192 lawmakers linked to the pork scam from 2007 to 2011. Over P1.35 billion was funneled to 26 dubious NGOs. Tainted resident auditors have been suspended.

The COA went after unliquidated P4-billion IOUs allegedly incurred by 100 officials on National Food Authority imports that “wear the badges to fraud.” Tan documents a shift from padlocked pork barrels to “funneling” via local government units. The COA documented cases involving Dinalupihan and Pilar towns in Bataan province, and some Nueva Ecjia municipalities. Seven senators denied they had fingers in the new cookie jar.

A speculative scenario meanwhile is unfolding. In the event the Sandiganbayan issues arrest orders, special treatment should be accorded to Enrile, Sen. Antonio Trillanes said. He would not oppose a house arrest either.

He’s a 90-year-old man; in an ordinary jail, his medical needs may not be met, Trillanes said, adding that he hoped that the Sandiganbayan will keep an open mind and consider Enrile’s age and physical condition. As to other senators facing criminal raps, Trillanes said their treatment should take into account the fact that they’ve been elected.

This mindset for five-star jail accommodations infuriates Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago: same jail for the powerful and the indigents. Why didn’t they legislate for better prisons?

But one thing is clear: Fear is being instilled in crooks today by women—Ombudsman Morales, COA’s Tan, Justice Secretary De Lima, Bureau of Internal Revenue’s Kim Henares—and before them, by Presidential Commission on Good Government’s Haydee Yorac and Corazon Aquino. Tienen cojones, is the irreverent josh. They have balls.

E-mail: juanlmercado@gmail.com

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