Reopening of pork barrel scam probe and Dutertenomics

 

President Rodrigo Duterte

You might be wondering why I am lumping up the two together when they are different and distinct subjects.

Well, they are not really contradistinctive.

What makes them related or akin to one another is the fact that both deals with preventing corruption as the country is steered towards growth and development.

Thus, while Dutertenomics is getting to be a popular buzzword here and abroad for President Rodrigo Duterte’s 6-year development plan that aims to make the Philippines a high middle-income status before his term ends in 2022, it is a much welcomed boost for the country also that Duterte is keen and in fact throwing his full support behind the reopening of a congressional inquiry into the scandalous P10-billion Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel scam.

Dutertenomics is actually about the 10-point agenda that is listed below and which emphasizes transparency and inclusiveness in every step:

  • Higher infrastructure spending, with 5 percent of gross domestic product targeted
  • Lower income and corporate tax rates to better compete with other Asian nations
  • Less red tape and corruption, including permits and land titles crucial to business
  • More state resources for the countryside, reducing poverty and boosting rural growth
  • Strong law enforcement and peace efforts to enhance the business environment
  • Small business gains with GoNegosyo’s Ramon Lopez as Trade & Industry Secretary
  • Better China relations enhancing Chinese trade, tourism and investment flows
  • Charter change to devolve power to the regions and ease foreign investment limits.

In the same manner, in revisiting the pork barrel scam probe, Duterte simply wants to make sure that all those government officials involved in unscrupulously diverting the government funds for the poor and needy into their own bank accounts are taken to task and prosecuted.

I just hope that in so doing Duterte will not interfere and just allow the Sandiganbayan ( a special appellate collegial court) to run its course in prosecuting the high profile accused namely, ex-senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada. He will be doing the country a great favor if he does.

Oozing with political will with no one to be beholden to and having the interest of the nation and the welfare of the people foremost in his governance, I am sure Duterte will find success in this twin concerns he is driving at.

 

Enrile’s suspicious visit to Malacañang

Former Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile visiting Pres. Rodrigo Duterte in Malacañang.

Former Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile visiting Pres. Rodrigo Duterte in Malacañang.

For anybody who has been following the political life of former Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile one cannot help but be suspicious about the circumstances of his much publicized visit to Malacañang for a one-on-one tete-a-tete with President Rodrigo Duterte.

Enrile made a sucker of the Sandiganbayan when the court where government officials, from the President of the Philippines down to the lowest ranked public servant, are prosecuted, ordered for his release after posting bail totaling P1.45 million for the plunder and graft cases filed against him over a multibillion-peso pork barrel scam supposedly masterminded by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.

Before his release Enrile had been detained at the Philippine National Police (PNP) General Hospital in Camp Crame for a little over a year.

Two of his co-accused — former senators Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon “Bong” Revila — remain detained in Camp Crame, at the PNP Custodial Center.

Also in detention to this day for the same offense is Enrile’s former chief of staff, Jessica “Gigi” Reyes.

The court said the Enrile should be granted temporary freedom because of his old age and frail health, which did not make him a flight risk.

Enrile may not be a flight risk until now that he has fully regained back his health, but he continues to remain astute as he has always been known to be and his once temporary freedom, for all intents and purpose, is now a permanent one.

Or so it seems because while Enrile may have posted a bail he is still an accused out on bail for humanitarian reasons, but now that he is back in the pink of health the Sandiganbayan should send him back to the PNP Custodial Center for that is where he belongs in reality.

In fact Enrile is strong enough now that he has been able to visit Duterte in Malacañang and reportedly handed the latter a letter and three books that apparently contained unsolicited counsel/guide to help the president address the country’s problems.

Despite presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella’s claim that the meeting of the two political personalities was social in nature that included discussions on “current developments”, still it raised eyebrows of many Filipinos concerned about corrupt politicians on what really was the motive of Enrile’s visit.

We cannot help but hope that Duterte will stay his course and his commitment to the nation that he will have no mercy to those involved in illegal drugs, corruption and criminality that have caused near perdition to the hopes and aspirations of many Filipinos.

Plunderers deserve no less than death penalty

 

death-penaltyI have always been for death penalty and my most recent verbalization on this can be seen at this link: https://quierosaber.wordpress.com/2016/12/21/the-revival-of-the-death-penalty/.

Understandably House members are still debating on House Bill No. 4727, which seeks to re-impose the death penalty in the country.

But what I do not understand is why some representatives want the crime of plunder be excluded from those heinous crimes punishable by death.

As suitably defined in our laws, plunder is the criminal act of “amass(ing) accumulat(ing) or acquir(ing) ill-gotten wealth through a combination or series of overt or criminal acts… in the aggregate amount or total value of at least P50 million,” punishable with reclusion perpetua to death, according to Republic Act 7080 as amended by Republic Act 7659.

But the penalty of death was abolished for all heinous crimes (including plunder) after former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2006 signed Republic Act 9346, which repealed all laws imposing the penalty of death.

What is more ironic than a former president repealing the penalty of death for all heinous crimes, including plunder, when Arroyo herself got ordered to be arrested for plunder.

But that is neither here nor there now as the Supreme Court dismissed the plunder charge against Arroyo and ordered her freed immediately after five years of hospital detention.

What I am just bringing to light here is that plunder can be and is, indeed, a heinous crime especially if committed by high-profile public officials.

Death penalty becomes even more warranted when public officials sworn to serve and protect the Filipinos are the ones making the lives of the poor people more wretched and miserable.

As if we have not heard of the greatest plunderer of all, the dictator Marcos, and how ravaged the country was after he was booted out.

Fresh in our minds is the alleged despicable participation in the pork barrel scam by former senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon “Bong” Revilla and Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada. While Enrile was allowed bail for humanitarian considerations, both Revilla and Estrada are still in detention.

I don’t even agree that a certain amount of money has to be willfully stolen first, like P50-million, before one is charged with plunder. Hell, any inconceivable amount will do for it is not really about the amount of money plundered by an elected or appointed government official, or by someone from the private sector, that matters most, but rather it is the scandalous, disgraceful and dishonest way of enriching yourself at the expense of the earnest respect, belief, trust and confidence of the people that have placed you in your position of influence and power that you deserve to be hanged.

I could not agree more, therefore, with Sen. Panfilo Lacson when he said: “A plunderer kills more people than a murderer. A murderer kills one person while with a plunderer, many people die of hunger because of the plunder.”

Or it can also be said that a murderer destroys a life or two, but a plunderer commits a heinous crime that could destroy a family and possibly the future of a  generation to come.

 

The fate of corrupt politicians in the PDAF scam

pork barrelLet us recall first what the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam, more popularly known as pork barrel scam, is all about before it loses its meaning and importance to the vast number of Filipinos who have come to appreciate the prosecution of corrupt politicians in government.

The pork barrel scam is a political scandal of the highest order involving the alleged misuse by several members of Congress of their lump sum discretionary fund granted to them for spending on priority development projects, most especially on the local level.

It is estimated that the Philippine government was defrauded of some P10-billion in the course of the scam, reportedly from 2003 to 2013, and at the expense of the poor and marginalized Filipinos.

Going after noted corrupt government officials, the likes of retired chief justice Renator Corona and the high-profile senators in the PDAF scam, Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla for plunder has given many Filipinos hope that we can be a better country yet.

Though Enrile was granted bail by the Supreme Court and is back in the Senate throwing barbs at President Aquino still many people believe that he should have remained detained together with Estrada and Revilla at the PNP Custodial Center in Camp Crame, Quezon City until such time that they can prove themselves innocent of the crimes charged against them.

The reason why I am bringing this up is my fear that people might forget the significance of this political will exercised by Aquino in bringing these corrupt politicians to face justice and instead elect someone who will just willingly open the gates to free these unscrupulous individuals.

What I am saying is that there are still many more of their ilk out there who should be prosecuted, but because the man who would be the next president in 2016 is against everything that Aquino has done, that everything also will come to naught.

I don’t think this is acceptable.

Many are in favor of what Aquino has done along this path, given the circumstances. It has to be sustained and pursued even more to the hilt if that is the way the poor of this country can attain justice. Servants of the people these arrogant politicians are not.

I am sure Enrile, Estrada, Revilla and the many more politicians in the Ombudsman’s list to be prosecuted are hoping that Jejomar Binay would win. Birds of the same feather, so to say.

Or maybe Grace Poe and Rody Duterte who will easily show nothing but kindness and sympathy to movie stars and politicians now expressing their support for them with their ulterior motives.

I don’t think Estrada, Revilla, and especially Enrile, would want Miriam Santiago or Mar Roxas to win. The same goes with the politicians in the Ombudsman’s list. No easy way out for them.

Thus, it really matters who we elect to succeed Aquino if Filipinos consider the downfall of a Supreme Court chief justice and the arrest and detention of three notable senators of the realm to be a milestone in the democratic history of this country.

PNoy’s ‘tuwid na daan’ advocacy is not so ‘tuwid’ after all

 

President Benigno Aquino

President Benigno Aquino

I had been always praising President Benigno Aquino (PNoy) for his ‘tuwid na daan’ (straight path) advocacy and like a horse with blinders I had been looking straight at it from the monetary point of view.

How else should one react except to utter hosannas for a job well done in going after corrupt government officials who have enriched themselves in office at the expense of the well meaning Filipino taxpayers and the poorest of the poor who were expecting help through the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF, popularly known as ‘pork barrel’), a lump-sum discretionary fund granted to each member of Congress for spending on priority development projects of the Philippine government, mostly on the local level, but got channeled instead into the deep pockets of the politicians themselves and some unscrupulous people who hatched the scam.

We are all witnesses to what happened to ex-Supreme Court chief justice Renato Corona and we are all seeing where Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr. are now.

One cannot say therefore that PNoy lacked the political will to do what he did, for the events surrounding the ouster of Corona and the detention of the high-profile senators are living testament of his strong ‘tuwid na daan’ advocacy.

But like “Jekyll and Hyde”, PNoy exhibits also another personality that makes his ‘tuwid na daan’ advocacy short of being perfect, and therefore questionable.

Not until I saw this article from Rappler did I realize how blinded I was not to have noticed that PNoy’s ‘tuwid na daan’ advocacy should not only apply strictly to grafters and plunderers who are his political foes, but should also include his unprincipled and dishonorable friends and supporters.

No wonder then why former PNP chief Alan Purisima is still around and why, even, Vice President Jejomar Binay continues to stay in PNoy’s cabinet.

PNoy’s ‘tuwid na daan’ advocacy is not so ‘tuwid’ after all.

For more on PNoy’s unfavorable personality, I am reprinting below an article from Rappler, dated June 20, 2015, and written by Judith Balea.

Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla and President Benigno Aquino

Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla and President Benigno Aquino

INSIDE STORY: The real reason behind Petilla’s resignation

EXCLUSIVE: Sources close to Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla say his resignation was prompted by President Benigno Aquino III’s decision to appoint Geronimo Sta Ana as the 5th commissioner of the Energy Regulatory Commission

Former Customs Commissioner John Sevilla and outgoing Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla didn’t just resign back to back. They had similar reasons for doing so, too.
While Petilla’s resignation was attributed to his plans to run for the Senate, sources close to him said it was, in fact, prompted by President Benigno Aquino III’s decision to appoint Geronimo Sta Ana as the fifth commissioner of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC). Sta Ana is reported to be a nominee of one of the country’s biggest power players, the Aboitiz group.

The appointment didn’t sit well with Petilla because it compromises the ERC and jeopardizes public interest, the sources said.

The ERC is the body tasked by law to protect energy consumers and ensure competition in the electricity sector. It is in the process of determining whether or not power players, among them a unit of the Aboitiz group, colluded in jacking up electricity prices for millions of customers of the Manila Electric Company (Meralco), the Philippines’ largest electricity distributor, in 2013. The ERC’s recent probe found the Aboitiz unit, Meralco, and 11 other power firms liable for “market abuse” but it didn’t say if they were guilty of conspiring with each other.

Petilla officially announced his resignation on April 28, six days after Sevilla tendered his to the Office of the President. Sevilla revealed in an exclusive interview with Rappler that he left the Customs bureau after an appointment he believed was part of a political deal with the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC). The INC, with its 2.25 million followers, is known to be a powerful bloc vote during elections.

On Thursday, June 18, Petilla said he would stay in the department until June 30.

A favor to the Aboitizes?

Petilla actually resigned ahead of Sevilla. At least two independent sources in the power industry, with whom Petilla shared his story, narrated to us what happened in the run-up.

Based on the informed sources’ accounts, Aquino asked Petilla sometime in 2014 to recommend names for the last ERC commissioner post that was vacant for two years. The appointment would complete the ERC’s 5-commissioner line-up. Petilla submitted to the President in November 2014 the name of an engineer who had years of experience in his field and a doctorate under his belt.

The President further asked Petilla to have the person vetted by other Cabinet secretaries, and Petilla willingly obliged.

On March 25, however, things took a surprising turn when a report came out announcing the appointment of 75-year-old Sta Ana, an accountant by profession. “It appeared to be a last-minute insertion,” said one source.

Puzzled by the report, the source said Petilla confronted Aquino about it. He wanted to know who Sta Ana was, what his credentials were, and if he was qualified. What Petilla discovered upset him.

Recalling snippets of the conversation between the two officials, the sources said the President admitted appointing Sta Ana upon the request of the Aboitizes, adding that it was the only time he did the business group any “favor.”

“Sec said he literally almost fell off his seat,” one of the sources recalled, noting it was an obvious case of influence-peddling.

This same source said Sta Ana’s nomination was made through Petilla’s predecessor, former energy secretary and now Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras. Almendras is one of the President’s closest friends who actively helped him in his 2010 presidential campaign. He was also a former official of Aboitiz companies.

This is not the first time that an ERC appointment was linked to Almendras. Josephine Patricia Magpale-Asirit, Almendras’ niece from his sister, was appointed ERC commissioner in July 2013.

Rappler reached out to Almendras and Sta Ana for their side, but they did not respond.

We also sought a comment from Aboitiz group officials and they told us: “It is the President who appoints the ERC commissioners. We cannot comment on this as the Aboitiz group is not involved in the appointment process.”

The President appointed Sta Ana on March 19, but the ERC didn’t announce it until April 8.

Petilla tendered his irrevocable resignation on March 26, effective April 30. He however remains in his post and will be there until the end of the month.

Web of connections

Petilla’s confidantes pointed out the connections among Almendras, Sta Ana, and the Aboitizes – all of whom hail from Cebu.

Founded in the late 1800s, the Aboitiz group is one of the country’s oldest conglomerates that successfully transformed itself from a shipping to a highly diversified company with a focus on power.

Industry data show it now accounts for over 2,700 megawatts or 15% of the Philippines’ total power generation capacity. It comprises the “big three,” along with San Miguel Corporation, which accounts for also 15% of the total capacity, and the Lopez family, which accounts for 14%. In power distribution, Aboitiz owns the second and third largest electric utility firms in the Philippines – Visayan Electric Company and Davao Light & Power Company, respectively.

Like the Aboitizes, Sta Ana is a well-entrenched member of Cebu’s business sector, having served as partner at auditing firms there for more than 11 years. Among other posts he held, Sta Ana was the president of the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry from 1992 to 1993 and was a trustee from 1994 to 1997 and 2008 to 2010.

Almendras is the glue that holds them together. Before being appointed to the government as energy secretary in 2010, he spent nearly 3 decades in the private sector in Cebu. He sat as president and CEO of Cebu Holdings and Cebu Property Ventures and Development Corporation, both parts of Ayala Land.

Prior to this, he was treasurer of Aboitiz Company, the privately held company of the Aboitiz family, and Aboitiz Equity Ventures, the family’s publicly listed holding company. He has reportedly maintained his close ties to the Aboitizes, with critics claiming he had favored his former employer in his decisions as energy secretary. The Zamora group, for instance, accused Almendras of keeping Mindanao in darkness by blocking the development of hydropower projects in favor of costlier projects of the Aboitiz family.

One of Almendras’ siblings is a friend of Sta Ana, revealed one source close to Petilla, though the source didn’t identify which sibling. Almendras’ sister, Agnes Almendras-Magpale, is Cebu Vice Governor, while his brother Ruben is the chairman of Cebu City Traffic Operations Management and former Metro Cebu Water District chairman.

Conflict of interest

Petilla didn’t fail to warn the President about the repercussions of his decision and what it means for Filipino energy consumers, sources said.

A questionable appointment puts the ERC’s credibility and competence in question – fundamental things demanded of the regulatory body.

Republic Act No. 9136, known as the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001 (EPIRA), squarely puts the burden of protecting the interest of consumers and ensuring competitiveness in the power sector on the shoulders of the 5-member commission.

In a nutshell, the ERC’s roles revolve around making sure electricity prices passed on to consumers are rational and at the least cost. The ERC is also tasked to promote true market competition, and prevent and penalize market abuse.

To ensure its independence, it must have commissioners who have neither run for political office nor previously worked for, or are affiliated with, any player in the power industry. It is crucial that individuals with unquestionable integrity are appointed to the body. There is no room for conflict of interest.

Putting a commissioner nominated by a power player at the ERC results in a compromised regulatory body. “How can you be sure that the ERC will act in favor of the public and not the power player?” an industry insider lamented. – Rappler.com

Estrada, Revilla bank accounts ‘overwhelmingly’ depleted

 

Detained Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla

Detained Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla

For lack of a better description I just used the word ‘overwhelmingly’ to mean also that what was once a sizable bank deposit allegedly coming from a shady transaction entered into by Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla with businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles, diverting millions of their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to bogus NGOs in exchange for commissions, has been depleted to bare-bones that if people do not know who they owners are, one would think they are just middle-class people.

But because people now know who Revilla and Estrada is – to include Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile – to read that what is left of their bank accounts now, P291,205.62 and P70,504.10, respectively, makes the public more aware how canny and deceptive they truly are.

To be more precise, on April 20, 2015 it was reported that ‘after combing through bank accounts owned by detained Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., the sheriff’s office of the Sandiganbayan revealed that it only found P291,205.62 in the senator’s accounts.’

On April 28, 2015 the same articulation was used on Estrada’s revealing ‘that so far it has only found a measly P70,504.10 in one of the senator’s accounts.’

My thinking is that if it could happen in one bank account, what is preventing Estrada from doing the same on his other bank accounts to have the truth hidden?

The only point why I am bringing up the issue of depleted bank accounts of these ‘honorable’ senators is to question why does this happen this way all the time when ‘freezing of assets’ are talked about?

Haven’t we learned yet from the case of the millions of frozen bank accounts of ousted chief justice Renato Corona? It was reported that the anti-graft court discovered that it has frozen a total of only P9,295.44 in deposits of the Corona couple from four bank accounts.

I don’t think Revilla and Estrada, like Corona, are smarter than the justices of the Sandiganbayan.

The problem is that the Sandiganbayan is giving away too many information too soon that their words and deeds get preempted by the accused, thus, making a mockery of justice.

Perhaps, for any Juan de la Cruz in public service who faces graft and plunder charges, freezing his assets in the bank will work, when it calls for it.

What the Sandiganbayan should remember is that Revilla and Estrada, like Corona, are not ordinary people. They are not only rich and influential, but also have ears and eyes all over the place, that people like them are always a step ahead of anybody, more especially when their power and wealth are threatened.

Sandiganbayan decides for Revilla to stay detained

 

Detained Sen. Ramon "Bong" Revilla and wife, Bacoor City Rep. Lani Mercado

Detained Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla and wife, Bacoor City Rep. Lani Mercado

There is nothing more pleasing to the ears of those who had been following the scandalous PDAF or pork barrel scam than to hear that one of the senators involved, Ramon “Bong” Revilla, has been denied bail for the plunder and graft charges against him.

What is even more gratifying is that the Sandiganbayan First Division has decided on it with finality, which means that Revilla would have to remain in detention until the trial of his plunder and graft cases is concluded. He is currently detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center in Camp Crame, Quezon City.

Note that Revilla is facing one count of plunder and 16 counts of graft for allegedly allocating portions of his PDAF to fake foundations from 2006 to 2010 created by the alleged mastermind of the P10-billion pork barrel scam businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, in exchange for kickbacks amounting to P224.5 million.

The evidences against Revilla must be strong that not only his plea for freedom has been definitely denied, but the prosecutors have also asked the Sandiganbayan to have his assets frozen.

For somebody like Revilla and his wife, Bacoor City Rep. Lani Mercado, who are said to have the propensity of using aliases, the prosecutors’ request are valid so it can’t be moved or transferred while the plunder case against Revilla is on-going.

That said, I am sure Revilla will now make this issue his leverage in making people believe that he is suffering from political persecution, thus, making him more determined to run for the presidency in 2016 election.

Revilla thinks that with his popularity and his thespian advantage of literally crying for sympathy votes, that it will get him propelled to Malacañang Palace.

But all is wishful thinking and he could never be more wrong in his presumption.

The people know better who Revilla is now.

A lot may have been fooled by Revilla’s acting prowess, but the majority of Filipinos, whose trust in him had been betrayed when he sold his soul to the devil forsaking the needs of the poor in favor of helping a scammer in exchange for a kickback, understand now how to get even, and that is by frustrating him during election time.

Besides, Revilla and his ilk that includes Sen. Jinggoy Estrada are burden to the people and is scourge to the nation’s progress.