“If you can manipulate news, a judge can manipulate the law. A smart lawyer can keep a killer out of jail, a smart accountant can keep a thief from paying taxes, a smart reporter could ruin your reputation-unfairly.”
By Alex P. Vidal
They are all facing graft raps before the Office of the Ombudsman, but why is it that some of the accused are now in jail—“with no bail recommended”—while the others remain “scot-free” after being allowed to post a bail bond, which is usually peanuts compared to the stolen amount.
Some of us may ask, “Aren’t they all crooks?”
Former Iloilo second district congressman and ex-TESDA chief Augusto “Boboy” Syjuco and wife, former Iloilo second district Rep. Judy, and several others were each allowed to post a P30,000 bail bond after being charged with embezzling government funds in connection with the P20-million TESDA unauthorized project, thus they did not automatically join senators Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla in jail.
The Syjuco husband and wife, et al are facing graft and corruption charges while the jailed senators are accused of plunder.
The Office of the Ombudsman accused Mrs. Judy Syjuco of using P20 million of her Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocations—commonly known as pork barrel—on an unauthorized project implemented by TESDA headed then by her husband, Boboy, during the Arroyo administration.
The prosecutors claimed the project has “caused undue injury” to TESDA’s supposed beneficiaries and bound the government in a grossly disadvantageous contract.
“They should be in jail now that the Ombudsman has filed the graft case in the Sandiganbayan like Jinggoy, Bong, et al,” some people may insist. They may add: “Is the anti-graft and corrupt practices law double standard?”
It pays to always look at both sides of the coin. Before we criticize something let’s make sure we understand what it is all about and why it is there.
If we don’t look deeper into the wisdom of those behind the passage of Republic Act No. 7080 or “An Act Defining And Penalizing The Crime of Plunder”, we will suspect that the law was passed so that small fries—thieves in government who steal a lesser amount—would be protected from landing behind bars as soon as a prima facie evidence has been established by the Office of the Ombudsman against them.
We are referring the plunder law’s Sec. 2 on the Definition of the Crime of Plunder; Penalties, which states that “Any public officer who, by himself or in connivance with members of his family, relatives by affinity or consanguinity, business associates, subordinates or other persons, amasses, accumulates or acquires ill-gotten wealth through a combination or series of overt criminal acts as described in Section 1 (d) hereof in the aggregate amount or total value of at least Fifty million pesos (P50,000,000.00) shall be guilty of the crime of plunder and shall be punished by reclusion perpetua to death.
“Any person who participated with the said public officer in the commission of an offense contributing to the crime of plunder shall likewise be punished for such offense.
“In the imposition of penalties, the degree of participation and the attendance of mitigating and extenuating circumstances, as provided by the Revised Penal Code, shall be considered by the court.
“The court shall declare any and all ill-gotten wealth and their interests and other incomes and assets including the properties and shares of stocks derived from the deposit or investment thereof forfeited in favor of the State.”
It’s clear that the reason why the Syjuco couple was allowed to post bail was because the amount involved in the unauthorized project was less than P50 million. It’s not plunder.
Jinggoy, Bong, et al are now languishing in jail because they allegedly stole hundreds of millions of pesos of people’s money via kickbacks from bogus non-government organizations created by Janet Lim-Napoles. It’s plunder.
Authors of the plunder law must have realized that the law could be used by a despotic president to persecute his political enemies or a leverage to ferret out political and even business favors if the cap for the amount involved in a plunder law is below P50 million.
If a government official is charged with graft and corruption for pocketing at least P1 million in tax payers’ money and the law does not recommend a bail for his temporary freedom, we can’t imagine what will happen to the opposition if the administration lowers the broom and intends to wipe them out.
Any vindictive President can use the law at his disposal to harass, intimidate and persecute political dissidents.
He can score a massacre by using the Office of the Ombudsman as a tool to indiscriminately haul to court any political enemy who makes a mistake of being caught dipping his fingers in the cookie jar. This could be the reason why in a plunder case, the accused must have at least pocketed P50 million in order to spend his time in jail while his case is under trial.
The R.A. 7080, in a nutshell, protects the “political enemies” of the state.
Now we understand.