On Distant Shore – Jail the corrupt; no need to feed them to the sharks

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By Val G. Abelgas

“Your time is up,” Sen. Manny Pacquiao warned corrupt government officials as he accepted the nomination of PDP-Laban to be the party’s presidential candidate in the May 2022 elections.

“To those serving in our government who continue to take advantage of and steal from the national coffers, the time is near when you will be all together in prison. Your time is up,” Pacquiao said.

Brave words from a courageous prizefighter who fought his way from rags to riches, and from obscurity to fame – all achieved without a tinge of corruption, without a single record of wrongdoing, but through honest and hard work.

I wish all candidates could say those words without a sense of guilt, or make that promise with all sincerity, because the only way to curb corruption is to prosecute and jail the corrupt and those who nurture the corrupt.

President Rodrigo Duterte made the same promise more than five years ago – that he would not tolerate even “a whiff” of corruption and that he would throw the corrupt and the criminal to feed to the sharks of Manila Bay. Sharks have not been seen in the proximity of the bay nor in the vicinity of Celebes Sea or Mindanao Gulf for years, so perhaps not a single corrupt or criminal soul have been thrown to the sea since he spoke those words that 16 million Filipinos believed in when they voted him to the presidency in 2016.

Instead, we have a government deemed more corrupt – three times more corrupt, according to Pacquiao – than the government of the late President Noynoy Aquino, which was hounded by the pork barrel scam in the latter part of his term. But while the pork barrel scam was a major problem in his administration, Aquino was never linked personally to any of those alleged to be behind the scam, and big fish in the person of three senators and an influential businesswoman spent some time in jail for their alleged roles in the anomaly.

In the many allegations of corruption in this current administration, the names of powerful government officials have been linked to the alleged perpetrators, but not a single one of them, nor any of the suspects, has spent time in jail. Nor has the Office of the Ombudsman or the Department of Justice filed any case against any of them.

Instead, we have an Ombudsman, who is supposed to be the watchdog against wrongdoings, doing basically nothing about the Commission on Audit reports that red-flagged several transactions in nearly all quarters of the government. Ombudsman Samuel Martires said he would wait for the COA to finish its audit.

The COA said investigation was not in its mandate. Its duty is to analyze documents submitted to it by the various government agencies based on existing laws and procedures. The audit agency gives its reports and it is then up to other agencies, such as the Ombudsman and the National Bureau of Investigation, to find if there was enough evidence to warrant the filing of a case against the suspects.

After all, the Constitution empowers the Ombudsman primarily to “investigate on its own, or on complaint by any person, any act or omission of any public official, employee, office or agency, when such act or omission appears to be illegal, unjust, improper, or inefficient.”

Just recently, Ombudsman Samuel Martires put restrictions on the public’s access to government officials’ Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN), which could serve as basis to check if a particular official’s sudden increase in net worth was obtained properly or illegally. Martires made the move after lawmakers and groups demanded that the President’s SALN be released.

Not happy with that, Martires suggested that a law be passed to put in prison any person who comments on an official’s SALN, not only breaching freedom of speech but also negating the purpose for which officials are made to submit their SALNs.

And yet, this administration impeached a sitting Supreme Court Chief Justice, Ma. Lourdes Sereno, for her alleged failure to properly declare her SALN. Sereno’s only crime obviously was that she opposed, among other things, Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao and his decision to allow the burial of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

As opposed to President Duterte’s tirade against the COA for revealing its audit reports, Pacquiao hailed the COA for fulfilling its mandate in scrutinizing government agencies’ spending and to protect the people’s money.

“It is my wish that corrupt people in government will be made accountable and sent to jail so that the Filipino people will be given justice as they are the ones suffering due to corruption,” Pacquiao said in a statement in Filipino.

Every president of this country vowed to eradicate corruption, although not in the level that Duterte promised to do during his campaign. And yet, corruption has not only thrived but has worsened through the years, ironically not as rampant and as vulgar in this current administration that promised not to tolerate even a whiff of corruption.

I completely agree with Pacquiao that corrupt officials and their cohorts, especially those in the high echelons of government and not just small-time clerks and sections chiefs, should be jailed to the maximum number of years allowed by law to send a strong message to other corrupt and would-be government officials and employees that corruption will not be tolerated.

If the prosecutors and judges could send mayors and other local officials for the crimes of rape, drug dealing, and abduction, I see no reason why the Ombudsman prosecutors and the Sandiganbayan justices cannot send a single ranking government official to jail for robbing the people blind of their hard-earned taxes.

The investigations by the Senate blue ribbon committee on alleged corruption in Covid-related transactions involving businessmen with close ties to powers-that-be in Malacanang should not end there. The Ombudsman and the NBI have to pursue their own investigations into the questionable transactions that involve billions of pesos in people’s money based on the COA audit reports and the Senate’s findings.

And more importantly, the Sandiganbayan should put to jail those found liable for criminal actions and those who colluded with them. That is the right and only way corruption will be curbed in the long term.

They don’t even have to feed them to the sharks.

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