Monday, June 30, 2014

South China Sea claims highlighted in new Chinese map; RP protests

Source: The Daily Tribune
In its latest move emphasizing its claims of sovereignty over the South China Sea, Beijing has released a new official map of its territory which increases the number of disputed marked as officially part of China, including the islands claimed by the Philippines and other neighboring states.
China’s assertions of ownership in the disputed waters have put it at odds with at least four Southeast Asian nations.
The new, longer map dispenses with the box, and shows continental China along with its self-declared sea boundary in the South China Sea – stretching right down to the coasts of Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines – on one complete map.
“The islands of the South China Sea on the traditional map of China are shown in a in a cut-away box, and readers cannot fully, directly know the full map of China,” the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily said on its website.
The government-run Xinhua news agency of China published photos of the map made by Hunan Map Publishing House which said the publication was of “great significance in safeguarding the nation’s water sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
“(This helps to) correct misconceptions that territories carry different weights, and fosters a raised territorial awareness and marine consciousness with the public,” editor-in-chief Lei Yixun of the publication house was quoted by Xinhua as saying.
China’s foreign ministry said the goal in issuing the new map “is to serve the Chinese public.”
“As for the intentions, I think there is no need to make too much of any association here,” Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying was quoted as saying.
“China’s position on the South China Sea issue is consistent and extremely clear. Our stance has not changed.”
Beijing claims about 90 percent of the South China Sea, but parts of the potentially energy-rich waters are also subject to claims by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
But the Philippine government, through the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), branded China’s new official map as “unreasonably expansive” as it includes areas within Philippine sovereignty as part of Chinese territory.
“We reiterate that such a publication only shows China’s unreasonably expansive claim that is clearly contrary to international law and United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” DFA spokesman Charles Jose said in a statement.
Reports said China has unveiled a new map that marks a huge area of the South China Sea as part of Chinese jurisdiction, encroaching on the territories of its neighbors like the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
“It is precisely such ambitious expansionism that is causing the tensions in the South China Sea,” Jose said.
China claims 90 percent of the South China Sea – a major shipping route and home to groups of islands, rocks, reefs and cays. Beijing says its claim over the resource-rich waters is indisputable.
The Philippine government has renamed parts of the waters that are within its exclusive economic zone as West Philippine Sea.
Manila challenged China’s claim before an international tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, where a resolution is pending.
Relatedly, a member of the House of Representatives yesterday said the neighboring countries – Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia – should join forces with the Philippines by bringing their case against China to an international arbitrator.
“Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, and Indonesia must join forces with our country as the 5 SEA (Southeast Asian) Tigers and settle this dispute with China in an international court,” said Rep. Sherwin Gatchalian in a statement.
Gatchalian expressed belief that the Philippine case against China will have stronger impact and positive results if they will unite and act as one to ensure a louder voice.
Tribune wires and Arlie O. Calalo

Inflation may hit upper end of 3-5% target – analysts

Consumer prices, which grew 4.5 percent in May are now seen almost certain to hit the upper boundary of the government’s 3-percent to 5-percent target band, despite central bank reassurances that recent spikes in food and transport costs were due to temporary rather than systemic factors.
A number of analysts surveyed by The Manila Times forecast that inflation in the third quarter will be near the 5 percent upper limit set for this year, largely driven by those same food price pressures.
No inflationary cycle – BSP
Systemic factors, or second-round effects, are cyclic increases in wages and prices caused by an initial higher-than-expected inflation rate, were noted as a concern by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) in the wake of the May inflation print, but so far the central bank does not see them happening.
“We have not observed widespread second-round effects from the recent price pressures.
The observed increases in the prices of some food items of late have been due largely to supply disruptions,” BSP Governor Amando Tetangco Jr. said in a text message to reporters late Thursday.
Tetangco assured that relevant government agencies are addressing supply bottlenecks and this effort is expected to help moderate the upward pull on prices.
“Meanwhile, the jeepney fare hike is limited to a few regions,” he said, discounting the impact of the recent fare hike to inflation. On May 30, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board decided to raise the P8 standard public utility jeepneys fare by 50 centavos, which took effect on June 14.
Food, housing lead drivers
Despite the BSP’s cautious optimism in dismissing food price rises as largely temporary, the analysts polled by the Times believe inflation will be largely driven by higher food, oil and housing prices.
“Negative supply shocks from Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) are still lingering, causing food and housing prices to increase. Coupled with this, higher temperatures caused land-grown vegetable prices to rise, pushing food prices even higher. With the impact of the positive output gap still filtering through and food and energy prices expected to spike over the summer, headline inflation will approach the upper end of the BSP’s 2014 3-5 percent target range,” HSBC Global Research said in a research note.
Accord Capital Equities’ Justino Calaycay aired a similar view: “As for inflation, we thought at the beginning of the year that it would stay close to the lower end of the 3 percent to 5 percent band defined by the government. With current levels still within the band, but admittedly closer to the upper end, and given the recent increases in transportation fares, vegetables and other consumer staples (including rice) plus the brewing tensions in Iraq which may cause a supply squeeze, ergo higher oil prices and more inflation, we think the lower end of the band should be raised to around 4 percent while keeping the upper limit steady.”
BSP holds course, cautiously
For its part, the BSP said that current inflation expectations remain within the 3 percent to 5 percent target but increasing global oil prices remain a threat as tensions in Iraq, one of the top oil-exporting country, escalates.
“This is as a key source of risk to inflation as oil represents a major input cost in the production of most commodities,” BSP’s Tetangco said.
Following May’s unexpected higher inflation result, the BSP revised its full-year inflation target for 2014 upward from 4.3 percent to 4.4 percent, taking into consideration possible weather conditions that could push food prices still higher later in the year, and several pending petitions for upward adjustments in power rates.

Ex-US admiral: 'Equally forceful' Philippines needed in sea row

Dennis Blair, then United States Director of National Intelligence, speaks at the World Affairs Council in Philadelphia in November 2009. WACPhiladelphia
MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines has to stand up to China's gray-zone challenges in the hotly contested South China Sea, instead of only reacting to its behavior.
Dennis Blair, retired chief of the United States Pacific Command and former Director of National Intelligence, said the Philippines, Japan and Vietnam "can't just sit there" and watch as China encroaches in what they consider sovereign territories.
"Of course, you need to think them through carefully, but if the Chinese want to play a game of 'I'll poke you here, and I'll poke you there,' then you have to respond and say, 'Game on." Blair said in an interview with Asahi Shimbun, a transcript of which was posted Thursday.
"Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam need to take initiatives of their own and be equally forceful in that space," the acknowledged Asia expert advised.
Blair said China will keep on forcefully asserting its claims through unilateral declarations, but will not step beyond the "upper limit" of heightening tensions to become a major conflict.
"On the Chinese side, I think there is a similar sort of a ceiling because China knows that if a major conflict were to occur in the East China Sea or the South China Sea, the effect on China’s economic development would be terrible," Blair said.
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"Below that limit, though, the Chinese are sitting around, thinking, “Now, what can I do next? Let's see, I can extend the ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone), I can declare a new fishing zone, etcetera," he added.
Neighboring countries should then take advantage of China's self-imposed limit even as it grows in power and believes it can get its way, Blair said.
Blair, who was in the US Navy for 34 years, urged the Philippines and other claimant states to say, "Wait a minute! These are things that matter to us. These are our interests. Together we are stronger than you are."
"These are not things that we hand over to you just because your [gross domestic product] goes up 10 percent a year," Blair said.
The former admiral admitted that Beijing's increasing might has "worried" him for years knowing that it feels entitled to weaker countries' concessions in the decades-long sea row.
He explained that China looks back at its years as a weaker nation and still remembers Japan's invasion in 1931. Now an Asian powerhouse, China is prepared to use its newfound strength to its advantage.
Still, rival claimants "cannot simply make concessions to a country as it grows in power," Blair believes.
"We have to figure out how to counter those actions," he said.
The Philippines has taken a "rules-based approach" in dealing the escalating disputes. It has abandoned seemingly futile direct negotiations with China and resorted to filing an arbitration case before the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
China has rejected the third-party settlement as the Manila invests on new military assets for a "minimum credible defense" amid the regional dustup.

GSIS chief, Alcala are best-paid in government

MANILA (UPDATED) - Agriculture Secretary Proceso J. Alcala has emerged as last year's top earner among members of President Aquino's official family with recorded earnings of P4,217,650 in 2013.

The Commission on Audit said Alcala's earnings are down from the P6 million he received from government in 2012.

COA said Alcala received P1,085,940 basic salary, P29,000 honoraria, P577,939.18 allowances, P127,190 bonuses and incentives and P291,999.95 discretionary funds for a total of P2.082,069.14.

However, he more than doubled this amount with the compensation he got as council chairman of the National Food Authority in the amount of P2,105,581.33.

The COA report showed Alcala sat in the governing boards of government-owned and -controlled corporations (GOCCs) for which he was paid little or no compensation.

These are the Development Academy of the Philippines, Human Settlements Development Corporation, Land Bank of the Philippines, National Dairy Authority, National Tobacco Administration, Philippine Coconut Authority, Philippine Fisheries Development Authority, Philippine International Trading Corporation, Philippine Rice Research Institute, Sugar Regulatory Administration, National Agri-Business Corporation, and the ZNAC Rubber Estate Corporation for which he received no pay.

Alcala's paycheck is nearly double that of second highest paid Cabinet member, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz who earned P2.29 million in 2013.

The other top earning Cabinet officials are Justice Secretary Leila de Lima (P2.18 million), Health Secretary Enrique Ona (P2.16 million) and Commission on Higher Education chief Patricia Licuanan (P2.10 million).

Vergara is highest-paid
However, Cabinet officials' paychecks still pale in comparison to the salaries and allowances last year of Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) president and general manager Robert Vergara.

For the second year in a row, Vergara has come up as the highest paid government official, according to the COA report.

Vergara received a total of P12,088,476.14 in salaries and allowances last year, the COA said.

He also topped the list in 2012, taking home more than P16 million.

Second highest paid among government officials in 2013 was Land Bank of the Philippines president and chief executive officer Gilda Pico, who received a total of P10,292,930.

In 2012, Pico only earned around P3.4 million.

Third on the list was Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Amanda Tetangco Jr., who took home P9,998, 692.52 in 2013. Tetangco was the highest paid official in 2011.

Three other BSP officials were also among the top 10 highest paid in 2013.

BSP deputy governor Diwa Guinigundo (8th) earned P7.58 million, while deputy governors Nestor Espenilla (9th) and Vicente Aquino (10th) received P7.50 million and P7.41 million, respectively.

The president and chief executive of Pag-IBIG Fund, Darlene Marie Berberabe, was the fourth highest paid official with P9.39 million while Angeles City Water District general manager Reynaldo Liwanag was fifth with P8.8 million.

Rounding out the top 10 were two top officials of Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor), its chairman Cristino Naguiat Jr. with P8.11 million, and its president and chief operating officer Jorge V. Sarmiento with P 7.89 million.

President and chief executive of Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) Arnel Casanova was also among the highest paid government employees, ranking 11th on the list with P7.14 million.

COA’s 2013 ROSA listed principal officers and members of governing boards of government-owned and/or controlled corporations and of their subsidiaries and by secretaries, undersecretaries, assistant secretaries and other officials of equivalent rank of national government agencies who received salaries and allowances in fiscal year 2013.

'Competitive salaries'
Lawyer Paulo Salvosa, spokesman of the Governance Commission for GOCCs (GCG), told dzMM Friday that high salaries and allowances allow the government to remain competitive in hiring top executives.

"Ang magandang katanungan po dito ay anong klaseng public official po ang karapat-dapat na nagseserbisyo sa ating mga kababayan, lalo sa panahon natin, marami tayong problema na malalaki na dapat ayusin," he said.

"Dahil malaki iyung ino-offer ng mga malalaking kumpanya, naiimpluwensiyan po iyung pinapasweldo sa public officials sa GOCCs," Salvosa said.

"Dapat masusulit po. Isa po siyang realidad. Kapag naghahanap po ang pamahalaan ng mahuhusay na maglingkod sa bayan, kailangan harapin din po iyung laki ng ino-offer ng competition po ng ibang malalaking kumpanya," he added.

"Sinisigurado naman po ng Governance Commission na kung ganyan kataas ang suweldo, kung ganyan ang realidad, dapat kada taon, may nagagawa po sila para sa bayan. Kaya lahat ng GOCC po, may score card, nagco-commit po sila," he said.

Polarizing vigilantes



Are you a Catholic, Protestant, Sikh, Taoist, or Buddhist living in or visiting Malaysia? Watch it. You are not to use the word “Allah” referring to God, that country’s highest court said in a 4-3 decision this week. Only Muslims may do that under the law.

Suppose you’re Catholic, Protestant, Sikh, Taoist, or Buddhist just touring, or even living in, the state of Sarawak, the population of which, according to the 2010 head count, is 44 percent Christians, 30 percent Muslims, and the rest from other faiths. You may address God as “our Father” who causes “his sun to rise on the good and the evil and rain to fall on the just and unjust.”

The edict applies only to the Catholic weekly Herald, Kuala Lumpur said after the decision was issued. Since 2007, the Herald had been ordered to cease using “Allah” on grounds of  “national security and public order.” Malaysian Christians may use “Allah” in church. Herald editor Fr. Lawrence Andrew sued, saying: “We have a responsibility to uphold religious freedom.”

“Conflicting interpretations of the ban only added confusion to a debate that inflamed religious tensions,” wrote The Associated Press’ Eileen Ng. Ethnic Malays form two-thirds of Malaysia’s population. Chinese and Indians number 22 percent and 7 percent, respectively. Christians number about 9 percent.

This ruling “shows how fast religious tolerance is falling in Malaysia,” the New York-based Human Rights Watch noted. “Government should work to promote freedom of religion rather than politically exploit religious wedge issues.”

Indeed, the ban appears “politically motivated,” writes William Case at the City University of Hong Kong’s Department of Asian and International Studies. Prime Minister Najib Razak’s party failed to win a majority in the last election. He’s strapped to recapture support of the country’s ethnic Malay, and mostly Muslim, community.

“It’s too soon to tell how government will implement the ban,” Case adds. The judiciary may say one thing, the Cabinet another. “That would lead to further attacks on churches as Malaysia has become more polarized on ethnic, and increasingly religious, grounds. However, verbal threats against religious groups in Malaysia seldom translate into the kind of violence seen elsewhere…”

The decision doesn’t stipulate the penalty for violating the ban. But it appears that a newspaper using the term would lose its publishing license. Whatever, Christians will continue to use “Allah” in bibles and during church gatherings, said the Christian Federation of Malaysia chair, Rev. Eu Hong Seng, as they did even before Malaysia split from Singapore.

In January, authorities confiscated 300 bibles in Selangor state. In late 2009, it impounded 15,100 bibles imported from Indonesia. Two Bible Society officials were investigated for breaking a state law that bans non-Muslims from using the word “Allah,” BBC reported.

As of 2012, at least 17 nations (9 percent worldwide) have police that enforce religious norms, according to a new analysis of data, says the Pew Research Center. “In Malaysia, state Islamic religious enforcement officers and police carried out raids to enforce the Sharia law against indecent dress. [They] banned publications, alcohol consumption and khalwat (close proximity to a member of the opposite sex),” according to the US State Department.

Religious intolerance spawns even body snatching, blogs Mariam Mokhtar, who heads the Perak Liberation Organisation. “The most prominent [victim] is former chief justice Mohamed Suffian Hashim. A Cambridge scholar, he married Buny, a British Christian. She wanted to be cremated. But before services at the Cheras crematorium, religious officials took [the body] to Kuala Kangsar for burial according to Muslim rites.”

Mokhtar cites similar body-snatching cases, including that of 74-year-old Gan Eng Gor.
Malaysia is “an ethnically polarized society,” the New York Times’ Thomas Fuller noted earlier. “Talent often does not rise to the top of government because of patronage politics within the ruling party dominated, until now, by the United National Malays Organization.

“A system of ethnic preferences blocks minorities, mainly ethnic Chinese and Indians, from government service. Ethnic Malays corner nearly all top government positions and receive a host of government preferences.”

The local press is muzzled by licensing laws. “There has always been a kind of wait-for-instructions-from-the-top attitude.” Authoritarian laws help keep an ascendant opposition in check, as the opposition’s Anwar Ibrahim found in recycled sodomy charges. “The government is accustomed to getting its way. When you are not challenged in any meaningful way, you get complacent.”

Late March, a once-unthinkable interfaith meeting gathered in Kuala Lumpur, after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared. The imam cupped his palms to invoke Allah for the 239 passengers and crew. “The prayer was not unusual,” wrote the AP’s Eileen Ng. But the setting was a Damansara Perdana shopping mall.

“Today is a rare occasion for us to bring unity and harmony,” prayed a Buddhist monk. “We are all in tears waiting for you,” said Shantha Venugopal, the Hindu representative. The Taoist priest beseeched for divine intervention, while the Sikh leader pleaded for closure. A Catholic read from the bible.

The rites “would have been inconceivable” before March 8 in a country “where religious bigotry is often openly displayed,” the AP reported.

Tali lega lembar tak suang-sunang putus, a Malay proverb says. A rope of three strands takes some breaking. Alas, it unwound too soon.

* * *

Read more:

Sunday, June 29, 2014

'Yes, China, we can also draw our own map!'

A globe showing the Philippines and the western Pacific region. Nom and Malc/CC BY-NC-ND
MANILA, Philippines — Should the Philippines release its own official map to counter China's?
A sarcastic meme of a so-called "new Philippine Territorial Map" circulated on Facebook on Friday purportedly to challenge Beijing's new official vertical map encompassing Philippine-claimed waters in the South China Sea.
The amusing unofficial and hypothetical Philippine map exaggerates the maritime dispute by showing new Philippine territories overlapping Mongolia and the Chinese mainland as well Hong Kong.
A sarcastic meme circulating on Facebook. source
The entire contested South China Sea is also renamed "West Philippines Special Resources Region" and Hong Kong to "Special Commercial Region."
Beijing is assigned as "capital city" but with a new name: Rizal.
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China's new state-approved map released earlier this week strays from the traditional measurements of South China Sea features shown only in a cut-away box. This time, a full map of China is shown along with the disputed sea cut out with the country's "nine-dash line."
Photo showing the newly issued vertical atlas of China by Hunan Map Publishing House.Xinhua/Bai Yu
The Philippines criticized the new Chinese map, which it called "ambitious" and merely a "drawing" which does not legitimize Chinese ownership of the the isles and reefs in the West Philippine Sea.
Beijing, meanwhile, said that the maps were only published for public service and only show its adamant stance over the maritime zone. - Camille Diola

Not just within their lifetime

Get Real

By Solita Collas-Monsod
Philippine Daily Inquirer

I warn the Reader that I am going to harp on this subject until the proper action is taken. On June 6, when she filed plunder and other charges against three senators and various government officials/employees in connection with the pork barrel scam, the Ombudsman asked the Supreme Court to create two special divisions of the Sandiganbayan (SB) that would exclusively conduct hearings on these cases.

The Supreme Court still hasn’t decided on the issue, but judging from the negative reactions of the SB and some of the accused, that route to a speedy disposition of the cases can be counted out. It wasn’t such a good idea, anyway.

The SB, in an attempt to be reassuring, committed to heeding “the clarion call to speed up” its work.  Consuelo de bobo.  Exactly how does it intend to do that, with its dockets clogged, as of March 2014, with a caseload of 3,031 unresolved cases? The average time for case resolution has increased from 6.6 years to 8 years (other estimates are 9 years and 12 years, but I don’t know how these were derived), so it has not speeded up its work, it has in fact gone the other way.

To be fair, defenders of the SB claim that it is not the court, but the lawyers, who cause delays. Defense lawyers claim that the prosecutors are ill-prepared and are constantly asking for postponements. Court-watchers claim that the de campanilla defense lawyers ask for reinvestigations and file motions for reconsideration at the drop of a hat. I attended a trial at the SB last week: It lasted an hour because there were four other cases to be heard. How many one-hour sessions will be held on the plunder cases? And with at least 25 coaccused, each with a lawyer who has the right to cross-examine every witness, can you imagine the logistical nightmares that are involved?

Can anything be done? Of course (and here the nagging begins).

The first proposal was actually fielded nine years ago when then senator Mar Roxas filed two bills—the first was to increase the number of SB divisions from 5 to 15 (from 15 to 45 justices), and the second to transfer original jurisdiction over “minor” cases (i.e., graft cases of P1 million or less) to the regional trial courts (RTC). I’m not very keen on the latter because it does not solve, but transfers, the problem to a place with crowded docket problems of its own.

But the first bill merits attention. It was filed partially to address the findings of delay in the SB by a 2003 World Bank study (when the delay was 6.6 years), and was endorsed by the Office of the Ombudsman (both bills were). Obviously, it did not get very far. I am informed that the legislators were lukewarm, and the SB was cold, to the idea.

Reader, Presidential Decree No. 1606, the law creating the Sandiganbayan, was enacted in 1978 (during martial law), and it provided for nine justices—three divisions with three justices each. The law was amended in 1995 (probably to accommodate the cases filed against the Marcos dictatorship), increasing the number of justices to 15, or five divisions. Ten years later, the Ombudsman endorsed a bill increasing the number to 45 justices in 15 divisions, but nobody bit.

Nothing was heard about the problems of the SB for another seven years, until last year, 2013, when Senators Frank Drilon and TG Guingona filed two other bills. Drilon did not propose an enlarged SB but, rather, proposed an amendment to the Sandiganbayan Law which requires the presence of at least three justices before a case could be heard. His bill provided for a justice-in-charge who would monitor every aspect of the case and report to his comembers.
Guingona’s bill, at least, echoed the Roxas proposal to increase the SB justices from 15 to 45. It also echoed Drilon’s proposal for a justice-in-charge.

This may be crystal-clear to a lawyer, but I cannot understand why procedures such as the one proposed by Drilon have to be legislated. Section 5, paragraph 5, Article VIII of the Constitution states that the Supreme Court has the power to promulgate rules concerning (among others) pleadings, practices, and procedures in all courts. The answer I was given was that the original procedure was legislated in the Sandiganbayan Law. But isn’t that begging the question? The same section says that the rules of special courts shall remain effective unless disapproved by the Supreme Court. Doesn’t this mean that the Supreme Court has the final say on procedures? Just asking.

Finally, Drilon and Guingona, together with Sen. Koko Pimentel, filed Senate Bill No. 2138, which substituted for the two individual bills.  It has been approved on third reading but unfortunately, it no longer has the important feature of increasing the number of justices.  Rather, it focuses on a justice-designate, reduces the quorum in divisions from three to two, and proposes the transfer of “minor” cases to the RTC. The latter, I said earlier, is merely transferring the problem. I leave others to determine the impact of a two-member quorum, or of a justice-designate.

The need for the increase in the SB justices was already felt in 2005. Surely, by 2014 the need has become greater. Is the legislature incapable of acting speedily to address a pressing problem? One only has to recall the speed with which it impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona: less than a day. That should answer that question.

Come on, senators and congressmen. Let’s get behind Senator Guingona’s bill. The Filipino people want to see a case, especially against government officials, disposed of speedily, not just within their lifetime.

It can be done.

Read more:

Now, they’re looking for a ‘body of crime’

In a column published February 15 (“Like probing a murder without a corpse,” Manila Times, February 15), I commented that the blue ribbon committee hearing called by its chair Sen. Teofisto Guingona was like a police investigation of a murder without a corpse.
Now that the sensational multi-billion pork barrel scam has landed in the nation’s anti-graft court, the Sandiganbayan, we have found out to our shock that government prosecutors still cannot establish “a body of crime” in order to charge Senators Jinggoy Estrada, Bong Revilla and Juan Ponce Enrile with plunder.
I wrote in February: “After nine hearings, six months and 16 days, Guingona still cannot say that specific crimes have been committed, how much money has been stolen, and who are the culprits that must be held to account and charged.”
The committee was going nowhere because Guingona “totally refused to subpoena Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and other DBM officials to shed light on how PDAF funds were disbursed and to whom, or how much money had been stolen. Not a single question has been thrown to the DBM by the blue Ribbon Committee.”
I also expressed my opinion that the Senate had no business conducting a criminal investigation. Since Sen. Joe McCarthy and the communist witchhunts, Senates worthy of the name limited their hearings to probes in aid of legislation. Investigations into crimes committed by government officials are to be to left, in our case, to the mercies of the Department of Justice and its agencies, and the constitutionally created Ombudsman.
For its overt partiality and grandstanding, the humpty dumpty committee was rechristened by the media and the public as “the yellow ribbon committee,” and it has since gone into hiding.
A no-nonsense, get-the crooks inquiry
You would think that the restoration of responsibility to the Justice department and the Ombudsman would establish order in our political universe and turn the pork barrel investigation into a non-nonsense, get-the-crooks inquiry.
We all presumed that we would finally get to the meat of Secretary Leila de Lima’s claimed “truckloads of evidence” and “slam-dunk evidence.”
When De Lima finally filed the charges against various officials with the Ombudsman, we all believed that the charges would hold water, and that the Ombudsman would promptly and eventually submit the indictments to the Sandiganbayan for trial.
We prayed that the investigative process had spared no one and would prosecute all those who took part in whatever conspiracy to plunder the pork barrel allocations of senators and representatives.
The realist in me did not expect all of these reasonable expectations to be fulfilled. I gave allowance for some lapses of judgment and probity in the process.
So when the Ombudsman finally sent the complaints to the Sandiganbayan, and the graft court promptly issued warrants of arrest for the high-profile senators, I thought that the tide was really moving on the side of ethical and good government.
And when Senators Bong Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada willingly surrendered and spent a day or two at the Camp Crame custodial Center, I joined the public in believing that their arrest and surrender must mean the government has a strong case against them.
The script goes out of whack
But then came Thursday, and the whole scenario went completely out of whack.
It turned out that after submitting the cases to the graft court, the Ombudsman was not ready to go to trial. At the last minute, she, through the special prosecutor, sought to amend the charge sheet already filed with the court.
The decision on this highly unusual maneuver was swift and crushing.
The Sandiganbayan junked the Ombudsman’s revision of the complaint. One Sandiganbayan justice said Thursday that prosecutors have yet to establish “the body of crime” in their plunder complaint, as the First Division of the anti-graft court denied a bid by the Ombudsman to amend the charge sheet to show that Senator Ramon Revilla Jr., and not Janet Lim Napoles, was the mastermind behind the pork barrel scam.
The complaint was rushed
The comment of one justice, who requested anonymity, could not be more dismissive. He said:
“Minadali (it was rushed). The 9,560-page complaint was hastily done. It is filled with inconsistencies, defects and loopholes. The amendment even made it worse.”
The justice gave his comments to the Manila Standard. In what follows, I quote freely from the fine reporting of Christine F. Herrera, Joyce Pangco Pañares and Rio N. Araja.
The justice continued: “The amendment made it worse because to establish conspiracy, the prosecution has to have evidence to prove that Revilla was in cahoots with Napoles from the start, such as in setting up the bogus NGOs and carrying out the scam. But based on the evidence submitted that was made the basis of the three separate 10,000-page complaints, conspiracy was not established with Revilla’s camp even claiming that the senator’s signature was forged in pertinent documents.”
Not surprisingly, Senator Revilla refused to enter a plea at his arraignment on Thursday. His defense pounced on the denied amendment, declaring that they would use it against the prosecution as proof that the plunder case against Revilla was “defective and void from the start.”
The special prosecutor tried his utmost to explain away the questions raised by the amended case information. He told the court: “We amended the case information to emphasize that the senator was the one who amassed, accumulated and acquired ill-gotten wealth in connivance or in conspiracy with his co-accused public officer and private individuals.”
“The prosecutors deemed it wise to amend them to minimize, if not obviate, objections therein by certain accused which may cause undue delay in the proceedings,” he added.
The amended complaint sought to emphasize that Napoles and her cohorts were private individuals who collaborated with the senators in amassing ill-gotten wealth.
Under Philippine law, only government officials can be charged with plunder. The prosecutor also tried to delete the phrase that said “enabling Napoles to misappropriate the Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF) proceeds for her personal gain.” Revilla’s lawyer, Joel Bodegon, said the move was aimed at taking the heat off Napoles and making the senator the mastermind of the scam.
Bodegon explained: “It was done to justify that Napoles was not the most guilty so she can be made a state witness,” Bodegon added. At his arraignment, Revilla refused to enter a plea, so the court entered a “not guilty” plea for him.
“The prosecution’s move is a judicial admission that they have no case against Revilla,” Bodegon said.
An amateurish featherweight
In indicting Revilla, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales charged that the senator collected some P224.512 million in kickbacks from 2006 to 2010 from the alleged illegal disbursement of his PDAF allocations.
The Sandiganbayan justice who spoke to the Standard described Morales as an “amateurish featherweight” who allowed the defective complaint to reach the anti-graft court.
The justice said he could not understand why Morales, a retired Supreme Court associate justice, allowed loopholes in the complaint, making it vulnerable to attack from the defense. The Justice explained that the affidavit of Napoles employee-turned whistleblower Benhur Luy was made the basis of all three complaints against the senators.
“In Benhur Luy’s affidavit, he said John Raymond de Asis, Napoles’ driver, ‘helped’ in the preparation of the money. But in the complaint, the prosecution stated that De Asis ‘delivered’ the money.
“That’s a serious overlook (sic), if indeed it was overlooked,” the justice said. The justice added that there was no paper or money trail leading to Enrile.
In the case of Estrada, Tuason claimed to have delivered the money to the senator but said she did not know how much money was delivered, the justice said. Asked why the Sandiganbayan found probable cause to issue arrest warrants against the senators, the justice said: “Finding probable cause is far different from finding the accused guilty and sentencing them.”
“With all the hype about truckloads of evidence, the prosecution has yet to establish the body of crime,” the justice concluded. “The justices will rule based only on evidence at hand, and presented.”
The Palace remains confident
In the face of this clear blow to the plunder cases, Palace propagandists tried to keep a straight and brave face.
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma told the media that the President is confident that the plunder cases against the three opposition senators are strong, despite the Ombudsman’s failure to have the charge sheet amended.
“We believe the concerned agency of the government has already done what it should do. The DoJ has done its homework. They have spent enough time to examine the merit(sic) of the case that they have filed,” Coloma said.
He continued: “We are confident that sufficient work has been done to build a credible and convincing case. The Ombudsman’s special prosecutor was acting “well within the rules of court” in seeking to amend the charge sheet.”
Despite its failure with the Revilla case, the Ombudsman’s prosecutors sought to file similar amendments in the plunder cases against Estrada and Enrile.
The prosecutors are also seeking to alter portions of the original information sheet against Estrada to highlight his role in directing the pork barrel scam.
“By exerting undue pressure on the implementing agencies to favorable (sic) act on his endorsements of the NGO’s of Napoles to ensure that his PDAF be in the possession and control of Napoles and her cohorts which undue pressure and endorsements were made in exchange for kickbacks, percentage or commissions, thereby unjustly enriching himself at the expense and to the damage and prejudice, of the Filipino people and the Republic of the Philippines,” the amended information said.
Estrada’s arraignment is set on Monday, June 30.
From truckloads to 10,000-page complaints
It’s to be expected and logical that, under the Aquino administration, the truckloads of evidence would become 10,000-page complaints. That’s apparently how the justice machinery of this government works. The hyperbolic volume and count must be sustained.
But this only makes the government look puny and incompetent. The Ombudsman, despite her haughty air, could be facing some humbling days in the trials ahead.
The demand of President Aquino that only strong and air-tight cases should be filed against the accused sounds like a mission impossible for the government’s prosecution team.
Trying Revilla, Estrada and Enrile in the court of the media and public opinion was relatively easy. Trying them at the Sandiganbayan is a totally different game.