Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Is Napoles’ conviction fair to the people?

By Perry Diaz
Janet-Lim-Napoles-with-jail-guardsReclusion perpetua, or 20 years and one day to 40 years in prison, was the sentence meted to Janet Lim Napoles for the crime of “Serious Illegal Detention” against whistleblower Benhur Luy, not for the more serious charges of graft and plunder she’s facing before the graft courtSandiganbayan.
Since Napoles is already sentenced to reclusion perpetua — Latin for “permanent imprisonment” — it really doesn’t matter much if theSandiganbayan would convict her of plunder. The plunder charge that arose from the P10-billion pork barrel scam has been lingering in the graft court with no conviction in sight.
Now that Napoles is safely “hidden” from public view and scrutiny for at least the next 20 years, the pressure to prosecute her is off. The plunder case can then be put in the back burner, to simmer slowly – very slowly — to keep it just warm enough for the wheel of justice to move, albeit at a much slower pace.
But to a lot of people, particularly many members of Congress who allegedly have had illicit deals with Napoles to “steal” from their pork barrel allocations, the conviction of Napoles gave them a sigh of relief. Now they can go about with their normal lives with no “Sword of Damocles” hanging over their heads.
Congressman's luxury car with plate no. 8.
Congressman’s luxury car with plate no. 8.
Indeed, except for three of their colleagues, life has been so good to these lawmakers in the past four years of the Aquino administration. With record amounts of pork barrel allocations and the “extra” pork they received through the illegal Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), many lawmakers have a lot to thank Napoles for the use of her bogus non-government organizations (NGOs) to funnel and launder their takes from their pork barrel. The least they can do for her is to let her serve her time in prison peacefully… and silently. Of course “silence” would also benefit these lawmakers. As the late Senator Genaro Magsaysay used to say, “Silence is golden,” silence would indeed be the ambrosia for their political survival.
Conviction by convenience
Happier days: Estrada, Revilla, and Enrile
Happier days: Estrada, Revilla, and Enrile
But what I find rather strange is the ease with which Napoles was prosecuted for “Serious Illegal Detention.” Was it a case of “conviction by convenience,” which Napoles may have agreed to in order to satisfy some powerful people who’d want her “silence” in exchange for her life? And what would be a better choice: life in prison or life in the afterworld?
But how about the lives of the three senators – ex-Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla — who are now in detention for the plunder charges relating to the Napoles pork barrel scam? Charged with a non-bailable offense, the three could be in detention for the rest of their lives if Napoles refused to cooperate and testify against them. And why should she? She’s already incarcerated and won’t see the light of day for the next 20 years. To help in the prosecution as a state witness against the three senators wouldn’t help her case unless the president would grant her executive clemency during the Christmas season this year.
Napoles and Aquino
Napoles and Aquino
The question is: Would President Aquino pardon Napoles? While it has been speculated that Napoles was politically connected with Aquino as evidenced by photos taken of Aquino and members of the Napoles family during political and fund-raising events, an executive clemency for Napoles seems like a political hot potato. But didn’t former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo pardon convicted plunderer ex-president Joseph “Erap” Estrada? It would then surprise no one if the next president would grant clemency to Napoles and the three senators, which would makes one wonder: Who would be the president most likely to pardon Napoles and the three senators?
Presidential derby
Rare encounter: Grace meets Jojo
Rare encounter: Grace meets Jojo
Today, the presidential front-runner is Vice President Jejomar “Jojo” Binay, who, so far, is the only one who has declared his candidacy. However, close behind him – and getting closer – is Sen. Grace Poe, who has yet to declare her candidacy but the bets are on that she will run for president. The latest Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey shows Binay with a popularity rating of 36% last March, down from 37% in December. But Poe’s popularity has increased significantly, from 21% in December to 31% last March. With the presidential election still a little over a year away, their ratings could change dramatically in the following months.
Assuming that the two main contenders for the presidency are Binay and Poe, who, between them, would most likely, grant clemency to Napoles and the three senators? To some people, it’s a no-brainer – “Of course, Binay will pardon them, stupid!” I concede, but how about Poe? Hmm…
While Poe doesn’t seem to have any direct connection to Napoles or any of the three senators, there would be powerful and influential people who would seek clemency for them. But would she be able resist them, some of whom might be big contributors to her presidential campaign? She might be able to resist at the beginning of her term. But it would be a different situation once realpolitik takes hold. By that time, horse-trading would once again be the norm rather than the exception.
Alphonse Capone
Alphonse Capone
Which makes one wonder if Napoles and the three senators would ever be convicted of plunder? It reminds me of American gangster Alphonse Capone. Unable to gather evidence to prosecute and convict Capone of more serious crimes, the Federal government decided to charge him for a much lesser charge, tax evasion. In 1931, Capone was found guilty and sentenced to 11 years in prison. He was never found guilty of any of the more serious crimes he committed. Is Janet Lim Napoles going to be the Philippines’ Alphonse Capone, never to be convicted of more serious crimes?
For now, we have to settle for a conviction to a lesser crime of “Serious Illegal Detention,” which begs the question: Is Napoles’ conviction fair to the people?

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