Getting away with plunder

Jinggoy Estrada, Bong Revilla, and Juan Ponce Enrile
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The acquittal last week of former Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla, Jr., and his alleged accomplices’ being found guilty and sentenced to the mandatory penalty for plunder of reclusion perpetua (20 to 30 years’ imprisonment) has understandably raised doubts over the justice of the decision. Two of the five associate justices of the Sandiganbayan’s First Division that tried the case are even questioning the majority opinion.

Among the questions that have been raised is why, if Revilla is indeed innocent, he is being ordered to return at least part of the PhP124.5 million in pork barrel funds pocketed by his alleged accomplices, and if his former chief of staff who has been convicted of the offense could have done it on his own and without Revilla’s approval and even instigation.
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The dimensions of impunity

Joseph Estrada, Rodrigo Duterte, Gloria Arroyo and Imelda Marcos
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Those Filipinos aware of the record-breaking looting of the public treasury by the Marcos kleptocracy are hailing the Sandiganbayan’s conviction of Imelda Marcos on seven counts of graft. They had already lost hope that any of the billions diverted to Swiss bank accounts, real estate, and jewelry and art collections in Bern, Paris and other world capitals will ever be recovered, or that any form of legal retribution against the thieves is forthcoming, but have been heartened by the graft court’s decision 27 years after charges were filed against the Marcos family matriarch.  

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Promoting impunity

Rodrigo Duterte for death penalty
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THE campaign by President Rodrigo Duterte and his allies in Congress for the restoration of the death penalty is replete with irony. Capital punishment is supposed to discourage criminality while at the same time insuring that those who commit certain crimes get what they deserve. But what’s likely is that rather than deter crime and assure crime victims of justice, it will further strengthen the impunity, or exemption from punishment, of the powerful, privileged, and well-connected.

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Dismantling the culture of impunity

Impunity
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In 2015 the Philippines was number four in the Committee to Protect Journalists’(CPJ) Impunity Index, after Somalia, Iraq and Syria. The Index lists those countries where the killers of journalists are seldom, if ever, punished, with many literally getting away with murder. The first three countries are failed states, which raises the question of why the Philippines should be in their company, but the numbers speak for themselves. Only in 11cases out of 152 journalists’ murders since 1986 have the killers of journalists and media workers been prosecuted, and very rarely have masterminds been tried.

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The center cannot hold

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IN A piece that won’t win any Pulitzer Prize, one of those individuals on whom the media have conferred the title of “political analyst”– Ramon Casiple– asked if Benigno Aquino III was committing political suicide. It was a question more rhetorical than literal. Casiple’s answer is yes, the country’s President, with three more years to go before he leaves office, has been killing himself politically.

He cited as proof Mr. Aquino’s statements and actions in the last six months or so of this particularly problematic year. On the pork barrel issue, for example, Casiple noted that Mr. Aquino chose to defend the Disbursement Allocation Program (DAP) which those Filipinos still capable of any kind of thought regard as a license for Presidential patronage politics.

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Monkey in the driver’s seat

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THE December 16 Metro Manila bus disaster in which 22 people lost their lives and 20 more were injured was far from unique. On the same day, in Badian, Cebu, a drunken bus driver lost control of his vehicle while negotiating a curve and killed several people, including his own wife and daughter. Barely two months ago, on October 9, a bus collided with a truck in Atimonan, Quezon, and smashed into two other buses, two cargo trucks, a trailer truck and a van that were going in the other direction. Twenty people were killed and 54 others were injured.

In 2010, a bus crash in Balamban, Cebu, killed 21 people and injured 26 others. A journalist and member of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication Journalism Faculty, Chit Estella, was killed by a speeding bus along Quezon City’s Commonwealth Avenue in 2011 that rammed the taxicab she was in. Although Estella was the only casualty in that crash, her death cost the country one of its leading journalists.

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Impunity

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THE phrase is of recent vintage, but the reality behind it isn’t. Like most of the horrors that afflict Filipinos, the culture of impunity, or exemption from punishment so common it has become routine, has been a fact of their lives since the datus betrayed their own people by collaborating with the Spaniards in the conquest of these isles.

In the course of that bloody process and after, entire barangay were put to the torch and their inhabitants to the sword. Not only did those responsible escape punishment; they were also rewarded, and their deeds hailed as part of God’s plan and work.

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Heralds of impunity

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A SIGNATORY to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Philippines has sent a delegation to Geneva, Switzerland to attend the second cycle of the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the human rights situation of the Philippines since 2008 when it was last reviewed.

The May 29, 2012 review of Philippine compliance with the above covenants, and with its own commitment to implement 11 out of 17 recommendations by the member-States of the UN Human Rights Council in 2008, came a week after the US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged UN member-states to “see through the Philippine government’s rhetoric and question the lack of progress on accountability over the past four years.”

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Tattered democracy

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THE PHILIPPINE ranking fell from 122nd in 2009 to 156th in the Paris-based Reporters San Frontieres’ (RSF- Reporters Without Borders) 2010 Press Freedom Index released on October 20.

The 2010 Index covers the period September 1, 2009 to September 1, 2010. The Philippine ranking had been rising in earlier RSF Indexes, despite the continuing killing of journalists in the country, and its portrayal in 2003 as “the most murderous place in the world for journalists.”

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Impunity’s roots

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IMPUNITY — OR exemption from punishment — has been correctly called a culture, a way of doing things to which a particular community has become accustomed. It is almost inevitably mentioned as the primary reason why journalists and political activists continue to be killed in the Philippines, where a culture of impunity has indeed taken root. But it also applies with equal validity to the killing of nearly everyone else, especially the poor and powerless. Few murders in this country are ever really solved, with the perpetrators and masterminds being arrested, tried and punished.

Contrary to the common perception that only the wealthy and powerful literally get away with murder, it also happens even to the poorest folk. If the wealthy and well-connected can evade punishment by hiring crafty lawyers, and bribing policemen, prosecutors and judges, those who are otherwise, if they’re lucky enough, can escape the law by simply disappearing in the vast countryside that surrounds the cities, or in the anonymous warrens and labyrinthine slums the poorest call home. Police inefficiency and reluctance to hunt down killers, if the victims are “not important” and won’t be missed except by their closest kin, does the rest.

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