The pursuit of nothing

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Apparently to everyone’s–including his most ardent House supporters’–relief, Manila Congressman Mark Jimenez has decided to bow to the inevitable and to present himself to the U.S. Embassy in Manila.

The decision will spare him the embarrassment of being arrested and imprisoned by the Philippine government of which he is a part pending his extradition to the United States. It would also put an end to nearly two years of futile debate and endless charges and counter-charges.

Only a possibility when the Supreme Court ruled last September 24 to revoke his P1 million bail, Jimenez’ arrest would have been the government’s only course of action when the Court turned down his appeal for reconsideration early this week.

Under the Philippines’ extradition treaty with the United States, fugitives from the American justice system–i.e., those accused of a crime, or convicted of one–can be returned to the United States to face charges or to serve out their sentences.

The United States can similarly do the same in the cases of fugitives from the Philippine justice system who escape to the United States.

A previous unknown who supposedly made his fortune by trading in computers in Latin America, Jimenez came to the public eye as a member of Joseph Estrada’s notorious midnight cabinet, where deals were made and public policy shaped over mahjong and alcohol.

Now Congressman Jimenez, the former Mario Batacan Crespo and former “Latin American affairs” adviser to Estrada is accused in the U.S. of mail fraud, illegal campaign contributions to the Bill Clinton campaign, tax evasion, and falsification of public documents.

Former Solicitor General Frank Chavez has also publicly suggested that Jimenez could face other, far graver charges once he’ in the custody of the United States government, among those charges being his possible involvement in the drug trade.

The latter possibility could help explain Jimenez’ fighting extradition tooth and nail, as well as the U.S. government’s eagerness to have him in custody, the drug trade being among U.S. national security concerns.

As Chavez said, however, Jimenez may not have been trading in drugs, but could possibly have been “tainted” in the course of his business transactions with various groups in the Latin American countries, among them the drug capital of the world, Colombia.

Jimenez had previously enjoyed the protection of Joseph Estrada, who once described him as “a financial genius.” The fall of Estrada in 2001, however, left him vulnerable to arrest and extradition by the new Arroyo government. Apparently he ran for Congress in 2001 in the hope that being in the House of Representatives would prevent his extradition.

If we’re to believe him–and this is straight from the genius’ own mouth–he had recourse to other means, among them the dispensing of millions of dollars in “loose change.”

“Loose change” is exactly how he described the $2 million he claims to have bribed Justice Secretary-on-leave Hernando Perez with. Presumably, he regards the P8 million he claims to have given President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s spouse Mike Arroyo, P8 million being worth no more than $154,000 at the current rate of exchange.

However, although the stench of corruption in the Arroyo administration has reached atmospheric levels, and there’s a tendency among citizens at large to believe corruption charges against it, Jimenez’; charges were, as late as yesterday, rapidly turning into monumental duds.

His accusation against Perez, for example, has been unclear as to motive, and has foundered on the inconsistency of its details–a fatal flaw in cases of this sort, which stand or fall on such particulars as when, how and why.

On the other hand, his Monday morning claim that Mr. Arroyo received P8 million from him has turned out to be as flawed. The amount appears to have been a donation he made to a private foundation that serves underprivileged children, and which he made voluntarily while Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was still Joseph Estrada’s Vice President.

His most recent charge thus looks like the recourse of a desperate man. But so does his bribery claim against Perez, who may or not may not be as corrupt as claimed in the coffee shops, but whose actions subsequent to his allegedly being bribed contradict what could have been the only reason for the “bribery.” That reason was for Perez and the Justice Department to go easy on Jimenez’ case, and to delay it for as long as possible.

And yet Jimenez said in the same breath that Perez had been hounding him and trying to put him in jail, and at one point had even threatened to do precisely that in front of his family during a visit to his Forbes Park home when he and Perez met to–according to Jimenez–thresh out certain details further to the bribe, but which, according to Perez, was an attempt to convince him to testify against Joseph Estrada in the latter’s plunder case.

It seems hardly likely that anyone in his right mind would ask his wife and children to attend a meeting such as the one Jimenez claims took place. The argument that one’s problems are causing one’s family anguish is a tried and tested formula to gain public and media sympathy. By dragging his family into the fray, Jimenez apparently hoped to gain, if not the sympathy of the Supreme Court, at least that of the public so that it can–what? Influence the Court to uphold his appeal for bail?

That would have been an extremely long shot. This is not to suggest that courts are immune to public sympathies–justices are human too, and like the rest of us, have been known to form opinions and to act on the basis of what’s popular and current. It is to say, however, that for that to happen there should have been widespread public clamor and conviction that a grave injustice was being committed.

None of that hoped for public sympathy materialized, despite Jimenez’ appeal to the emotions of usually emotional Filipinos. Instead, Jimenez’ charges were fast turning into fodder for coffee shop jokes, even as most Filipinos were either totally indifferent, or else not convinced enough to regard the Jimenez saga as of any moment to their already problematic lives.

Jimenez’ House colleagues on the other hand were compelled to come to his defense, among other reasons because they regarded the idea that a member of Congress could be arrested, detained and turned over to a foreign government as damaging to whatever’s left of the House’s prestige, and to the immunity of its members from arrest during sessions.

Their invocation of the separation of powers principle, and even a threat to have the Supreme Court justices impeached, were the bases for the claim of some House members that a constitutional crisis could ensue as a result of the September 24 Supreme Court ruling.

But isn’t the Court’s function precisely to rule on questions of law, regardless of who’s involved? How could its ruling on one Congressman’s extradition case possibly involved the separation of powers doctrine?

These and other questions could have arisen had Jimenez continued to prevent his extradition in a long drawn and utterly pointless contest over someone whose value and contributions to better governance and to the well-being of the Filipino people were at best debatable.

Now, thanks to Jimenez’ decision, that futile battle has been prevented, and the country spared from having to listen to Jimenez’ public display of his vaunted genius.

All may yet be well that ends well. But did we really have to go through all that to end up where we are? In the Jimenez saga are a host of conclusions any idiot could draw, among them how much time and effort is devoted by politicians and the political system to the pursuit of nothing, and why the country’s the way it is.

(abs-cbnNEWS.com)

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