This year’s game-changer

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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

OF THE events that unfurled in 2013, one can be considered historic and a game-changer. The Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), a pillar of the Filipino system of political patronage and long considered as “untouchable,” was finally exposed and shot down.

The drama actually unfurled on Dec. 20, 2012 when businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles forced Benhur Luy, a relative who was also her employee, to go on a “spiritual retreat” after she suspected him of entering into questionable deals while he was under her employ.

Luy’s parents Arturo and Gertrudes sought the help of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), which formed a task force and rescued him from “detention” at an apartment unit owned by Napoles in Bonifacio Global City in Taguig City on March 22, 2013.

Luy’s “rescue” led to the uncovering of what was later referred to as the P10-billion pork barrel (PDAF) scam ran with precision by Napoles.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed on Aug. 14 a case of serious illegal detention, which is non-bailable, against Napoles and her brother Reynald “Jojo” Lim. While the case has been eclipsed by the bigger one involving the PDAF, it allowed law enforcers to go after Napoles, who initially evaded arrest after a warrant was issued against her.

Some two weeks after, or on Aug. 28, Napoles, with her former lawyer Lorna Kapunan as go-between, surrendered at the Heritage Park in Taguig City from where she was brought to Malacañang and had an audience with President Noynoy Aquino. She has been detained since Sept. 1 at Fort Sto. Domingo in Sta. Rosa, Laguna.

On Sept. 16, NBI filed with the Office of the Ombudsman plunder, malversation and corruption of public officials cases against Napoles and plunder cases against Sens.

Juan Ponce-Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., former congresswoman Rizalina Lanete and former party-list congressman Edgar Valdez.

Aside from the six, 32 other people consisting of three other former members of the House of Representatives, the lawmakers’ chiefs-of-staff or representatives, heads and other officials of three implementing agencies and heads of several non-government organizations (NGOs) set up by Napoles were also charged with corruption-related crimes.

The charges were based on the testimonies of Luy and other former Napoles employees.

Luy had claimed that Napoles set up more than 20 fake NGOs and foundations and used the names of house helpers, drivers, relatives, and her own employees to get billions of pesos from lawmakers' pork barrel funds.

On Oct. 3, NBI filed plunder charges against former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Napoles, and 20 others in connection with the alleged misuse of P900 million in royalties from the Malampaya gas fund. Respondents included former Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and former Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman.

The DOJ, on Nov. 29, added a second batch of respondents to the cases filed in relation to the P10-billion pork barrel scam. Then Customs commissioner Rozzano Rufino Biazon was among those charged together with 34 other individuals. Biazon promptly resigned from his post.

All of these developments were capped by the Supreme Court, voting 14-0-1, declaring on Nov. 19 the PDAF as unconstitutional. Interestingly, the High Court had declared the same PDAF as constitutional in two previous rulings. That signified how the tide has turned against this version of the pork barrel.

The Napoles saga is therefore one of the most memorable moments of 2013. The people were given a glimpse of how billions of pesos in government funds went to the pockets of corrupt lawmakers, government officials and private persons like Napoles.

It sparked public anger so intense it killed the PDAF.


Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on December 31, 2013.


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