Monday July 23, 2018

Seares: How to get away with plunder

THE tips, from the Supreme Court itself when it acquitted former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of plunder last July 19, 2016, include:

[1] Sign OK on the marginal note for the release of, in GMA’s lawsuit, P365 million in charity sweepstakes (PCSO) funds. “OK” isn’t an “overt act of plunder, ruled the SC, it’s “a common and valid practice” of approving a fund release.

[2] Don’t leave evidence of conspiracy, so that each accused (GMA and nine others) won’t be said to have stolen P50 million or more, thus removing the label of plunder. Cut up the P365 million among the 10 people in the GMA case and each would get less than P50 million.

[3] The money trail shouldn’t lead to you. No trace in the GMA case, as there wasn’t in the P723 million Jocelyn “Jocjoc” Bolante fertilizer scam. Evidence was only of the release of funds, not of the money going to GMA or Bolante. Where was the money? the SC asked.

[4] “Command responsibility,” the SC said, won’t apply to GMA because it pertains only to the armed forces or other persons under their control in foreign or domestic conflict. The SC virtually killed the doctrine.

One year left

A June 21 news report in by Lian Buan tells of “major corruption cases” crumbling as Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales is left with only one year or less before her retirement.

The serial dismissal of corruption cases started with the SC acquittal of GMA and eight of nine others accused.

The last accused standing, a PCSO official, was expected to turn on GMA but she did not.

‘OK’ commands

But look again at the SC arguments for letting off GMA and the former PCSO officials.

If “OK” is standard approval practice for the release of money, why couldn’t it be part of plunder as the crime requires release of funds by an approving authority? Didn’t the SC consider the various irregularities in the fund release, including GMA’s approval with no supporting papers and the diversion of PCSO prize money for it?

One justice noted that “thieves are likely to hide” ill-gotten money. Another justice said, “The scheme is plain except those who refuse to see.” Only four justices dissented in the SC ruling, a lopsided split.

And no more command responsibility, when the president controls certain bureaucrats as tightly as military commanders. The “OK” with accompanying initials opens doors, removes barriers. From a commander-in-chief, “OK” is the command that enables the crime.


Is the issue academic? Not for future prosecutions of plunderers and other public officials accused of corruption.

The SC needs to revisit doctrines exploited by the accused. Currently it’s the “inordinate delay” theory. With the ombudsman’s limited personnel against the battalion of private lawyers, how can “inordinate delay” be anything but an unfair device for helping the corrupt evade prosecution? “Inordinate delay” is as grossly abused as the infamous Aguinaldo doctrine was.

Congress must make the corrections in the plunder law to make it tougher for the thieves to get away. Plug loopholes in defining the law so that justices won’t bring in their own ideas about what plunder is. It can be more specific and yet still be fair.

That, or we’d see more corrupt public officials walk. And the next ombudsman would be as helpless as Carpio-Morales.