As noted in a previous post, the controversy over the names of senators and House lawmakers included in Janet Napoles’ list those involved in the pork barrel fund scam is now at fever-pitch.
Aside from the three versions of the so-called “Napolist,” another list, this time allegedly from whistle-blower Benhur Luy, had also surfaced.
Most Filipinos without a doubt have sensed from the start that Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, and Bong Revilla are not the only ones that should be investigated (Ombudsman recommended the filing of charges against them before the Sandiganbayan last April).
All legislators involved can be held liable for plunder if it is proven that they have amassed P50 million in ill-gotten wealth “through a combination or series of overt criminal acts.” Plunder is considered a heinous crime and carries with it a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
Unfortunately for these erring lawmakers, they cannot behind the cloak of parliamentary immunity. The guarantee of protection from any arrest while Congress is in session only covers offenses that are punishable by less than six years. This explains why former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, despite being an elected representative of Pampanga, remains in hospital arrest.
We have now established that lawmakers who benefited from Napoles’ corruption network can be charged with plunder and be subsequently put in detention. However, this will only happen if and when Sandiganbayan issues arrest warrants against Enrile, Estrada, Revilla, and all other legislators involved in the scam.
Without an arrest warrant, the Department of Justice (DOJ) can only issue a watch-list order against these lawmakers. Being included in a watch-list order is not the same as being subjected to a hold-departure order. An individual can be included in a watch-list order for just 60 to 90 days while a hold-departure order can only be issued if a criminal case has been filed (check this memo from the DOJ website for reference).
Arroyo, for one, challenged her inclusion in DOJ’s watch-list order and was actually granted by the Supreme Court permission to leave the country although she was memorably stopped by airport officials from boarding her flight. Technically, she should have been allowed to leave since she’s not yet formally charged of electoral sabotage at that time.
Undeniably, those involved in the pork barrel fund scam should be forced to face prosecution instead of being able to fly away from it.
Panfilo Lacson, former senator and current rehabilitation czar, has gained so much attention from the media in recent months because of his Mr. Clean stand against pork barrel. Ironically, he’s actually the one who developed a playbook on how “pork barrel” senators can avoid arrest.
To remind everyone, Lacson once faced charges in connection to the murder of veteran publicist Salvador “Bubby” Dacer and his driver Emmanuel Corbito in 2000. Lacson fled the country February 2010 and only returned 14 months after.
While the Aquino administration didn’t really exert any effort to find Lacson, a political ally, when he was hiding overseas, it moved heaven and earth to prevent Arroyo from leaving the country.
Now, if the present government is really serious in bringing to justice everyone who benefited in the stealing of pork barrel funds, it should start by building-up airtight cases against them before the Sandiganbayan.
Then, it should do everything in its power to make sure that the accused government officials will face the court and not do a Panfilo Lacson by escaping to other countries.