More disappointments
SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - October 30, 2019 - 12:00am

In Indonesia, a Corruption Eradication Commission or KPK was created by law in 2002.

The KPK has broad powers, which it has not hesitated to use in going after all public officials including a former House speaker, top police officers, prominent politicians and private individuals, and even members of the Supreme Court.

Its powers include detaining suspects, authorizing wiretaps, imposing travel bans, freezing financial transactions, seeking financial information about suspects, obtaining documents and getting assistance from law enforcement agencies.

The commission has a 100 percent conviction rate. It has been so successful that last month, Indonesian lawmakers passed a law intending to clip the powers of the KPK and placing it under an oversight body. The move triggered mass protests.

Transparency International has lauded the work of the KPK, which won a Magsaysay Award in 2013. Its achievements come to mind as Filipinos wring their hands in despair over court decisions on several high-profile cases that (no surprise here) took an interminably long time to resolve.

The cases have stirred discussions on what the country can do, short of tokhang and Double Barrel, to put an end to the justice-for-sale culture that has become deeply entrenched in our society.

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People who deal regularly with the courts, and even certain members of the judiciary themselves talk about who are the judges and justices open to suggestions, including the varying degrees of venality – who are matakaw and garapal, who are disimulado and can moderate the greed.

Occasionally, a magistrate is sanctioned by the Supreme Court for wrongdoing. But the SC has an enormous workload and cannot attend fully to its role as disciplinarian of the judiciary.

Also, certain SC members themselves have been hounded by corruption controversies.

The Office of the Ombudsman is supposed to be in the forefront of the fight against corruption. But the SC has effectively put judges and justices outside the reach of the ombudsman, by ordering the office to secure clearance first from the high tribunal before initiating a probe on any member of the judiciary. If there are complaints about wrongdoing, the SC gets first crack at investigating the erring magistrate.

The SC has disciplined one of its own in the recent past, but he was already retired at the time: Ruben Reyes was suspended indefinitely from practicing law for leaking the SC decision on a disqualification case filed against Negros Oriental Rep. Jocelyn Limkaichong.

Other agencies, however, have more expertise in nailing racketeers in the judiciary. The Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Anti-Money Laundering Council can do a better job of unearthing dirty money, using tax payments and the statements of assets, liabilities and net worth that all government officials are required to submit.

The Duterte administration, which professes to give priority to the fight against corruption, should lean on its congressional allies to back a proposal of the Department of Finance to ease bank secrecy laws for public servants.

For outright lifestyle checks, the assets of spouses and children should also be covered. There should be an agency that can initiate motu proprio, on its own, discreet asset probes especially of magistrates handling wealth-related cases or involving moneyed parties. 

With all the verification now required for financial transactions, it must be easier in the digital age to sniff out the money trail of crooks. Evidence of money laundering need not be dependent on photocopied paper documents, which naturally fade in a year or two, and even more so after 34 years.

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Some magistrates may not be accepting money, but are suspected of giving in to political pressure, granting favors to friends, or using their authority to boost chances for promotion – all the things that undermine the fair dispensation of justice.

At the Sandiganbayan, for example, there’s talk about the fact that Associate Justice Frederick Musngi, who penned the decision that cleared the nine so-called “euro generals” led by Eliseo de la Paz, has a family history of police service: his father, grandfather and uncle were all cops, and they hail from Pampanga like De la Paz.

The associate justice may say, “so what?” And what else can the public do, if the anti-graft court says there’s no crime because the euro generals returned the P10 million they took without authority from the police intelligence fund for a pre-retirement junket to an Interpol conference in St. Petersburg?

An acquittal can no longer be appealed before a higher court. Even if the Supreme Court sees anything questionable about the acquittal, will it initiate disciplinary action? Don’t hold your breath.

Even SC members have been hounded by controversy. New Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta will be closely watched for decisions involving certain cases. Peralta was the ponente of the decision allowing the burial of Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, and concurred with the acquittal of the person who had appointed him to the SC, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. So Sen. Imee Marcos and GMA – two of the most influential individuals in the Duterte administration – are believed to have had a hand in his promotion.

In several cases, it’s as if magistrates look for technicalities to clear favored defendants. The stock explanation is that solid evidence is needed to establish guilt beyond reasonable doubt. For non-legal minds, however, application of the reasonable doubt doctrine can look like fishing for the flimsiest excuse to acquit.

It is said that people study the law to know how to go around it. Sadly, in our country, this is not just a joke, but reality.

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BUYER BEWARE: And speaking of disappointments, I went all the way to Taytay (easily accessible now via the scenic Laguna Lake Highway) to buy trays of fresh balut, chicken eggs and salted eggs from roadside stalls. When a batch of the balut was boiled at home, I found out that there were several cheaper penoy pieces thrown in.

I know it’s a difference of just a few pesos, but it’s vastly irritating to be cheated and not get what I paid for.

We have to dump this mandarambong mindset of making a fast buck by cheating, and instead focus on developing repeat customers to sustain an enterprise. Certainly I don’t intend to ever return to that Taytay stall – the last one if you’re coming from the south.

CORRUPTION ERADICATION COMMISSION
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