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Opinion

Will Pharmally get away?

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

As of this week, the Senate Blue Ribbon committee still lacked two signatures to complete the needed nine for its report on the Pharmally mess to go to the plenary for approval.

The inclusion of President Duterte among the persons recommended for indictment probably doomed the report. Even if senators typically behave like independent republics, Duterte allies dominate the chamber.

Senators can’t even agree on when the Pharmally executives implicated in the pandemic corruption scandal can leave detention.

The House of Representatives, which conducted its own probe, unsurprisingly released watered down findings, with several key players let off the hook, and with the Pharmally executives left holding the bag.

Even that watered down House report, however, might not amount to anything in the new administration, whose apparent policy on corruption is that past is past, and the nation should let bygones be bygones.

Anti-graft prosecutors could have initiated their own probe motu proprio. But with President Duterte fulminating at every opportunity against the Pharmally probe and Blue Ribbon head Richard Gordon, and members of the executive branch ordered to observe omerta and snub the inquiry, the prosecutors goose-stepped in obedience.

The administration line is that formal charges should have been filed instead for investigation by state prosecutors.

Similar calls have been made in other controversies raised against the Duterte administration, notably on issues raised by former senator Antonio Trillanes in connection with summary executions.

We asked Gordon and Trillanes, in separate pre-election interviews on One News’ “The Chiefs,” why they did not initiate formal complaints. Gordon said it was not the role of senators to file complaints before prosecutors or the courts. But other people could do it, he said, based on the Senate findings.

Trillanes explained that he did not expect a fair shake in the justice system under Duterte, and he intended to initiate the appropriate complaints in the next administration. Obviously, Trillanes believed Duterte’s successor would be from the opposition.

Now that it’s Marcos 2.0 instead, would Trillanes still put his faith in the justice system?

And since Gordon now has more time on his hands, will he himself initiate the filing of a formal complaint against the players in the Pharmally mess?

*      *      *

The failure to file charges and get the formal prosecution process rolling helped give credence – at least within a certain demographic – to Duterte’s accusation that the Blue Ribbon probe was nothing but grandstanding in aid of election by the senators.

Too many Senate probes have suffered the same fate – after extensive media coverage of the inquiry, no charges are filed before prosecutors, or else the charges never reach the courts. Or else the Senate witnesses recant their testimonies against the alleged offenders.

The one time that the Office of the Ombudsman did its homework and successfully prosecuted an ousted president for plunder, Joseph Estrada was not only given a full pardon by his successor but also got his political rights restored.

This allowed Erap to become mayor of a city where everyone knows he doesn’t even live, and to seek the presidency for a second time, in a case left hanging by the lazy Supreme Court.

Gordon does have a point, that other people can use Senate findings to file corruption charges against public officials and their civilian cohorts.

But this is no job for an ordinary civilian, or even a civic-minded lawyer acting all by his lonesome.

The group that secured Erap’s conviction for plunder – prosecutors under Simeon Marcelo when he was the ombudsman – had narrated how much time, painstaking sleuthing, legwork, financial and other resources for obtaining voluminous documents, plus all the other requirements for a thorough investigation went into that conviction, only for it to be junked through the absolute pardon granted by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

*      *      *

Crooks who have gorged themselves on the public trough aren’t going to be dragged to Bibilid without them putting up a spirited fight. If they can afford a fleet of Porsches, they can certainly afford the most expensive lawyers and judicial influence peddlers.

An ordinary taxpayer has no chance against the best justice that money can buy. The best chance is for an advocacy group to pick up where the Blue Ribbon left off, and initiate the prosecution of those implicated in the Pharmally mess.

Perhaps Chel Diokno and his team can do this. Or maybe graduating Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon can step in as well.

A change in administration should not mean a clean slate for elected officials – and civilians for that matter – who are facing criminal complaints. The Commission on Elections, for example, has said that with the elections over, it would focus on complaints about vote buying and those who spread fake news (but only against the poll body, not against candidates).

After the conclusion of a congressional probe, with the Senate submitting a report with recommendations for indictment, the anti-graft police are supposed to take it from there.

But this is in a perfect world where the justice system is not compromised. In our case, the guiding principle of the anti-graft police is to see, hear and speak no evil, except in cases involving the small fry where the amounts in question are only up to six figures.

For amounts above that, and especially if the figure can no longer fit into your phone screen using regular font size, the thief has a promising future in politics.

Our people, seeing crooks advancing exponentially in life and being richly rewarded for thievery, have become unimpressed with anti-corruption crusaders.

Instead, they have the greatest admiration and even envy for those who get away with everything.

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