Thursday, March 03, 2011

March 3 Senate Inquiry; The Plot Sickens

It has been two weeks since the last session of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee was convened to question litigants, prosecutors and others who may be able to contribute to provide information which would help the Senate to strengthen the existing graft and corruption laws and also possibly enact new ones in an effort to stamp out corruption in government.

I counted the days leading to today’s session as my appetite has been whetted by the preceding episodes much like daytime soap operas on television. I am not privy to the Nielsen audience ratings but it would be safe to say that the following it has generated could be sizeable and could very well compete with the standard daytime TV fare. The drama presented by the main protagonists are truly mind gripping. There is intrigue, betrayal, stone walling, face to face confrontations, colourful language, lies, grandstanding, tearful engagements and all the ingredients found in a formula for a great TV serial.

The proceedings started off with the presentation of Edgardo Yambao who was summoned to appear before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee as his name was dragged into the case by virtue of his being the brother in law of Gen Ligot and the brother of Erlinda Yambao Ligot where there were documents to show that he had been in connivance with the accused couple by having assets of the couple in his name. Not much was accomplished by the interviews. Like the Ligots he invoked his constitutional right to remain silent for reasons of self incrimination. Additionally he also invoked his right to privacy and security when asked about his addresses in the Philippines.

The recitation of the constitutional rights to self incrimination and privacy had been invoked repeatedly and had become a tired refrain all throughout the hearings. No matter how hard Jinggoy Estrada pressed for answers to the questions posed on Gen Ligot all he got was the invocation of his constitutional right to remain silent because the information sought are subject to an existing litigation in the Sandigan Bayan. Mrs Ligot, although present in the Senate hall, was excused from the inquiries because her blood pressure shot up to an intolerable level.

Former prosecutor Villa Ignacio had his turn to be questioned. Sen Jinggoy continued with what seemed to be his thesis from the last session that the former ombudsman Marcelo and prosecutor Villa Ignacio wilfully filed a weak and shoddily assembled case in the Sandigan court precisely to ensure its failure. This, of course, was vehemently denied by Villa Ignacio averring that they proceeded correctly and that the unresolved cases were all transferred to current Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez for her disposition. The present ombudsman is the subject of a congressional impeachment proceeding at the lower house mostly stemming from her inaction on graft cases filed in her office. At the moment she stands foursquare by her decision to stay put in her office despite the clamour for her ouster. She has maintained her innocence of the allegations of mal/misfeasance in office and would live out her term up to her retirement in 2012.

Setting the audience entertainment value aside, it seems that the Senate Inquiry has become a futile exercise because the case inquired about is still in litigation in the Sandigan Bayan and therefore any topic taken up in the Inquiry which has reference to the case may be considered sub judice and that the accused parties may invoke their right remain silent lest they be incriminated by their statements outside the courts.

During the last session, Feb 24, Frank Drilon was miffed by the prosecution team’s dallying with what was agreed in earlier sessions for them to file a manifestation to the Sandigan court to drop the plea bargain filed by the accused on the encouragement by the prosecution team. This was not complied with and the prosecution team again reneged from their promise. In agreeing to the senate’s request to drop the charges they, in effect, admitted that it was the wrong move. As was being explained by Johnny Enrile, if the plea bargain filing prospered and the compliance with the restitution of some of the plundered loot, the case would have been closed with the accused getting a lenient penalty and the rest of the plundered loot unattached by the government. Further pursuit of the case will no longer be possible because it constitutes double jeopardy. Ombudsman Gutierrez maintains that the prosecutors did the right thing because they felt that the people’s case was weak and that we are bound to lose the case if pursued. Further, she says that an agreement of the restitution of a part of the plundered loot was a requisite and by so doing the government is able to recover at least a part of the plundered loot (130 million pesos out of a total of 700 million pesos). “Mukhang naisahan na naman tayo. Ayon kay Gutierrez pasalamat tayo may nakuha pa tayo.”

In an earlier write up that I made about this case, I insinuated that the Sandigan Bayan may have a share of the culpability. All the happenings would tend to indicate that a cabal does exist and the unholy alliances would include the generals, their family members who benefited from the crime, their legal teams, the current Ombudsman and the prosecution team (former ombudsman Marcelo and the prosecutor Villa Ignacio may be suspect), the Sandigan judges who may have acted in collusion with the rest to see to it that the graft cases in their salas were doomed to fail. “Laglagan na!”

From what has transpired between the Sandigan and Ombudsman and her prosecutors the whole affair seems to have been a comedy of errors. It seems unlikely that the legal luminaries involved can make mistakes that seem so blatantly done. The extent of the negligence committed by the prosecution team is unimaginable and the courts seem to have taken a cavalier attitude towards the cases and allowed these things to happen. Senator Enrile marveled at the gross negligence of the prosecution. If the Sandigan courts are truly working in behalf of the people’s interest then they would have chastised the prosecution for their ineptness. Contrary to expectations they seem to have abetted the crime by having played along.

If by some evil wand these scoundrels will win their case I seriously implore to have a media blackout on it. Please, not in front of the children.

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