Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 17 May 2014

For one month, while I was on vacation in the United States, I refused to read or hear any news on the Philippines. I wanted my vacation, which had been postponed for six months for health reasons, to be as stress-free as possible, and reading or listening to news on the Philippines was one sure way of getting the blood pressure to rise. It was only on the flight home last Wednesday that I read the news—and wham! I plunged right into the world of the Napolist, or should I say Napolists? What a welcome home.

There may be an advantage to being virtually incommunicado for a period of time, aside from being free of stress: When presented with an issue, one tends to look at it with fresh eyes, to look at the scene from the outside. It is as if one can see the forest as well as the trees. At least that’s what I think.

What struck me as the most important development in the Napolnews was the sea change in Janet Napoles’ legal strategy. She had refused to even acknowledge acquaintance, much less transactional relationships, with legislators and officials of the executive branch. We saw how she behaved in the Senate blue ribbon committee hearing. She was probably operating under the assumption of mutual protection—scratch my back and I will scratch yours.

And now here she is, executing affidavits and naming names. From mum’s the word to a veritable diarrhea of the mouth, offering (or asking) to be a state’s witness.

What’s the implication? Only that the case against the PIGS (porkers in government service) will be strengthened immeasurably by her first-person testimony and whatever supporting documents she can present (apparently, she destroyed a lot of them). That knocking sound you hear are the PIGS shaking in their boots at the very real possibility of jail and, better, getting barred from public office. That’s what Janet Napoles is offering us—the opportunity to get rid of the leeches in the government who have enriched themselves in office at the expense of the farmers, fishers, indigenous peoples, and urban and rural poor whom they had sworn to serve.

The argument that she cannot be a state’s witness because she is guiltier than most, I do not buy. The crime here is corruption—using public office for private gain. The scam may be hers, but she is less guilty than the lowest government employee involved, simply because she is not a public official and could not have executed her plans without these public officials’ direct involvement.

That’s the forest I see. The trees are the so-called proliferation of lists of PIGS, resulting in a diminution of credibility and arousing all kinds of suspicion. Unfortunate, including the speculation as to the reasons for their existence: The sense of “KSP” (kulang  sa  pansin) of the list holders and politics rearing its ugly head (doubt on one name casts doubt on all names) are some of the possibilities.Even the dissimilarities in the lists are vanishing. The Lacson list (supplied, Ping Lacson said, by Jimmy Napoles) and the Janet-Napoles-signed list are actually earlier and later versions of the same thing. And the fact that the signed list is almost identical to the Lacson list except for the names in Napoles’ handwriting takes out most of the sting from the charge of proliferation. In fact, Lacson’s premature release of his unsigned list (he should know better) that he claims also tallied with a list gathered from Benhur Luy’s hard disk may have been a blessing in disguise: It forced Leila de Lima’s hand into releasing the signed Napoles list, which she was apparently loath to do, which in turn aroused suspicions that a sanitizing operation was going on while the public was being kept in the dark.

Does that mean that we have an “all’s well that ends well” situation? The important lists tally with each other, after all. Yes, but meanwhile, other potential spanners have surfaced: There is Lacson’s unfortunate reference to Miriam Defensor Santiago as being included in his list. Why he said that, I cannot even guess.  Maybe he was misquoted, but her name is not even in the list Lacson submitted to the Senate. Go figure. Of course, Miriam came out with guns blazing, which further reduced the credibility of Lacson and all the lists.

The second spanner is the inclusion of people who can no longer defend themselves (like Iloilo Rep. Narciso Monfort, who died in 2005) or who may be able to clear themselves only later. Then there are Senators Chiz Escudero and Alan Cayetano. That Chiz and Alan are potential presidential candidates in 2016 is beside the more important point that both were in the Senate committee hearing when Benhur testified (under oath?) that none of the committee members present were involved. Again, there’s the if-one-thing-is-wrong-then-everything-is-wrong syndrome at work, with its reduction of credibility.

Butch Abad’s inclusion appears to be as a congressman, not as budget secretary. Certainly, he was thick as thieves with Gloria Arroyo (as was Dinky Soliman, Cesar Purisima et al.) at one point in time, but the fact is that he subsequently distanced himself from her (as did Dinky, Cesar et al.). Moreover, his wife Dina, who succeeded him in Congress, did not get her pork, so his name in the list is of doubtful credibility also.

The lists, in other words, have caused more trouble than they are worth. Maybe Leila de Lima’s plan should have been followed. Or even better, we should leave it to the Three Furies to do what is best for the Philippines—at least as far as the PIGS are concerned.