What else could you expect, if three of these are so inexperienced and unqualified for the post, appointed by an incompetent President purely on the basis of their loyalty to him — the first time such level of inexpert lawyers are appointed to the Supreme Court in its 115-year history?
You’ll fall off your seat if you read justice Marivic Leonen’s preposterous “dissenting opinion’ on the Supreme Court’s acquittal of the plunder case against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, which had kept her incarcerated at grave risk to her health for five years (She was arrested Nov. 11, 2011).
Leonen’s argument: Arroyo was intelligent enough to know that the alleged P366 million confidential funds under the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) which she had approved would be stolen by its officials. However, neither Leonen nor the Ombudsman had presented any evidence that this money had been stolen; they only said that these were confidential funds bigger than before, and have not been properly accounted for.
“Where it went and why it was disbursed was not fully explained,” Leonen himself wrote.
Read his 47-page dissenting opinion (the same length as the Court’s decision concurred in by 11 justices) if you don’t believe me.
He starts his dissent with the following: “Arroyo was a highly intelligent President who knew what she was doing. . . . As President, it was her duty to stop . . . pilferage of public coffers.”
He ends it with: “The former President cannot plead naiveté. She was intelligent and was experienced.” Therefore she’s guilty, Leonen argues. Of what? Being intelligent? The Ombudsman had not submitted a single evidence, not even a single centavo out of the PCSO funds alleged to have been stolen and found their way into Arroyo’s pocket, or into the pockets of those of the rest of the 10 accused, including the Commission on Audit chairman who didn’t see anything anomalous in the agency’s use of its confidential funds. (All of those accused except Arroyo and one other PCSO official had been acquitted.)
Leonen’s argument is preposterous, even hilarious. He’s saying that if an official has Einstein’s level of intelligence, any fund he approves and later turns out to have been stolen by subordinates, makes him guilty of the crime. So going by Leonen’s logic, the dumber a government official accused of graft is, the more innocent he should be in the eyes of the law.
But maybe his argument is really not that stupid, but intended to put some legal point on the record in case his patron Benigno S. Aquino 3rd, who appointed him to the Court, is charged. He’d argue that Aquino was not intelligent enough to have known that the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) was unconstitutional and the MRT maintenance contracts involved corrupt dealings.
And if one embraces a stupid opinion, what does that make of him or her? Just as stupid, of course. Lourdes Sereno, whom Aquino appointed as Supreme Court chief justice with as much qualification as Leonen does, had her own dissenting opinion, but strangely emphasized she fully agreed with his dissenting opinion. So did senior justice Antonio Carpio, and the last justice appointed by Aquino, Alfred Caguioa, both of whom put the notation in the Court’s ruling that they were “joining” Leonen’s dissenting opinion.
Leonen even ends his dissent with the following accusation that is typical of deranged persons’ scream, “Can’t you see it?:” “(Arroyo’s) scheme is plain except to those who refuse to see.” That’s, of course, an insult to his 11 colleagues who voted for Arroyo’s acquittal.
A national shame
However, beyond Leonen’s stupidity, it is important for us as a nation to understand why Arroyo’s detention has been such a national shame and a travesty of justice, as well as a cruel case of unconscionable political prosecution. To appreciate these, one would have to understand what the Plunder Law (R.A. No 7080) is all about.
It is really a strange only-in-the-Philippines kind of law. That it was more of a propaganda device at that time is obvious in that it hijacked a term with a precise meaning in the English language. “Plunder” refers to what bad armies do in territories they conquer and what bad poor folks do when they loot supermarkets when the police vanish during civil disturbances.
It was passed in 1991 under President Aquino, when the flavor of the day then was how bad Marcos was that his was not just large-scale corruption, but “plunder” of public coffers.
Therefore, ‘Never Again!’ So the Cory-controlled Congress hastily passed a law against such Marcos-type “plunder.” It was Senator Jovito Salonga who authored the law and pushed for it, obviously because he was exasperated that the PCGG he led from 1986 to 1987, couldn’t put anybody in jail.
Two related things made the law quite unusual, even irrational, as a just law. First, the penalties it prescribed were the harshest possible, “reclusion perpetua to death.” (The death penalty was banned only in 2006, with all offenses penalized by it, reduced to reclusion perpetua).
Reclusion perpetua is nearly synonymous with life imprisonment, which has been the penalty only for heinous crimes such as murder, rape, parricide and treason. The penalty for plunder law, unless you believe in legal systems under Islamic law and other strongmen, is inhumanly harsh. After all, the death penalty’s underlying logic is Old Testament mentality of life-for-a-life.
But in the case of large-scale graft (which is what that term “plunder” simply means), it’s a life when the amount stolen is at least P50 million – the benchmark at and above which graft becomes plunder. (Which raises the question: If the defense proves that only P49.9 million pesos was stolen from government coffers, shouldn’t the accused grafter be acquitted? And if acquitted, shouldn’t he or she be immune from graft charges, to avoid a case of double jeopardy?)
Second, while I suspect most legislators didn’t realize its consequences at that time, the fact that the penalty prescribed was “reclusion perpetua to death” meant that anybody accused of the crime cannot avail himself of the fundamental right to bail – it’s “non-bailable.”
Some senators at that time objected: What if an Administration which has the Ombudsman under his or her thumb, uses the Plunder Law as a weapon to put a political enemy in jail? That was struck down, though, with the belief that there would never ever be a President who would use it for persecuting his enemies. Of course, no one could have thought at that time that a psychologically imbalanced and pettily vengeful person as BS Aquino 3rd would be President some day. Or that a self-righteous megalomaniac would be Ombudsman.
The objectors, however, were convinced to pass it, anyway, when the bill was amended to define plunder as a government official who “amasses, accumulates or acquires ill-gotten wealth (of at least P50 million) through bribes, malversation of public funds,” or other such practices we all know as graft. What this means is that one is guilty of plunder only if it is proved that he enriched himself by at least P50 million through graft.
This is so different from the anti-graft law (R.A. 3019 passed in 1960), which didn’t require that a charged government official be proven to have enriched himself through graft. The law even categorically prescribed that one is guilty of corruption if he approves a contract “grossly disadvantageous” to government, “whether or not the public officer profited or will profit thereby.” However, the penalties for graft mainly ranged from imprisonment of not less than six years to not more than 15 years — in sharp contrast to the plunder law’s life imprisonment to death.
Legislators — experts, of course, in covering up their tracks or they wouldn’t be in Congress — who had objected to the harshness of the Plunder Law satisfied themselves with the thought that anyway, it is practically difficult to prove that a grafter put this or that much in his bank account or vault, as the law prescribed.
That seemed a rational expectation until a cabal of lawyers, a former President (not the one who succeeded him), the Yellow Cult, and the oligarchs hating President Estrada so much, gathered all their resources and charged Estrada with plunder right after he was deposed in January 2001.
Put Estrada in jail
The prime motive was to put Estrada in jail and keep him there, since he had substantial mass support, especially since his ouster was on flimsy grounds. In jail, he would be defanged and wouldn’t be able to build up his political forces to return to power. If he were merely charged with graft, he would have been out of jail on bail to plot his comeback.
However, Estrada in his hubris (and his daily drunken stupor) was so sloppy that what was difficult in the plunder law to prove – the accused amassing ill-gotten wealth – was proven beyond a doubt.
He never expected, of course, that his bosom friends – former Ilocos Sur governor Chavit Singson and jueteng king Atong Ang – would testify that themselves handed cold cash in suitcases to Estrada as his cut in the tobacco excise tax proceeds and in the illegal-numbers game loot. He never expected that bank branch managers would testify that he signed as Jose Velarde as depositor in accounts that contained the proceeds from his corruption.
In fact, the Sandiganbayan’s move convicting him in 2007 focused its decision on how much Estrada accumulated in ill-gotten wealth: P545 million in jueteng money, P200 million of which was deposited in the account of “Erap Muslim Youth Foundation” and P189 million in his “commission” for ordering the GSIS and SSS to purchase Belle Corp. stocks in his “Jose Velarde” account.
This was in sharp contrast to the plunder charge against Arroyo. The P366 million, which the charge allegedly involved, is just pure propaganda and a flimsy reason for charging her of plunder, so she coudn’t avail of bail. This 366 million is the total amount of confidential funds Arroyo approved as requested by PCSO officials over five years.
However, as the Court noted in Arroyo’s defense and agreed to: “Not a single exhibit of the 637 exhibits offered by the prosecution nor a single testimony of the 21 witnesses, was offered by the prosecution to prove that petitioner amassed, accumulated or acquired even a single peso of the alleged ill-gotten wealth amounting to P366 million or any part of that amount.” Despite the Aquino government’s threats to the other accused that they would rot in jail unless they ratted on Arroyo, not one of them did a Chavit Singson or an Atong Ang.
The Ombudsman even tried to “amend” the Plunder Law by alleging that it didn’t require proof that the accused enriched herself. ‘Basta!’ was essentially Ombudsman Conchita Carpio- Morales’ argument.
The Ombudsman submitted evidence that the confidential funds couldn’t be accounted for. However, she didn’t offer a single evidence that even a centavo went to Arroyo or her family’s purses. The Court even reminded the Ombudsman to read again the Plunder Law and try to understand it: “The gravamen of plunder is the amassing, accumulating, or acquiring of ill-gotten wealth by a public officer,” the Court emphasized.
The plunder charge against Arroyo was entirely a tactic to keep her detained. What I’m angry about is that Aquino and the Ombudsman were aware of it, expecting that she’ll die in jail because of her spinal illness before the trial ends.
They should pay for such a travesty of justice, and for that heinous conspiracy to kill a former President.