Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Napoles’ reclusion perpetua sentence may be harsh but the law is the law. What about some 200 politicians who profited from siphoning estimated P10-B PDAF to Napoles’ fake NGOs---their crime just as serious, but are they being investigated? PAO Chief Persida Acosta discloses that Iqbal and co-accused in 2003 Davao bombings were cleared, but failure of Aquino negotiators to be candid about this issue, Mamasapano and Iqbal’s nom de guerre sinks gov’t’s credibility. As elections near, BBL passage dimmer.

Janet Lim Napoles, who’ll go down in infamy as the person who lured perhaps as many as 200 members of both chambers of Congress to allegedly channel as much as P10 billion in pork barrel funds to fictitious NGOs, has been committed to 40 years imprisonment, known as reclusion perpetua. She now languishes with about 180 other inmates in the Women’s Correctional in Mandaluyong but not, however, on account of those siphoned funds. Rather it’s on account of having subjected her cousin and junior partner in her PDAF syndicate, Ben-Hur Luy  (who in the end felt entitlement to the same racket and devised his own schemes), to what Luy claims was illegal detention of three months, never mind if his "prison" was Janet's fancy penthouse in the Pacific Plaza Towers in Bonifacio Global City.


Many people, including Star’s columnist Bobbit Avila as well as this blogger, felt the sentence of life imprisonment for Janet was too harsh---especially since Luy's detention was only for three months and he himself was as cunning as Napoles. But lawyer-friends I talked to explained that as per our Revised Penal Code, illegal detention is most serious as it’s tantamount to kidnapping---the curtailment of one’s civil liberties. In fact, the Code’s Art. 267 provides that the penalty is reclusion perpetua to death if the detention lasts for more than five days. Since there is no death penalty in our jurisprudence, the Makati RTC judge had no choice but to impose reclusion perpetua on Napoles (so folks, if you’re thinking of kidnapping the object of your unrequited love, better think twice or three times!). Dura lex, sed lex.

In fact, Makati lawyer Dindo Donato argues that illegal detention might actually be considered more serious than the PDAF billions that Janet is accused of siphoning. But one thing going for her is that her case may still be appealed to the Supreme Court and as lawyers point out, good behavior could mitigate that harsh sentence.


A recent Inquirer editorial notes the lack of outrage or the timid reaction from the public about Napoles. My take is that for one thing, so many other issues have surfaced since Luy hit the headlines with the revelation about l’affaire Janet. But there are those of us who are upset now more because the list of Janet’s “Honorable” accomplices as furnished by COA and the DOJ seems to have been deliberately stopped after the prosecution of the three senators now detained at Camp Crame, who allegedly  siphoned off their PDAF to Napoles’ syndicate from 2007-2009.

It will be recalled that soon after revelation of the three senators’ crimes with their PDAF, DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima and then COA Chief Grace Pulido Tan (now retired) promised to reveal more names from the current administration (close presidential buddies of Napoles from the executive and legislative branches, no less), but nothing of that sort happened.

That promise was conveniently snowed under by many other issues---just one more instance of selective justice under the P-Noy administration.


If you ask me, those Honorables in Congress are far guiltier than Napoles because they already were wallowing in so much public funds as entitlements of their positions, and yet they succumbed to the lure of huge kickbacks from fake NGOs from Napoles and her accomplices.

A number of people in fact suspect that the court put away Napoles for life in order to make sure she doesn’t talk about her friends in high places. That list is long for it’s said to include President Noynoy who personally escorted her to Crame in the middle of the night, and Senate President Franklin Drilon who with his wife ere repeat guests at Janet’s lavish parties at her mother’s mausoleum in Heritage Memorial Park, as attested by photos in the internet.


The disclosure that the Muslim leader who has represented the MILF in these past three years in negotiations with the PH government had operated under the nom de guerre of Mohagher Iqbal may prove to be one of the last nails on the coffin of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that’s due for renewed consideration and voting in Congress in the next few weeks. Advocates of the BBL are making light of this issue of the alias of the MILF’s chief negotiator---what’s in a name, as they put it rhetorically, when anyway, so they argue, the government has always known  his real identity.

But the P-Noy administration must understand that it’s not just the names and aliases but the way this issue has been carried out with characteristic deception and lack of candor---STRIP-TEASE STYLE, I call it---that citizens are outraged about. This style of governance has caused the administration's credibility to plunge to all-time low and now, with elections months away, this reality could imperil years of peace negotiations with the MILF and the BBL that’s supposed to be the formula for lasting peace and stability in Muslim Mindanao.


To top it all, a few days ago the last nail may have been hammered into the BBL: news reports said that Mohagher Iqbal is actually Santucan Abbas, or Lubis Abbas, and that he was implicated, along with about 190 other MILF followers in the bombing of the Davao International Airport in March 2003 that killed dozens of people, and that of the Sasa Wharf there a few weeks after.

Horror of horrors, argue many citizens now  up in arms--- is the guy with whom the PH government negotiated and signed the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro early in 2014 with a lot of hoopla and panoply at Malacanang Palace, and who is now pressing for passage of the BBL, a notorious terrorist?  

PAO Chief Persida Acosta

While lawyers argue serious liabilities in the law that using a nom de guerre in official treatises entail, I have my own grave reservations about some aspects of the BBL that Congress will resume deliberating very soon. I too protest the lousy handling of issues related to this proposed organic act for Muslim Mindanao, as well as the Mamasapano botched operation and the identity crisis over Iqbal a.k.a.Lubis Abbas---all of which our peace negotiators muddled.  But there’s something that many media people are overlooking, deliberately or not, WHICH MUST BE STATED FOR THE SAKE OF THE TRUTH.

When reports surfaced that Iqbal was among the MILF people involved in the bombings in Davao in 2003 and that they were defended in court by the Chief of the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), the straight-talking Persida Acosta, I checked details with her. I know PAO Chief Acosta as she and I had worked in defense of ex-PMA Cadet First Class Jeff Aldrin Cudia whom we both considered a victim of injustice and conspiracy inside that elite military educational institution (update on Cudia’s status for another blog).


Persida Acosta explained that she was assigned by then Justice Secretary Simeon Datumanong to take up the defense of Iqbal and the others involved in the Davao bombings case (inasmuch as the PAO is tasked with defending all Filipinos, she had also defended some alleged New People’s Army leaders in the past). Acosta confirmed that Iqbal signed his name as Lubis Abbas Mohagher Iqbal in various documents, but she also stressed that he and the other defendants were CLEARED in the Davao bombings and that in fact only two people are still on trial in that case.  

The disclosures by Acosta clearly indicate that the PH negotiating panel headed by Miriam Coronel Ferrer under the supervision of Peace Process Secretary Teresita Deles either chose not to reveal the true identity of Iqbal--- perhaps to keep his having been incriminated in the Davao bombings hush-hush---or they simply failed to do due diligence in their job.

Either way, the administration’s bunglings do not shore up its credibility and the possibility of BBL’s passage before P-Noy’s last SONA at the end of this July appears quite bleak. There’s talk that as usual, money is flowing in the House to ease its passage, but with elections 12 months away, many politicians may be scared to pass that law in the face of public outrage.  


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