Connecting the dots
Three seemingly unconnected events have been unfolding in the past days and weeks – the expose on the “Napolist” or list of legislators acting as alleged partners-in-crime of pork barrel scam queen Janet Napoles; the death of two-day-old Diona Rosal, baby girl of Andrea Rosal who the military claims is a top-ranking New People’s Army commander and who also happens to be the daughter of renowned Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army spokesman “Ka Roger” Rosal; and the World Economic Forum on East Asia extravaganza in Manila that top bills the government-claimed Philippine success story.
The Napoles list is contained in a supposed tell-all affidavit of the notorious Ms. Napoles who is under arrest for serious illegal detention filed by whistleblower Benhur Luy and who is also facing plunder charges for her role in the ten-billion-peso scam involving the lawmakers’ Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). Prior to this, she had always denied the accusations against her and even refused to answer any questions at a Senate inquiry.
According to Justice Secretary Leila De Lima, Ms. Napoles had a sudden change of heart after suffering a serious illness and executed her affidavit during a five-hour meeting with Sec. De Lima in her hospital room. Curiously, after announcing dramatically that Ms. Napoles had provided further damaging evidence against three incumbent senators already indicted for plunder, Messrs. Juan Ponce-Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla, Sec. De Lima clammed up.
Soon after former Senator Ping Lacson and whistleblower Sandra Cam announced that they too had bona fide but unsigned copies of what is now dubbed the “Napolist”. Lacson warned of moves to “sanitize” the list. No less than Pres. Aquino said he had seen two disparate lists, one of which had come directly from the Napoles camp. In time, the Lacson copy and the list held by Sec. De Lima were made public revealing the names of Aquino allies. The Philippine Daily Inquirer meanwhile started publishing the contents of a hard disk from Mr. Luy containing more names of legislators, other government officials, media practitioners and private persons who were either conduits or beneficiaries of the Napoles racket.
As muddled as the entire episode on the pork barrel scam is at this point, whether by design or happenstance, one thing is clear, Ms. Napoles has upped her value to both the Aquino administration and the Opposition (exemplified by the three indicted senators). Even though at first glance, Ms. Napoles’ credibility appears to have reached rock bottom what with her conflicting statements and avowals, it seems both the Aquino camp and that of the three senators see her value in mudslinging, if not providing crucial evidence, for putting the other side on the political defensive. Thus Ms. Napoles has the temerity to offer herself as a state witness and to claim immunity from prosecution or some such deal with the state prosecutors.
In this light, it should be no surprise why and how Ms. Napoles has enjoyed special treatment from the time she sent feelers to Malacanang about surrendering (no less than President Aquino and several of his Cabinet officials met with her and escorted her to jail) to her actual detention arrangements (a far cry from the lavish residences she has been accustomed to but also much more comfortable than a hot and congested city jail where she belongs). It is also a no brainer how she has managed to get herself a private room with amenities, albeit in Makati’s public hospital, attended by her top-of-the-line private physicians and how there is such a flurry of media attention about her non-fatal health condition.
Contrast this with how a pregnant Andrea Rosal has been treated disgracefully and without an iota of humanity by the state’s security forces, its prosecutorial arm (the Justice [sic] Department), its courts, and its jail wardens (BJMP). Ms. Rosal was on her seventh month of pregnancy and was about to have a prenatal check-up when she was arrested last March. She had been having uterine cramps and after an ultrasound at the behest of human rights advocates (which they paid for), was recommended for hospitalization given her delicate condition and the possibility of a high-risk pregnancy. It took a month and a half before the court ordered her hospitalization (after insisting on so many requirements and strictures). While in jail, only doctors mobilized by human rights organizations ministered to her medical needs.
Ms. Rosal was brought to the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) the evening of May 15 but was brought back to Bicutan early morning the following day after being told she was not yet in labor and that there was no vacancy. When the human rights doctor attending to her found out about this, she personally made arrangements with the hospital authorities and urged BJMP officials to immediately bring Ms. Rosal back to the hospital. After much dilly-dallying, she was brought to PGH late evening of May 16. She gave birth the following morning to a full-term baby girl. Unfortunately, the newborn was having difficulty in breathing and remained in critical condition until she expired the following day.
The whole time Ms. Rosal was in the hospital she was surrounded by BJMP guards, including a male, who were right inside her hospital room. She could not even be given the privacy to grieve her baby’s untimely death. When her lawyers asked that she be allowed to go to her baby’s wake and burial, the judge only gave her a 3-hour pass to go to the wake in a nearby church. She was not allowed to attend the burial because of “security” concerns. Once more Ms. Rosales was accompanied by a plethora of guards at the wake, a spectacle of “overacting” security measures if there ever was one.
Meanwhile, oblivious to and far removed from the madding crowd, comfortably ensconced in luxuriant environs befitting the fantasy world they conjure, six hundred top business executives, state ministers and other similarly privileged are assembled for the World Economic Forum on East Asia (WEF), a regional rite of homage to the world capitalist system. Paeans are generously bestowed host Philippines for being the "second fastest growing economy“ next only to China, joining the elite class of "emergent economies” and on course to be the "14th largest economy by 2050".
What does the WEF have to do with Janet Napoles and Andrea and Diona Rosal?
While the Philippine "success story" is being held up as proof that the system works and, with the ASEAN integration just around the corner, that the momentum is set for the entire region to prosper and grow, reality bites. The reality of an unjust system that has brought about a Napoles on the one hand and a Rosal on the other, can only cast serious doubt, if not totally belie, the illusions being peddled at the WEF.
Nobody really expects anything new to come out of the WEF on East Asia. It is meant to reinforce, if not ensure existing policies and schemes by big capital such as further breaking down trade and investment protectionist barriers. Lip service will be duly paid to sustainability, inclusivity, environment concerns, various safety clauses, etc. but the purpose is to assuage and reduce opposition, the final goal being to ensure the continuation of neoliberal policies and reap more profit.
On the Philippine front, the vaunted element of good governance is nowhere to be found with nearly half of both legislative houses seriously implicated in the PDAF scams, with Malacanang no less involved in illegal disbursements, and worse, with no clear indication that the guilty would be identified and held accountable. The indicators bandied about to prove the country’s being “Asia’s bright spot” – high growth rates, credit rating upgrades, healthy profit-taking by the entrenched elite – mean little to the majority of Filipinos mired in poverty, joblessness, hunger and disease.
Ironically, the impunity with which Napoles & her ilk could plunder the entire economy and get royal treatment to boot, coupled with the injustice and inhumanity that snuff out innocent lives such as Diona's are the very ingredients upon which the seeds of protest thrive and meaningful lives are born anew. #
Published in Business World
23-24 May 2014