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PHL Legislators Implicated in the Napoles PDAF Scam Face Definite Jail Time...Maybe

THE MANY FACES OF JANET LIM-NAPOLES

n the United States former four-star General and until recently Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki was forced to resign as head of the VA by the ongoing healthcare scandal that has enveloped that agency. While one can safely assume that Shinseki was not involved in the actually transgressions being investigated, the fact that he headed the agency meant he had command responsibility over its entire staff. And their wrongful acts, whether he knew about them or not, cost him his job. That is the way things work in properly functioning democracies. In the Philippines however, things tend to get a little unusual.

Case in point: the scandal involving senators and congressmen involved in the Janet Lim-Napoles Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam. PDAF as described in Wikipedia "is a discretionary fund in the Philippines available to members of Congress. Originally established as the Countrywide Development Fund (CDF) in 1990, it is designed to allow legislators to fund small-scale infrastructure or community projects which fell outside the scope of the national infrastructure program, which was often restricted to large infrastructure items." These are funds, usually in the millions of pesos, given to legislators on a yearly basis to use as they see fit (with certain guidelines) for the benefit of their constituents.

So now the word "fiduciary" comes into play. Again, Wikipedia defines it as "A legal or ethical relationship of trust between two or more parties. Typically, a fiduciary prudently takes care of money for another person." Thus whether stated or not, when the Filipino people, through their government, hand over to a senator or congressman millions of pesos as their PDAF allotment for the year, those legislators incur a fiduciary obligation to protect those funds, account for every last centavo of it, and put it to the best use possible for their constituents.

For example, when a senator or congressman decides to allot portion of his or her PDAF fund to a Non-governmental Organization (NGO), that legislator has a fiduciary obligation to make sure that the NGO he or she is funding is a legitimate going concern, and operating as stated. That senator or congressman must also make sure that the funds he or she is giving to the NGO will be used exactly as intended. The fact that legislators have other pressing matters to attend to is not an excuse to be careless or casual with their PDAF disbursements. Everything down to the last centavo must be spent wisely and be properly accounted for.

So when senators and congressmen who now find themselves on the infamous Napoles list proclaim their innocence, Filipinos need to start asking them pointed questions.

For example: if they claim that they their signatures were forged and they were thus unaware that millions of pesos from their PDAF account had been misallocated; then people should ask if these legislators ever balanced their PDAF accounts. Anyone with a checkbook knows how to do this. So when discrepancies are discovered, those discrepancies can be immediately investigated. The question then becomes, have any senators and congressmen in the Napoles list ever initiated an investigation regarding discrepancies they discovered in their PDAF accounts? If no investigations were initiated, then the public can only assume one of two things: a) legislators never found any discrepancies in their PDAF account; or b) legislators never bothered to balance their PDAF account and thus have no idea how much should or shouldn't be in it.

Either way legislators face serious jail-time. If legislators found no discrepancies then, they can be seen as co-conspirators of Napoles and her fake NGOs, keeping silent because of the hefty kickbacks they receive from her. If the legislators argue that they were unaware the NGOs were fake, then they can in turn be held criminally negligent for not doing their due diligence when selecting an NGO to fund.

If on the other hand legislators claim they never balanced their PDAF account and thus have no idea how much should be in it, then they can again be held criminally negligent for shirking their fiduciary responsibility to properly care for the people's money entrusted to them.

No matter how you look at it, jail time seems a certainty for those senators and congressmen implicated in the Napoles PDAF Scam. But just when one begins conjuring up visions of those politicos behind bars, reality hits them in the face when they realize they're talking about the Philippines after all—a magical place were anything and everything is possible. Remember the old Lovin' Spoonful song titled "Do You Believe in Magic?" If you do, then welcome to the Philippines, this country is just right for you. So no one should be surprised if like Harry Houdini those senators and congressmen manage to slip through all the chains and locks to avoid what should be certain incarceration, and end up more powerful than ever...and laughing all the way to the bank. This is the Philippines after all. Magic and miracles are an everyday occurrence here. Published 06/3/2014


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