It’s amazing what coal trading can do for you.
Or so is the claim of the lady with the aristocratically hyphenated family name now on the no-fly zone of Senators and Representatives. The business has allowed her to live her dream and her daughter the crass displays of ostentation that have offended public sensibilities. Let’s see if the NBI and the BIR are buying it. As for the legislators, they are busy ducking for cover, pointing fingers and emptying their bank accounts. The silence from this normally loquacious bunch is deafening.
Right now it is a case of she said, they said. There are a couple of ways for the Government to go about this.
The first is to follow the money, from the time the funds left the Treasury, to the dummy NGO/service providers, to the handlers, to the politicians. Much of the trail will end up in non-traceable cash withdrawals and somebody’s bathtub but still, the journey of P10 billion over ten years must leave a stench. Following the money was what led to the bank accounts and ouster of Erap and ex-CJ Corona. Calling AMLA, again.
One reference point may be the Air Materiel Wings Savings and Loan Assc., a bank run by retired Air Force buddies of the family where the lady reportedly parked P510 million over the years. (Who deposits that kind of money in an institution with that name? It reportedly pays 13% interest, tax-free, your only worry being (a) how does it do it and (b) what happens when its biggest client skips town. But we digress.)
Another way is to get the principal suspect to turn state witness in a plea bargain and go after the political honchos she allegedly serviced. This brings up the elemental question of how far to take matters: Is the Administration satisfied to nail Mrs. Billion Bucks or is the plan to go after the political gods on whose pork barrel the gravy train traveled? Will the investigation be just another one of many or will it seek to get some really, really big fish? It was the same question before the President when he debated whether to go for the Chief Justice (He decided to pull the trigger). The answer has long-term consequences for our nation.
Taking down the Senators and Representatives associated with the scam would be historic from a governance viewpoint. On the political Richter scale it would be at par with the ouster of Erap and of Corona (There would be a nice symmetry to it, one send-off for every equal branch of Government). Politically and legally, however, it would be more tortuous: Unlike Erap and Corona’s case, it would mean Congressmen turning on a bunch of their own something they have no DNA for.
Under Sec.16 (3) Art. VI of the Constitution only the Senate or the House -not the Ombudsman- may sanction its members: “Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings … and with the concurrence of two thirds of its members suspend or expel a Member”.
In the pork scam, any disciplinary action would be based on Sec.14 Art. VI of the Constitution: “No Senator or Member of the House of Representatives (shall) directly or indirectly be financially interested in any contract with…any instrumentality (of Government). He shall not intervene in any manner before any office of the Government for his pecuniary benefit or where he may be called upon to act on account of his office.”
In the Senate 16 out of 24 members, in the House 193 of its 289 members would be needed to convict. Considering that at least 6 Senators have been linked to the reported hoaxes, getting to the magic number would be near impossible even though the President has on paper that many in the Ruling Coalition.
The reality of a collegial body such as Congress is that its members do not eat their own. Many of them live in glass houses so they would be reluctant to launch stones (or even pebbles) at each other. The President is also unlikely to expend his political capital on this Quixotic quest. He does not know, for one, whether he will be running over some of his Congressional supporters in the process. In short, the probability of a trial in the Senate or the House –and I am understating the odds- is zero.
So how does the President feed the nation’s hunger for blood? Given the turbulence and political risks of a Congressional investigation, his best bet is to throw everything at the lady and see what gives. In her case, she has the resources to lawyer up and do whatever. She knows how the system works. If she can stay healthy and still be standing by May 2016 she should be ok. And who knows, maybe a bigger scandal will come along and she will be off the public radar.
As for coal trading, all the business tycoons are now looking into it.