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NAPOLES: The Name That Shook the Country

Titilaok Oct 31,2013 0 Comments

Words by: Regina Cortazar

The two faces of Janet Lim Napoles

The two faces of Janet Lim Napoles

Graft and corruption have been long-standing issues in Philippine society. It seems that every administration in recent history has had its share of cases regarding corrupt people, corrupt practices, and other misdemeanors in public service that reek of these problems. This topic is nothing new, and it has always been one of the top contenders of national concern in the last few decades of Philippine history.

However, it seems that in the past few weeks, the nation has taken a renewed interest and the fire to fight graft and corruption has been reignited. Thanks to social media, graft and corruption have not only taken center stage in the national platform of discussion once again, but it has also taken on a brand new level of social awareness that past administrations did not have.

For good or ill, this unprecedented level of social awareness is causing social uproar, and people are making themselves heard. In the past, people took to the streets to protest against the government. People still do that, but these days, social media has become the public’s loudest and most insistent voice.

By now, the whole country (and many other parts of the world, too) knows about Janet Lim-Napoles and the very controversial pork barrel scam that she is being detained and tried for. For weeks, the Napoles situation played out in the local news – from her daughter’s social media posts of lavish parties and ridiculously expensive designer clothes and shoes (which brought the family into question in the first place); to their numerous assets in the form of real estate (both here and abroad) and luxury vehicles; then to their alleged cohorts in the government; and then to the whistleblowers who came forward and gave their testimonies that added fuel to the flames; and then to those who pressed charges and are trying the case – like some sordid reality show. And just like any well-played show, the Napoles case gained a lot of viewers. Or in this case, a whole lot of opinionated citizens who are not afraid to make themselves heard.

The alleged pork barrel scandal involving billions erupted in July, when whistleblower Benhur Luy exposed his previous employer and relative Janet Lim-Napoles as the brains behind the scam that also involved some members of the Senate and Congress. An investigation was ordered by the Department of Justice. Shortly thereafter, the very controversial blog posts of Jean Napoles, Janet’s daughter, on lavish parties, designer clothes, and extravagant lifestyle went viral on social media. Further investigations revealed that the Napoles family owned various real estate properties in California, which amounted to $9.5 million. It was found that they also owned a luxury apartment unit at the Ritz-Carlton in Los Angeles, which costs $80 million. (For a more complete and detailed timeline of the events in the Napoles case, please refer to http://www.rappler.com/nation/37632-timeline-janet-lim-napoles-from-scandal-to-surrender )

More witnesses eventually came forward and shared their testimonies. The nation watched with barely-held breaths every update, every story shared, every statement released by the Senate and Congress regarding the issue. There was a divide – the Senate did not want to probe into the matter first, but a faction within the House of Representatives was pushing for the investigation. Meanwhile, many of the Filipino people were calling for the pork barrel system (or the Priority Development Assistance Fund, PDAF) to be abolished so that corruption would be lessened. This outcry culminated in the #millionpeoplemarch, the first protest rally of its kind in the Philippines. Through social media, people from all over the country (as well as in other parts of the world) showed their support and voiced out their protest against this issue and gathered at Luneta.

Napoles eventually surrendered, and is now being held in custody. The case is waiting to be tried. Lawmakers have had mixed reactions regarding the call for the removal of the PDAF. Some of them have readily given it up, while there are those who justify the need for it. Many can’t help wondering at the delicadeza of some of these lawmakers – the refusal to give up their pork barrel just makes the public even more suspicious at such times, and makes them wonder whether it is the funding that is more important or their duty to serve the public good.

The Filipino people have weathered a lot of storms, many of which have to do with political upheaval caused by people with corrupt practices. A big part of the reason for the world-famous EDSA revolution in 1986 was to oust a corrupt president. The second EDSA revolution years later resulted in the ouster of another president accused of plunder. The next president currently faces charges, too, for corruption as well. Aside from presidents, numerous officials, as well as private citizens who do business with government, have also faced charges for similar causes. The Filipino people are all too familiar with the face of graft and corruption, because it certainly seems like an issue that keeps repeating itself. And although the people are brave enough to face the problem head on and confront it, perhaps what is lacking is the strength and the will to follow through and make sure that the change is permanent.

Perhaps, this time, with this explosive case, it will be different. Maybe this time, the people will have learned by now that it is not up to the government alone to police its officials and make sure that things are running smoothly. Maybe this time, lawmakers will have more delicadeza and actually do their public duty, and the people will make sure that the very matter they protest against will not happen again on their watch.

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