Jojo A. Robles

Selective justice

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It’s Groundhog Day in Makati. Or is it still Selective Justice Week?


In November 2013, the Sandiganbayan convicted the mayor of the town of Sta. Cruz, the capital of Laguna province, Domingo “Dennis” Panganiban, for illegally using public funds totaling P500,000 on a foreign trip. Panganiban, a member of the administration Liberal Party, still holds office and performs his official functions to this very day, as if nothing has happened.

Panganiban, as far as I know, was never suspended during the duration of his corruption trial. Even after his conviction on the serious criminal charge, he was never jailed, replaced or even removed from office.

I heard of Panganiban’s strange case several months back, when the Department of Interior and Local Government first attempted to suspend Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay for six months. The DILG, then as now, said it was merely enforcing a suspension order issued by the Ombudsman as the latter continues to investigate charges of corruption against the Vice President’s son in connection with the construction of the Makati City Hall parking building.

But Panganiban, who reportedly (and anomalously) was allowed by the anti-graft court to remain in office after posting bail, is just a small fish, really, in the Laguna Lake compared to Oriental Mindoro Gov. Alfonso “Boy” Umali, a known “BFF” of President Noynoy Aquino himself. Umali, a top dog of the LP, remains firmly locked into his governor’s chair even after he was sentenced only last April to up to 10 years in prison for illegally facilitating a loan of government funds to a shipowner amounting to P2.5 million.

Umali, according to the decision, was also penalized with the cancellation of retirement and other benefits and barred from serving the government. And yet, Umali is very much involved in fund-raising activities for the LP ahead of the 2016 elections, according to knowledgeable political operators.

Both Panganiban and Umali are the poster boys for the policy of “selective justice” that Vice President Jejomar Binay railed about soon after he cut ties with the administration and quit Aquino’s Cabinet.

For those unfamiliar with Groundhog Day, it’s a reference to a movie wherein the main character (played by Bill Murray) relives the same day over and over again. In the movie, the repetition is of Groundhog Day, wherein a groundhog supposedly predicts the arrival of spring for Americans of German descent in the Pennsylvania region.

But the people who want Mayor Binay suspended are apparently expecting a different result this time. After all, the policy of selective justice decrees that Binay should be removed even if he hasn’t been brought to court yet, even if both Panganiban and Umali remain secure in their posts even after being convicted.

* * *

But in a departure from the original script, Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas, widely believed to be the main challenger of Vice President Binay in next May’s presidential election, apparently has an even weaker case this time around than when he first tried to unseat the Makati mayor. This is because the earlier suspension order slapped on the mayor had to do with the alleged anomalous construction of the Makati City Hall parking building, which is at least supported by some documents.

This time around, Roxas is attempting to get the Makati mayor on the flimsier charge of the alleged irregularities attending the construction of a building of the Makati City Science High School, based entirely on hearsay evidence. And Roxas and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales are expecting that this new charge will stick.

If the Court of Appeals stopped the first attempt to suspend Mayor Binay on the City Hall building charge, I predict that it will have no trouble doing the same thing on this new accusation. Or else the CA will also act out of character and fail to play its part in this Groundhog Day reenactment.

Besides, I think that Aquino and Roxas don’t really expect to get the younger Binay to step down, because they must surely realize the lack of substance of this new complaint. I believe that this new assault on Makati is only intended to send a message to other local officials who may be planning on joining the elder Binay in his quest for the presidency that they, too, could expect “quickie” charges filed against them, with suspension orders issued just as quickly afterwards.

Of course, if Mayor Binay is somehow scared into stepping down, then that’s a bonus. And Vice Mayor Romulo “Kid” Pena, in yet another departure from the original script, can finally call himself a real mayor.

Somewhere, I can hear Dennis Panganiban and Boy Umali laughing about how sweet it is to be on the right side of the raging implementors of selective justice.

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