Crocodile Hunters

He who fights with monsters might take care lest they not show up at all

At the last Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing on jueteng, an illegal numbers game, only two of more than 20 guests invited bothered to show up.

None of the people named in an earlier hearing as either a jueteng operator or a lackey of the gambling syndicates came.

This after Senator Teofisto Guingona III, committee chairman, repeatedly extended an open invitation for the alleged gambling lords to come and clear their names.

As visibly frustrated as he was, Guingona could do little more than extend the same invitation again “in the spirit of fairness” and hope they will come next time.

This led some veteran reporters to remark that Guingona was too soft on the alleged jueteng operators. “Ang galit sa buwaya, maamo pala (he said he’d fight crocodiles but he’s really quite meek)” one said. A Guingona campaign ad used in the recent national elections had a cartoon crocodile as a symbol for corruption.

To be fair, the current Blue Ribbon Committee–properly, the Senate Committee on the Accountability of Public Officers and Investigations–is trying to distance itself from the image of grandstanding senators badgering witnesses and painting them as villains, often without much in the way of proof.

 

Image from Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr's website, http://bongbongm.com/

Senators Marcos, Guingona, and Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III

 

Before the Senate investigation on jueteng, Guingona said the hearings would be “in aid of legislation, not prosecution.” That meant the committee would do its job of coming up with legislation that will address illegal gambling.

The point of the exercise, he said, is not so much pinning down gambling lords but coming up with a system that would make them irrelevant.

When retired archbishop Oscar Cruz gave senators a list of people supposedly either running the games or receiving protection money to look the other way, the committee did not think of inviting them right away.

Even when Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago came out with a longer, more detailed list of the jueteng network in Luzon, no subpoenas were sent.

The so-called jueteng lords were merely invited to give their side of the story. Some, like Local Government Undersecretary Rico Puno, Pangasinan Governor Amado Espino Jr., Baguio City Mayor Mauricio Domogan, and former National Police chief Jesus Verzosa came to issue their denials.

Others, like Pampanga Governor Lilia Pineda and Ilocos Sur Governor Luis Singson simply didn’t show up.

That the committee did not fire off subpoenas over lists that were pretty much based on hearsay could be a sign of a more sober, more fair Senate with no real need to play to the crowds.

Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr, a member of the committee, merely shrugged of the repeated snubs, saying only that they would come out with a report whether or not those named bothered to come.

But fairness also makes for boring hearings. The crafting of laws is a tedious thing and, for people who want a clash between politicians and gambling lords, a waste of time.

Worse, it gives the impression that the Blue Ribbon Committee, created specifically to conduct investigations, has no teeth.

Even just for the principle of the thing, one would expect the committee to actually investigate the accountability of some public officials.

In an interview earlier today, Guingona hinted that subpoenas may actually be issued at some point. If nobody shows up for the next hearing, for example. So there is still a chance for the sort of fireworks that people expect at public hearings.

Given the even hand that Guingona and the other members of the committee have shown so far, though, hope is all we have to go on.

It is clear that Guingona is no Richard Gordon, the Blue Ribbon Committee chairman before him.

He could tangle with hostile witnesses for hours and come out even more convinced that the witness is either guilty or hiding something.

He is also no Alan Peter Cayetano, Gordon’s predecessor and current minority leader. Cayetano once went to war with then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s husband over a secret German bank account that may never have existed at all.

What is not clear is whether that is a good or a bad thing. If nothing else, it keeps public expectations grounded.

The probe into the aborted National Broadband Network deal, which the last two chairmen handled, ended with a committee report that never made it to the Senate floor.

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