Saturday, February 05, 2005

In aid of grandstanding

In aid of grandstanding

Posted 00:37am (Mla time) Feb 05, 2005
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A14 of the February 5, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

I'M among the many people who have no sympathy for Lt. Gen. Jacinto Ligot who is facing charges of unexplained wealth and other related serious crimes allegedly committed during his term as comptroller of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. I know he is entitled to the presumption of innocence guaranteed by the Bill of Rights to every person accused of a crime, no matter how dark his past or repellent his record. But in the particular case of Ligot, the consensus even now is that there is enough heavy evidence against him as reported by the media. This should overturn that constitutional presumption of his innocence to one of obvious guilt.

Ligot and his family reportedly own valuable real estate here, including farms in Mindanao, a condominium unit in Taguig, and as well two buildings in California worth millions of dollars. He has expensive cars he could not have acquired with his modest income in the AFP. Government records show that his wife has traveled abroad as many as 28 times since 1998. There is also some doubt regarding the financial provenance of his young children who are registered as independent owners of properties suspected as actually belonging to Ligot. He is said to have admitted that he had no substantial assets when he entered the military service compared to his vast alleged landholdings and investments as now revealed.

On one matter, however, I am in full agreement with the general. That is the stand he took last week against his investigation for unexplained wealth by the committee on national defense of the House of Representatives. When subjected to questioning by its members, he is said to have invoked as many as 21 times his right against self-incrimination safeguarded by Sec. 17 of Art. III of the Constitution. His basic position was that the committee had no authority to investigate him because the probe was not supposed to be "in aid of legislation," as required by Art. VI, Sec. 21, of the Constitution. He claimed that he was being investigated instead "in aid of prosecution."

I agree; the beleaguered general has a point. But I would amend that valid argument and say that the investigation was (or is, if it is being continued by the honorable congressmen) "in aid of another grandstanding."

I do not see how it can be excused as in aid of legislation because there are enough laws that already cover the alleged offenses of Ligot unless the committee believes that they are still inadequate to prevent their repetition in the future. The accusation against him is authorized under the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. There are special laws prohibiting the gifting of public functionaries for past or expected official favors, granting immunity to bribers of public officials, increasing the penalty for swindling, establishing a code of conduct for government personnel, defining and penalizing the crime of plunder, and reimposing the death penalty for certain heinous crimes, together with the provisions in the Revised Penal Code against Crimes Committed by Public Officers and other related offenses.

Any addition to these laws cannot apply to Ligot because it would be ex post facto if also unnecessary. Perhaps the House committee members want again to engage in another useless exhibition of their importance to excite their easily impressed constituents.

Ligot's charge that his investigation is being conducted in aid of prosecution exposes the real purpose of the congressmen, which is to cast themselves as cowboys out to get the villain in the person of the unpopular Ligot. They are publicity hounds exploiting the predicament of their quarry by further scandalizing him for the benefit of the public eager for blood in the cause celebre. Where they should be attending to their main function, which is to legislate against the major problems of the country like the deteriorating economy, the increasing criminality and, yes, the insistent and irremovable pork barrel, they would fritter away their valuable time by assuming a task that does not belong to them and for which they are ill-prepared.

The investigation of Ligot is already being handled by the Office of the Ombudsman, which is the agency charged by the Constitution and the laws to prosecute cases against public functionaries for offenses connected with their official duties. The personnel of this independent constitutional body are trained and experienced investigators and prosecutors, unlike the members of the House of Representatives, many of whom are not even trained legislators. The chair of the committee on national defense, Rep. Roilo Golez, is not even a lawyer, much less an experienced investigator. Yet he and his fellow probers are having a field day in flaunting their supposed expertise as pretentious cross-examiners. Their recalcitrant witness has effectively silenced them, however, with a constitutional liberty they could not ignore.

Leave the investigators to their task, gentlemen, and attend to your real work in Congress without shameless fanfare. If what you want is undeserved public acclaim, be a movie star like the three misfits in the Senate.


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