Plunder in the Philippines

MANILA, Philippines – Plunder cases against 3 incumbent senators, alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles, and 5 others were filed before the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan on June 6, 2014.

Separate graft cases were filed against them and 45 more individuals. All in all, 54 have been charged before the Sandiganbayan. (LIST: Defendants in PDAF scam cases)

They are all accused of pocketing kickbacks through an elaborate scheme to divert lawmakers' pork barrel to either non-existent or incomplete government projects. (READ: 3 PH senators charged with plunder over PDAF scam)

But did you know that the law penalizing plunder is only two decades old?

Republic Act 7080 or the Anti-Plunder Law was enacted in the aftermath of the Marcos dictatorship, when then-president Ferdinand Marcos, his wife Imelda, and their cronies allegedly amassed ill-gotten wealth. 

After the 1986 People Power Revolution, the government found that existing laws like the Anti-Graft and Corruption Practices Act "were clearly inadequate to cope with the magnitude of the corruption and thievery committed during the Marcos years," said former Senator Jovito Salonga.

In response to this, anti-plunder bills were filed by Salonga in the Senate, and by then representative Lorna Yap in the House of Representatives during the 9th Congress.

The bills were consolidated into Republic Act 7080, signed by President Corazon Aquino in 1991.

First plunder case

The first-ever plunder cases were filed on August 15, 1997, when then-Commissioner Liwayway Vinzons-Chato of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) sued cashier Dominga Manalili and 6 others for two counts of plunder.

Manalili and her accomplices were accused of diverting a total of P260 million (or around $9.9 million at the time) of withholding tax payments of government and private employees to unauthorized bank accounts in 1996.

Nearly 4 years later, in May 2001, Manalili became the first person to be convicted of plunder in the Philippines. She was sentenced by Quezon City Regional Trial Court judge (now Supreme Court Associate Justice) Diosdado Peralta to two life terms, and was ordered to return the money she stole plus all profits earned.

Her accomplices – fellow BIR officials Joel Marcelo and Gil Erencio, and two other individuals – were also found guilty of plunder. Meanwhile, charges against two other defendants were dismissed due to insufficient evidence.

Erap's plunder case

Manalili's conviction happened in the midst of a historic plunder case involving an ousted president.

On April 4, 2001, nearly 3 months after his removal from office, former President Joseph Ejercito-Estrada, his son Jinggoy Estrada and 6 others, were charged with plunder.

The Estradas were the first elected officials to be so charged. Jinggoy Estrada was the first incumbent elected official to be sued. He was the mayor of San Juan City at the time the plunder case was filed.

President Estrada was accused of amassing a combined P4 billion (or around $80 million in 2001), mainly from jueteng payola (pay-offs) and misappropriation of tobacco excise tax funds.

Six years later, on September 12, 2007, Estrada was found guilty of plunder, and sentenced to life in prison. His son Jinggoy and lawyer Edward Serapio were acquitted.

On October 26, 2007, however, Erap Estrada secured a pardon from then-president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. (READ: Cast in Erap plunder case: Where are they now?)

Dismissals

Since 2001, 8 plunder cases have been filed before the Sandiganbayan. Among them, two have been dismissed.

1) On March 5, 2004, an P82-million (or around $1.5-million) plunder case was filed against 20 public works officials and 10 private individuals over alleged "ghost repairs" of Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) vehicles. 

Their plunder case was dismissed in January 2005, but separate estafa charges have been filed against most of them. (READ: What's the difference: Plunder vs graft)

2) On March 19, 2009, a P74-million plunder case (or approx. $1.55 million on that year) was filed against former finance undersecretary Antonio Belicena, 3 members of the Chingkoe family, and 3 other finance officials over a tax credit scam that took place from 1995 to 1997.

The case was dismissed in March 2011 by the Sandiganbayan for lack of probable cause. The Office of the Ombudsman has filed an appeal before the Supreme Court. In addition, the accused are still facing separate graft, estafa, and falsification cases.

Pending cases

Besides the 3 plunder cases filed in connection with the pork barrel scam, there are 3 other pending plunder cases at the Sandiganbayan:

1) April 6, 2005 - A P303-million ($5.5-million) plunder case was filed against Armed Forces of the Philippines comptroller Maj. General Carlos Garcia and 4 family members over alleged ill-gotten wealth. Months later, a court martial found him guilty of misdeclaration of his assets.

In 2010, Garcia posted bail and was released after securing a plea bargain agreement with the Office of the Ombudsman, allowing Garcia to plead guilty to lesser offenses. (READ: Gen Garcia: How the big fish got away)

The following year, in September 2011, a general court martial ordered Garcia rearrested, and he was detained at the New Bilibid Prisons in Muntinlupa City upon the orders of President Benigno Aquino III.

Meanwhile, in July 2013, his 2010 plea bargain agreement was cancelled by the Supreme Court.

2) July 4, 2011 - A P266-million ($6.1-million) plunder case was filed against agriculture secretary Luis Lorenzo, undersecretary Jocelyn "Jocjoc" Bolante, assistant secretary Ibarra Poliquit, and 6 others over the fertilizer fund scam, which allegedly diverted P728 million of funds for fertilizers to the 2004 presidential campaign of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

3) July 16, 2012 - Arroyo became the second former president to be charged with plunder. The Office of the Ombudsman filed a P366-million ($8.7-million) plunder case against Arroyo, 7 Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) officials, and two Commission on Audit officials over alleged misuse of PCSO intelligence funds.

In October 2013, another plunder complaint was filed against Arroyo, this time over the misuse of the discretionary Malampaya fund. Included in the charge sheet are alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles, political liaison Ruby Tuason, and many others. The accused have yet to be indicted in connection with Malampaya.

Death penalty

The crime of plunder was previously punishable by death, but nobody among those charged with plunder in the country's history were handed down the death sentence.

In December 1993, Republic Act 7659 or "An Act to Impose the Death Penalty on Certain Heinous Crimes" amended the Anti-Plunder Law to include the death penalty as a maximum punishment for the commission of plunder.

But an accused can escape the death penalty if there are no aggravating circumstances that will warrant its imposition.

After the abolition of the death penalty in 2006 through Republic Act 9346, the death sentence for plunder was likewise struck down.

Currently, the punishment for plunder are as follows: reclusion perpetua (life imprisonment), forfeiture of ill-gotten wealth in favor of the government, and perpetual disqualification from public office. – Rappler.com

Sources: "A Journey of Struggle & Hope" by Jovito R. Salonga, Sandiganbayan database, various news websites

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Michael Bueza

Michael Bueza is a researcher and data curator under Rappler's Research Team. He works on data about elections, governance, and the budget. He also follows the Philippine pro wrestling scene and the WWE. Michael is also part of the Laffler Talk podcast trio.

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