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The saga of Janet Napoles
Publication Date : 10-09-2013
Sharing about her extravagant lifestyle in the US makes people back in her home country furious.
Social media is fun right? Well, it can be but for Jeane Napoles, a young and extremely good-looking Filipina living in Southern California, her extravagant lifestyle – as documented on Tumblr, Instagram and Facebook – has inadvertently led to an intense wave of fury and revulsion in her home country.
As netizens puzzled by the source of the family’s enormous wealth started digging around for the truth, it became clear that Jeane’s world – Chanel, Gucci and Prada – was not quite so kosher.
Indeed, her exhibitionism came just as the Philippine media was unmasking her mother, the controversial businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles’ alleged criminal activities – essentially, a sustained scamming of Filipino Government funds thought to involve well over 10 billion pesos (US$228 million)
But there again, images of the twenty-three-year-old being chauffeur-driven to a Hollywood film preview whilst dressed in a skin-tight, baby-pink Herve Leger sheath dress, Chanel pumps and a handbag have turned the young “princess” into a national hate figure.
This should be warning enough for the sons and daughters of our own country’s elite lest they be tempted to start flaunting their parent’s ill-gotten wealth.
Janet’s larceny (dubbed a “pork barrel scam”) was worked something like this: using a discretionary fund set up by the former President Cory Aquino back in 1990 to enable members of Congress and the Senate to fund small-scale infrastructure projects, Janet created “ghost projects” and a web of fake NGOs or private companies that supposedly utilised the funds.
Working with various elected representatives to defraud the Filipino exchequer, Janet would then split the ill-gotten gains with her political friends.
Needless to say those implicated – including both sons of former president’s Marcos and Estrada – have been most indignant in their denials.
Indeed, the Philippine government has a sorry history of being ripped off by its leaders – from Ferdinand Marcos through to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and now countless politicians.
Back in 2004, it was alleged that well over 728 million pesos ($16.5 million) was diverted from a fertiliser fund to Arroyo’s election campaign funds.
The Napoles women have become the most prominent symbol of what is wrong with the Philippines politically, where an out-of-touch elite live it up and betray the public trust with impunity as social injustice worsens.
Social media – often accidentally – helps reveal such abuses as well as imbuing them with an immediate, “in-your-face” feel.
Still, the management and oversight of government funds is especially difficult and the Philippines is not alone in experiencing such shameless thievery.
In Indonesia, a major national sports centre in Hambalang, West Java has become a symbol of corruption as countless ministers and parliamentarians have been brought to trial for their involvement in this vastly over-priced boondoggle – said to have cost Indonesia losses of 463.66 billion rupiah ($41 million).
Interestingly, the wave of fury currently roiling Manila over Janet has coincided with the presentation of the annual Magsaysay Award, given out by the foundation of the same name.
The Magsaysay Award, named after the iconic Philippine president, has been dubbed the “Asian Nobel”.
The prizes given seek to “…honour persons and organisations as exemplars of selfless leadership, whose lives and work make Asia truly a better place”.
The fields honoured include everything from “cooperativism” to youth empowerment.
This year – perhaps unsurprisingly – one of the five Magsaysay Awards given out was made to Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (or KPK, Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi).
The award citation outlines the extraordinary powers granted to the KPK, including: “…exceptional powers that range from investigation and prosecution to prevention and coordination of agencies authorised to combat corruption.”
It can conduct searches and seizures, freeze assets, impose travel bans, compel cooperation from government agencies and even intercept communications without prior judicial approval.
Its powers are such that a civic leader remarked, upon the law’s passage, that politicians were “inviting a tiger into their house”.
Indeed, the KPK has never shied away from going after the wealthy and powerful. It has arrested and charged countless politicians.
The KPK is currently investigating the former Democratic Party leader, Anas Urbaningrum as well as the former Youth and Sports Minister Andi Mallarangeng, both prominent members of the ruling elite with links to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Indeed, the Magsaysay Award Foundation has also lauded the 100 per cent conviction rate in the 169 corruption cases KPK has brought to court.
It has also returned to the state coffers some 805.6 billion rupiah ($72.5 million) in recovered assets.
As I’ve written many times, Philippines and Malaysia could benefit from having such a body around.
Corruption once made Indonesia the laughing stock of Southeast Asia.
With independent institutions such as the KPK at work, however, corrupt officials have a very real chance of being caught, charged and sent to prison.