(Editor’s Note: Since 1991, the Philippine Daily Inquirer has honored Filipinos who have made the biggest positive impact on the life of the nation in the year just past, as voted upon by Inquirer editors and assistant editors.
Out of 59 votes cast, Benhur Luy and the whistle-blowers won with 32 votes. The other nominees were: the relief rescue workers for “Yolanda” and the Bohol earthquake, the Filipino beauty queens, the Supreme Court, Gilas Pilipinas basketball team, Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, Filipino indie filmmakers and so-called Tres Marias—Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, Commission on Audit Chair Grace Pulido-Tan and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.)
The man who has the best information is the most successful man in life, wrote Benjamin Disraeli almost a century ago, but the British statesman might as well have been referring to the Inquirer’s Filipino of the Year: Benhur Luy and his fellow whistle-blowers.
Luy and company have blown the lid off the biggest corruption scandal in this country, with explosive information detailing how billions in public wealth have been scammed by their employer, Janet Lim-Napoles, and her cohorts in the legislature and various government agencies through bogus nongovernment organizations (NGOs) that received huge funds for ghost projects.
In December 2012, Luy was held against his will by Napoles and her brother, Reynald Lim. For three months he was moved from one house to another (she owns plenty, it turns out) before he was finally rescued by a National Bureau of Investigation special task force on orders of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and then NBI Director Nonnatus Rojas.
Unusual success story
Now Napoles is being held at a police camp in Laguna province for having illegally detained Luy, and Lim is a fugitive from justice. Not the classic sort of success, you might say, but it should count, considering that only a year ago, Luy was reportedly being harassed and his life threatened by the very same siblings.
Not only that, the 33-year-old Luy is the principal witness in the plunder cases that have been lodged against his former captor by the Department of Justice and the NBI.
That he ended up in the hands of a first-rate investigative team and that he had, among his treasures, records of Madam Jenny’s shady dealings with mercenaries in the Senate prove that there is a Force in the universe looking out for Benhur Luy. In the grander scheme of things, the same Force seems to be moving this raggedy republic in the right direction, too.
Con artist’s man
So from being a con artist’s man Friday, Luy became a whistle-blower. He was soon joined by other personnel from JLN Corp., the trading company fronting Napoles’ thriving operations that reportedly converted the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of certain senators and congressmen into cash for their own pockets.
Besides Luy, the other Napoles employees who are now whistle-blowers and being handled with expert care by lawyer Levito Baligod include Merlina P. Suñas, Nova B. Macalintal, Marina Sula, Mary Arlene Baltazar, Simonette Briones, Vanessa Emman, Belen Lingon, Lily Abundo and Luy’s mother, Gertrudes, his brother, Arthur and his sister, Annabelle.
From mid-July when we first broke the story on Luy’s sworn statements implicating Napoles as the pork barrel scam’s mastermind, to the subsequent months when other whistle-blowers came forward and the Senate blue ribbon committee orchestrated a face-off between them and their former employer, to the day the Supreme Court decided to scrap the PDAF, the whistle-blowers have dominated the news not just in the Inquirer but in all media platforms. This is primarily why they are this paper’s Filipino of the Year.
Here are other reasons:
Because what they have done is epic and unprecedented in our history.
Imagine a bunch of minnows putting up a fight against a school of sharks. The whistle-blowers are a small-time band of record-keepers, personal assistants, clerks, gofers, drivers and a nanny, and yet their testimonies are being used to investigate corruption involving not just one source but three—the Malampaya Fund, the fertilizer fund and the pork barrel.
Soon they will be facing two sets of formidable forces. In the PDAF corner, led by a woman who bathes in milk and whose supposed ill-gotten net worth is more than what her ex-employees will collectively earn in their lifetime, are the Senate’s best actors, Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr., plus former representatives, department and agency officials and their staff—in all a cast of 38. In the Malampaya corner are a mixture of heavyweights and lightweights: a former president, three of her cabinet secretaries and 20 others, all of whom must answer for the theft of P900 million from the gas fund that should have gone to typhoon victims.
Because their exposé has given us details, details, details.
People have always smelled something foul coming from the general direction of the pork barrel. Every now and then there would be an exposé in the media about corruption in government involving “senatongs” and “representathieves.” But no one ever came up with really damning evidence until the whistle-blowers presented us with the smoking gun. No one ever painted us a picture of the depth and breadth of the corruption until Luy and company gave us the dirty details. Now we know how we’ve been robbed, for how much, for how long and by whom.
“JLN offered to lawmakers commissions of 40 to 60 percent of the amount of their PDAF,” said Luy.
Once the government check had cleared, the amount was withdrawn in cash.
“We called it ‘going to market.’ We’d stuff the money into travel bags,” said Suñas. On one occasion, she withdrew as much as P30 million. The bags of cash were stashed in the master bedroom bathtub of the Napoles’ condo unit at Pacific Plaza.
Transactions with the lawmakers were either in cash or in bank transfers. The driver of a Napoles courier said he saw the courier take out bundles of pesos from a duffel bag and place them on a table right in front of a senator’s chief of staff.
The whistle-blowers presented for evidence color-coded notebooks that tracked how many millions in kickback were going to legislators and other public officials.
One whistle-blower had a record of the real estate properties owned by Napoles. For a corporation with no income, she said, JLN had many listed assets, which fact had at times prompted a visit from, and a payoff to, revenue agents.
Luy, to his eternal credit, kept meticulous record of all his transactions, down to specific bank account numbers for JLN’s foreign bank deposits. He was unwavering in his testimony, unflappable any time and any place.
The affidavits and the materials surrendered by the whistle-blowers have enabled the NBI to gather evidence with which to build a case so strong it cannot be labeled mere black propaganda or swept under the rug.
The information the whistle-blowers have given in sworn statements and interviews with the Inquirer about the systematic, institutionalized looting of the people’s money by Napoles in cahoots with Enrile, et al., has aroused such disgust it triggered public outcry for the scrapping of the pork barrel at massive rallies in many cities.
On Nov. 19 last year, the Supreme Court unanimously declared the pork barrel unconstitutional and ordered the criminal prosecution of lawmakers and other individuals who have personally profited from the system.
The exposé has created pressure for political reforms relating to the accountability not just of public officials but also of NGOs.
Out of 82 NGOs discovered by the Commission on Audit to be bogus, only 10 are known to have been formed by Napoles. Think about it—there are more Janet Napoleses out there overseeing those 72 ghost NGOs when what we need are more Benhur Luys.
“We now realize that the coming out of the whistle-blowers as witnesses to the plunder of state funds by some legislators, government officials and private individuals can be the trigger for reforms,” said Baligod.
By naming names, the whistle-blowers have given us the option of purging the government of corrupt officials. We know who should be punished. What happens next is up to us.
The whistle-blowers have also awakened the public to the need for vigilance on their part and more transparency on the part of the government, especially when it comes to the disbursement of public funds.
Because they have put their lives, livelihood, family and future on the line.
Although self-preservation— nothing noble—might have initially motivated the whistle-blowers to join the posse, there is no doubt that it takes some nerve to stand up and break rank. Whistle-blowing is a courageous act.
The whistle-blowers have come forward with evidence incriminating people who are powerful, influential and, yes, amoral, at great cost to themselves and their loved ones. They’ve had to sacrifice their privacy, their personal comfort and their family life.
Not a bad boss
By snitching on their employer, they’ve also lost their source of income. Napoles was not, by their own admission, a bad boss altogether. Paranoid maybe (employees were frisked and their bags inspected before leaving the office), but generous at times (she gave them commissions). Napoles even promised to take care of the employees who’d stay loyal to her, “even if I lose all my money.”
One of the whistle-blowers succinctly expressed her remorse at having been part of a conspiracy of silence and a corrupt scheme thus: “We feel [whistle-blowing] is the only way we can atone for our sins to the people.”
We all know that individuals who blow the whistle when peoples’ rights have been violated deserve protection themselves. But we don’t do nearly enough to show whistle-blowers our appreciation. So here’s a toast, a wink and a smile to our Filipino of the Year: May you be blessed with a future that exceeds your expectations.
Luy and the other whistle-blowers in the Napoles scam case, like all whistle-blowers, will be judged by the impact of the information they have leaked. Did it stop wrongdoing? Did it reform institutions? Did it bring guilty parties to justice?
We the people must now act to ensure that the answers are all in the positive.