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Private persons like Napoles could end up liable for plunder.

Republic Act No. 7080 (the law defining plunder) provides that any public official who acquires ill-gotten wealth amounting to P50 million through a combination or series of criminal acts shall be guilty of plunder. And any person who participates, in collaboration with the public official, in the commission of an offense contributing to the plunder, shall likewise be punished for such offense.

There has been a lot of debate whether a private individual may be charged with plunder. The answer to that question is said to depend only on what the second part of that law means by 'any person' who commits a crime which contributes to the plunder, being held guilty 'likewise' of 'such offense.'

If what Congress meant was to punish 'any (such) person' (obviously including a private individual) only for the crime he commits in aid of plunder (like corruption of public officials, forgery or falsification of documents), but not for plunder itself, it makes no sense to repeat what is already provided for under existing penal laws. It goes without saying. It is an empty statement in a new legislation. That second part could very well be scrapped altogether as a legislative redundancy.

Congress manifestly meant to punish any private person who participates in the plunder as a plunderer himself. That's the only sense one can make of that second part. The use of the word 'likewise' reinforces that sense. In statutory construction, the interpretation that makes more sense prevails over those that make little sense.

The Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act basically targets public officials 'in line with the principle that public office is a public trust.' But Congress saw it fit to include private persons who participate in the corrupt practices of public officials and punish them under the same law. Nothing eyebrow-raising there. It's standard prosecution.

Hence, to the question of whether or not it was correct to include Janet Lim-Napoles (a private individual) in the indictment against the three senators charged with plunder, my answer is a categorical yes.

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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:May 18, 2017
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