Battling racketeers

The three-story riverfront home of Iloilo Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog is more palatial than Malacañang, according to President Duterte. Denying this, the mayor’s brother last week allowed journalists and the National Bureau of Investigation to inspect the six-bedroom house, which offers great views of the river and city esplanade. The NBI was carrying out an order to conduct a lifestyle check on the mayor, who is on the President’s list of alleged narco politicians.

Mabilog, who will reportedly return to the country today from a trip to Japan, has denied all the accusations against him. His relatives claimed the house cost only P6.7 million. Even if the house was finished in 2013, there is no way it could have cost only P6.7 million, unless the Mabilogs enjoy bargain basement discounts from suppliers in the city.

Investigating Mabilog for wrongdoing – as well as other public officials suspected of similar offenses – would be easier if the country has laws against racketeering. The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations or RICO Act, in place in the United States since 1970, allows the state to send to prison even the leaders of a crime group who ordered members to commit criminal acts, or assisted in committing the felonies such as murder and drug trafficking.

All assets gained through racketeering are forfeited in favor of the state. During the trial, the assets can also be frozen and temporarily seized by authorities to prevent their use by the defendant even for litigation expenses. Penalties include hefty fines and imprisonment of 20 years per count of racketeering.

A law against racketeering can be a powerful tool for President Duterte in his declaration of war against corruption. Since he enjoys dizzyingly high public support and has a so-called super majority in Congress to back his legislative agenda, he can lean on his allies to pass a law against racketeering. He can ask those who oppose the measure if their resistance stems from self-preservation, and he can then act accordingly.

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