Second of Three Parts
As a former Malacañang official, this writer sees some major differences between Palace spokespersons of the past and present administrations. One cannot recall any instance when officials speaking for then President Gloria Arroyo would speak on controversies involving other nations, deferring nearly always to the Department of Foreign Affairs. It’s the exact opposite today.
Another Arroyo-era no-no was taking up the cudgels for top government officials and presidential relations. Even when Atty. Jose Miguel Arroyo was embroiled in controversy, all that the Palace would allow is: “The First Gentleman is quite capable of addressing those issues.”
And when at various times, the Justice, Defense and Agriculture chiefs were accused of irregularities, Secretaries Hernando Perez, Angelo Reyes and Arthur Yap promptly resigned to face the charges, never waiting for the Palace and the President to come to their defense. Two of them returned to the Cabinet after allegations against them proved weak, while Perez faced charges filed by the Ombudsman in the Sandiganbayan.
By contrast, President Benigno Aquino 3rd and Palace bigwigs race to the rescue of his close associates in times of trouble. Soon after taking office in mid-2010, Aquino defended his shooting buddy, Interior Undersecretary Rico Puno, after Archbishop Oscar Cruz publicly named Puno and then Philippine National Police Chief Jesus Versoza as “ultimate” recipients of gambling payoffs — the only time the anti-jueteng crusader had ever accused top officials by name.
So it is with the President’s men and women. Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda dismissed as “industry practice” the Macau junket and spending money gifted by a foreign gambling tycoon to Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation chairman Cristino Naguiat. No matter that receiving such favors from an entity seeking PagCor concessions constitutes grounds for corruption charges.
And in the Metro Rail Transit bribe extortion attempt, which the administration and pro-Aquino media have sought to bury with the pork barrel and Customs revamp coverage, Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte was quick to set aside as unfounded rumors the report that Aquino’s sister Ballsy and her husband Eldon Cruz were part of the well-connected group that demanded a $30 million “advance” from Czech transport company Inekon, which was bidding for MRT upgrading contracts.
Which brings this article to the questions for Part 2 — all to do with the so-called KKK coterie of kaklase, kakampi at kabarilan (classmates, allies, and shooting buddies) that Aquino likes to place in positions of power, and staunchly protects when they get into precarious positions, instead of holding them accountable.
Question No. 7: Whatever happened to the investigation of the billion-peso PNP rifle contract, which President Aquino himself found to be overpriced after comparing quotes with gun prices online? For most Filipinos made to forget by pro-Aquino mainstream media, the dubious bidding was being probed by then Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo, along with high-level police involvement in illegal logging, among other inquiries on his desk before he died in a plane crash a year ago.
Can his successor Mar Roxas give the nation an update, including details of who paid for Puno’s family trip to Israel, where a rifle supplier was based. Who were the officials handling the procurement? Did they commit improprieties, as the President seems to have intimated? If so, have they been sanctioned? Or will the PNP bidding fiasco go the way of purported overpricing in the Department of Public Works and Highways, which repeated claims to have saved tens of billions of pesos through rebidding, but never charged anyone for the claimed scams.
No. 8: Still on the PNP, why has President Aquino never brought up in the SONA or his recent address to the police their dismal 68 percent corruption rating in the latest Transparency International survey, the worst among all government agencies? It’s not enough to talk tough about scalawags in uniform. What’s needed are concrete measures to reduce sleaze among cops.
That campaign must include a jueteng crackdown, which Aquino ordered amid the Puno payola controversy, then never mentioned again. The scourge not only exploits the poor, but also fuels corruption in police and local officials. If beat cops know that their higher-ups are wallowing in numbers bribes, along with mayors and governors, the guys breathing jeepney exhaust and braving criminals’ bullets cannot but want a share in the rake-offs. Just ask the alleged perpetrators in the Atimonan rubout, who were believed to be fighting over jueteng turf.
No. 9: Turning to other so-called kabarilan, when will Aquino crack the whip on his other shooting buddy, Land Transportation Office head Virginia Torres, after LTO’s licensing problems and the delays in producing vehicle plates? And while he’s at it, the President should ask her about the video going viral online showing her at the casino. According to Civil Service Commission Assistant Commissioner for Legal Affairs Ariel Ronquillo, such behavior among state personnel warrants six months’ suspension without pay.
If the penalty is imposed, it would be Torres’s second time to temporarily vacate her post over improprieties caught on camera. Just months after her promotion to the top job from a local LTO post in Aquino’s home province of Tarlac, she was seen on video taking direct interest in the internal squabbles of Stradcom, the company providing information technology services to the agency and now demanding payment of P4 billion in debt. She went on leave then to give way to an investigation that—you guessed it—went nowhere.
Never mind the casino breaks, Mr. President. Just make sure licenses and plates come out on time. After all, you also like cars along with guns.
No. 10: Since P10 billion is a hot number these days, one might ask: Has the President and the Commission on Audit received satisfactory explanations for nearly P10 billion in questionable expenditures approved by the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office under Aquino-appointed Margaret Juico, who wrongly accused bishops of receiving Pajero SUVs from PCSO? In its report last year, COA raised concerns about the lottery agency under Malacañang supervision spending of charity funds for non-charity uses.
That mammoth amount was disbursed in just a year or so, not the many years that Janet Lim-Napoles allegedly skimmed off pork barrel projects. When COA’s report came out, the Palace expressed confidence that the PCSO board and Juico could explain themselves. So what did they say about the audit comment?
The answer may be legally actionable. Alleged misappropriation of PCSO funds is the basis of plunder charges against former president Gloria Arroyo and her PCSO board members, although COA had cleared the transactions in question. Go figure.
(The first part was published on Wednesday. The last part will appear on Monday.)