Third of Four Parts
At least he’s not corrupt. That’s the common refrain among supporters of President Benigno Aquino 3rd when disappointed over his failings, from his inept handling of the Rizal Park hostage crisis three years ago this month, to last week’s continuing silence and inaction over another jump in hunger incidence.
As gleaned from preceding segments of this article, however, that view of Aquino may prove to be untrue and is certainly not enough for national leadership. But before we give the Chief Executive his due, we have a couple of niggling queries for Her Honor, the Chief Justice.
Question No. 11: Will CJ Maria Lourdes Sereno ever come clean about her fees from arbitration cases over the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3? A year ago Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda dismissed such questions as “lumang tugtugin” (old tune). But fair-minded Filipinos who saw Sereno’s predecessor ousted for failing to disclose all assets in his name, want the same standard applied to her.
A year ago, the new CJ claimed that her 2011 Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth figure of P18 million “incorporated” her earnings from the two cases, one in Singapore and the other in Washington. But an affidavit by officials handling NAIA 3 cases said Sereno earned some P25 million from the Singapore case alone. Plus: Has tax chief Kim Henares, herself once floated as CJ material, checked if the Serenos included the NAIA 3 fees in their joint income tax returns?
No. 12: What will Aquino’s chosen Chief Justice do about corruption in the Judiciary and the dismal pace of the Maguindanao Massacre trial? In the latest Transparency International corruption perception survey, in which the government scored a worrisome 62 percent and the PNP an appalling 68 percent, the Judiciary ranked second-worst among state institutions, with 56 percent of respondents saying it was corrupt, even higher than Congress’s 52 percent. Will Sereno ignore the survey, as Aquino has done?
In May, President Aquino called for the Maguindanao Massacre trial to end by the time he steps down in mid-2016. He ordered prosecutors to oppose all dilatory tactics. What about Sereno’s instruction or guidance to the judge handling the case? In fact, actual trial has yet to really get going, since several suspects have yet to be arraigned! As for obtaining conviction in the next 34 months, good luck: The plunder trial of just one man with massive evidence against him, former president Joseph Estrada, lasted six years. Meanwhile, witnesses and their relatives continue to be threatened or killed.
One can only hope and pray that the proceedings are not being stretched out for the benefit of one principal accused, former Maguindanao provincial administrator Norie Unas. If the trial proceeds and Unas looks set for conviction, he may back out of his deal for immunity from prosecution. That’s what he was promised for claiming that he overheard then President Arroyo discussing election fraud in 2007, the only bit of supposed evidence in the non-bailable charge of electoral sabotage against her.
The next six questions are for President Aquino himself, who must address them to demonstrate his commitment to honest, competent and caring public service.
No. 13: If you really bought a used Porsche 911 sportscar for P4.5 million early in your term, why have you not produced the deed of sale and car registration? Fellow columnist Rigoberto Tiglao asked the Palace for those papers three years ago, and he still had to ask recently. Since Aquino has failed to show an authentic deed and registration for his claimed car purchase, one has to conclude that it was an illicit gift, which he concealed by claiming he bought it. We don’t buy that.
No. 14: How much will your Cojuangco family be paid for Hacienda Luisita? Aquino proclaimed in the SONA that the Department of Agrarian Reform will begin distributing his ancestral estate next month. But at what cost?
Under then CJ Renato Corona, the Supreme Court set the compensation at 1989 prices. The hacienda was in violation of the terms of the stock distribution option (SDO) for land reform from that year, so it should have been distributed then at a cost of about P200 million. But the dissenting view supported by then CJ-to-be Sereno, favored a 2006 valuation exceeding P5 billion, supposedly because the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council under Arroyo invalidated the SDO only that year.
At a recent budget hearing in Congress, DAR Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes revealed that the Cojuangcos would get P304 million compensation, plus interest from 1989 to 2013 — a whopping P1.2 billion! After the first Aquino administration foisted that unconstitutional SDO on landless farmers a generation ago, the second may now let his clan gouge poor peasants for another billion after raking in many times that obscene amount under its exploitative scheme.
No. 15: Will you punish officials who let tens of thousands of families stay in danger areas just to get their votes? Public Works and Highways Secretary Babes Singson said city mayors asked to delay relocation from flood-prone rivers and creeks till after the May elections, so affected settlers could vote for them before being shipped out.
This life-threatening act urged by local executives obliged by Singson was inhuman, immoral and criminal. Its perpetrators should be named, charged, punished, and forever barred from public office. So, Mr. President, will you hold those homicidal officials to account, including your Metro Manila allies? If you don’t, then you share their guilt.
Besides maintaining integrity, a leader should advance the national interest, not compromise it. So two questions beg for presidential answers.
No. 16: Which poses a greater danger to the country — losing skirmishes with China in faraway islets and shoals, or inviting missile attacks in the archipelago, targeting constant rotations of nuclear-armed U.S. ships, subs and planes with access to Philippine bases? And No. 17: Which is more destructive to democratic choice — one candidate calling an election commissioner about the canvassing of her votes, or the Commission on Elections disabling automated election safeguards mandated by law?
In his plan to escalate the rotation of U.S. warships and planes, Aquino is set to turn the entire Philippines into a strategic threat, which China must include in its ballistic missile coverage. And his former election lawyer, Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr., perpetrated the wholesale disregard of legally required measures to block computerized election fraud. These two debacles under Aquino will have far-reaching adverse impact on our security and democracy.
No. 18: In the latest Social Weather Stations hunger survey, the percentage of Filipinos missing meals for lack of food is up again to almost the record level of March 2012. So Mr. President, when will you pay attention to the grumbling stomachs of 22 million Filipinos, and do more than just monthly stipends? Cash transfers are not putting food in people’s mouths, although it may shore up support for your regime. So what job-boosting initiatives have come out after reviewing economic programs since April?
A leader who won on a slogan of fighting poverty with good governance must do far more than just letting underlings respond to hunger. President Aquino himself must respond to at least one of these questions. If he doesn’t, then the last two of our 20 questions will address what the nation should do.
(Earlier parts appeared on August 14 and 16. The last part runs on Wednesday.)