With the Senate opposition threatened with emasculation through unbailable plunder charges against three stalwarts, the stage may soon be set for the next phase of the Aquino administration’s battle plan for 2016: the removal of Vice-President Jejomar Binay as presidential candidate.
If and when senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, and Bong Revilla are meted jail sans bail, nearly the entire Senate would be either in President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s coalition or under threat of the same pork barrel probe and prosecution. So pretty much is the House of Representatives. The Liberal Party’s chief strategist, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, controls voluminous documents to nail down lawmakers who misused allocations of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
His selective release of PDAF papers to the Commission on Audit made sure its report skipped the Aquino years, when pork tripled, and focused on opposition lawmakers.
Despite repeated COA pleas, the Department of Budget and Management refused to release papers on two-thirds of the P29 billion in PDAF allocations for 2007-09, including those of then Senator Aquino.
Next time the Palace wants an impeachable official removed, there may be no need for porcine incentives like those for ousting then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and then Chief Justice Renato Corona. Rather, the unspoken message now rings loud and clear: if senators and congressmen want embarrassing, if not incriminating PDAF papers to stay under lock and key in DBM, they should cooperate.
Also part of the intimidation are the self-styled whistleblowers once employed by Janet Lim-Napoles, plus the alleged pork barrel operator herself. With their utter dependence on police protection and judicial leniency, the whole caboodle must follow the administration script—or else. (Despite Napoles’s surrender to and ride with Aquino to Laguna detention, however, Senate President Franklin Drilon still seems wary of what she might say in nationally televised hearings.)
For most Filipinos, especially the poor and powerless masses, this battle royale is just that: a “mediagenic” squabble among the powerful, with fiery drama and foul controversy, but never fair justice and full truth. The sooner it is over with, the better—whoever wins. Just make sure the fallout on jobs, prices, peace and order, and essential services isn’t too grave.
And what of the rule of law, the separation of powers, and good governance—in sum, the panoply of Philippine democracy, which two People Power uprisings fought to restore? Surely, freedom-loving Filipinos care about them. Not to mention the corruption and abuse that always happens when governments act without constitutional restraints.
Sadly, in the eyes of many, those lofty principles have done little to lift the poor out of destitution, arrest crime and corruption, and restrain violent groups in the countryside. So why should the masa care if the Palace strong-arms Congress into cashiering the Vice-President while keeping mum about scammers in the administration?
Indeed, didn’t most Filipinos applaud or shrug when President Aquino used pork barrel for Congress to pass favored bills and impeach the Chief Justice and the Ombudsman, in effect eroding the three main checks on his power? Ditto when the administration flaunted a Supreme Court order allowing former president Gloria Arroyo to seek badly needed treatment abroad, then rushed unbailable charges on nil evidence, including a plunder case for which Ombudsman prosecutors found no sound basis.
Wasn’t there the same silence when Aquino refused to even investigate, let alone sanction, allies and associates over jueteng payoffs, the botched Rizal Park hostage crisis, the Land Transportation Office mess, the P400-million May 2011 casino losses, and the trebling of smuggling to an estimated P19 billion a year, among other anomalies now buried by pro-Aquino leading media? He even bailed out two Liberal Party stalwarts in corruption cases where both the Ombudsman and the Sandiganbayan found probable cause to prosecute.
So why should Filipinos rise up when Malacañang lowers the boom on Enrile, Estrada, Revilla and perhaps Binay? Some argue that these new targets enjoy high popularity, unlike Arroyo, Corona and Gutierrez. Hence, they could mobilize sizable crowds, especially with the San Juan, Makati and Manila mayors in their camp, plus many millions of movie fans and Cavite supporters.
Maybe so. But even that groundswell could vanish if pro-Aquino media unleash their patented avalanche of politically charged exposes, leaks, innuendo and commentary, followed by the usual biased opinion polls with questions like: Should so-and-so official go on leave or resign amid graft allegations? You get the picture.
Perhaps the only surprise in these emerging moves to checkmate rivals is the targets’ seeming failure to see it coming. Sure, Binay warned that he might be next after Corona. Still, his allies Enrile, Estrada, Vicente Sotto 3rd, and Gregorio Honasan, plus Revilla, went along with the mistrial in which rules of evidence and coverage, not to mention the Constitution, were routinely broken by anti-Corona forces led by Aquino.
Now, as a Corona lawyer revealed at his Senate trial and Rigoberto Tiglao’s expose this past Monday confirmed, the President’s impeachment push included hundreds of millions of pesos in fund releases—over P1.1 billion in the months before and after the impeachment verdict, by the latest count. Having joined that travesty of constitutional justice, Enrile, Estrada and Revilla now get the same treatment: corruption accusation, media crucifixion, judicial prosecution, and political extinction.
Call it karma. Ironically, the loudest voice in the tarring and feathering of opposition leaders is Corona’s top defender, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago. Apart from her known antipathy toward Enrile, she may also be making sure she is left alone while waiting for her magistrate position in the International Court of Justice to finally open up.
What will the opposition do? That’s for another column, but for sure, it will be tough, with Aquino’s immense clout in all branches of government, the constitutional commissions, the security forces, the mainstream media, and major segments of society still believing he is clean and committed to clean up government. Military brass meanwhile may soon find hundreds of millions of reasons to stay loyal to the Commander-in-Chief, with his former bodyguard and past armed forces chief Jesus Dellosa, retired in January, just appointed deputy customs commissioner for intelligence and enforcement.
As defense secretary months before the Marcos dictatorship began in September 1972 till Aquino’s mother Corazon fired him in November 1986 amid coup plots, the 91-year-old Enrile knows first hand how hard it is to challenge strongman rule. Again, call it karma. And it too will come for the ones lording it over now.