WHAT’S the biggest challenge facing the Duterte Cabinet? It is this statement from their chief: “I can assure you they are all men of integrity and honesty.”
President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s unequivocal assurance to Filipinos sets a high bar for his appointees, and each one will be sorely tested in the years ahead.
Not because any of them are predisposed to sleaze, but because, as Lord Acton rightly observed, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.”
And there is immense power and profit enticing the men and two women taking the nation’s helm in 28 days: a national budget exceeding P3 trillion, plus even more largesse at state corporations; authority over vast sectors keen to obtain and willing to pay for gain and advantage; plus lawless groups flourishing with the trebling of crime, contraband and corruption in the past six years—and searching out those in the new dispensation willing to let the illicit bonanza continue for hefty slices of it.
Irresistible mountains of money
Will Duterte’s alter egos and other appointees resist or succumb to the lure of lucre?
Before his camp lets out a thunderous yes, get a load of the mountains of illicit money on or rather under the table, judging from reported anomalies in recent years.
The Priority Development Assistance Fund, better known as pork barrel, surged from about P9 billion a year in the past government to more than P20 billion starting from 2011. PDAF is said to continue even after its 2014 voiding by the Supreme Court, relabeled “bottom-up budgeting” outlays.
Like PDAF, the P157-billion Disbursement Acceleration Program was allotted to legislators who supported Aquino’s pet bills and ousted his perceived opponents. It is a pointer to DAP and PDAF enticements that Congress backed DAP’s usurpation of the legislature’s budgeting power—and administration lawmakers quickly flocked to join Duterte’s Congress coalition.
Anomalous state contracts flagged by state auditors and the Ombudsman include tens of billions of pesos in military aircraft, vehicle license plates, new Metro Rail Transit trains and, most notoriously, the botched MRT maintenance, which burdens millions of Metro Manila commuters daily. And don’t forget the tanim-bala scam extorting tens of thousands of pesos from travelers falsely accused of concealing bullets in their bags.
The biggest ill-gotten bonanzas, of course, are in drugs, jueteng and smuggling. The narcotics trade feeding millions of addicts would not flourish without police protection; neither would illegal numbers, which Aquino himself abetted by removing the Philippine National Police from the oversight of then-Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo, who eradicated jueteng in Naga City. Estimated jueteng revenues: P40 – 60 billion a year.
And smuggling? It tripled from $7.9 billion in 2009 to $26.6 billion in 2014, based on the difference between exports to the Philippines reported by our trading partners, and imports tallied by the Bureau of Customs. The estimated value of undeclared and underdeclared imports exceeds P4 trillion under Aquino, evading some P760 billion in value-added taxes alone, with even more billions in excise and other levies.
Keeping Duterte’s Cabinet straight
Can Duterte’s leading men and women keep their hands off that enticing pile? Not if he treats them with the leniency of his predecessor.
Aquino constantly defended his clique of classmates, allies, and shooting buddies (KKK by their Filipino initials), never seriously investigating or sanctioning any of them, in stark contrast with his constant excoriation of perceived enemies and rivals.
Aquino’s abetting of cronies started just months into his rule, with shooting buddy Interior Undersecretary Rico Puno made to oversee the PNP despite Archbishop Oscar Cruz’s revelation that Puno was an “ultimate recipient” of jueteng payoffs, and despite Puno’s failure to carry out Aquino’s orders in the Aug. 2010 Luneta hostage crisis.
Other KKKs tainted in anomalies, but given staunch presidential backing include:
• Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa over his alleged P40-million mansion in White Plains, Quezon City
• Transportation and Communications Secretaries Mar Roxas and Jose Emilio Abaya, spared in the Ombudsman case against the dubious MRT maintenance contract
• Casino czar Cristino Naguiat, Jr., never probed for P400 million lost to foreign cheats in May 2011, and his family’s Macau junket funded by a firm seeking gaming concessions
• Bureau of Corrections head Ernesto Diokno, never probed for letting rich inmates go on illegal furloughs, the first of anomalous prison chiefs never held accountable
• Liberal Party stalwarts Grace Padaca and Nerius Acosta, whose Sandiganbayan bail was paid by Aquino himself
• Land Transportation Office head Virginia Torres, kept in position for years despite mounting problems with LTO licenses, registration, and plates
• Dozens of ruling coalition lawmakers never investigated over PDAF anomalies, while opposition legislators were charged and jailed.
• Masterminds and perpetrators of the diversion of more than 2,000 cargo containers in 2011, skirting billions of pesos in taxes and duties.
If that crony coddling continues under Duterte, then his Cabinet may go the way of Aquino’s KKK, and continue the explosion of crime, contraband, corruption, and narcotics rending the nation.
Thankfully, the tough Davao mayor looks set to keep his alter egos on a tight leash. After all, the man who said he would kill his offspring if they deal in drugs should not spare his official family if they betray his and the people’s trust.
Let’s have no more KKKs after June 30.