A respected economist who has authored books and adviced leading corporations isn’t one to get national affairs horribly wrong. So the audience was all ears when he declared that whoever wins the 2016 presidential elections, governance would be better, and corruption harder to get away with.
Why? Because, he said, after the reforms of President Benigno Aquino 3rd, the public is much more vigilant now. For instance, the impeachment of then Chief Justice Renato Corona over undeclared wealth in his Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth, has made SALNs a potent tool against grafters. So is the Anti-Money Laundering Act, with AMLA used to unveil politicians’ finances in corruption probes and cases.
This writer, who has held the economist in high regard since meeting him in the 1970s, can only wish with 100 million other Filipinos that he is right in his belief that the citizenry is more alert and active against graft.
However, certain undeniable realities give pause to such optimism. Indeed, these plain and painful truths suggest the very opposite of what the economist predicted. What has transpired during the Aquino years may actually make corruption and misgovernance more prevalent, rapacious, and entrenched in the next presidency, whoever wins it.
Tuwid na Daan makes graft worse
Let’s start with the cited SALN and AMLA mechanisms to fight graft. They certainly are effective instruments if applied to all officials without fear or favor. And that’s the problem. In fact, inquiries into suspicious asset statements and financial transactions have been used only against perceived opponents of the Aquino administration.
The same can be said of pretty much about the entire anti-corruption campaign. Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s constant delays in charging administration congressmen over pork barrel anomalies prompted the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines to decry “selective prosecution” of the Priority Development Assistance Fund scandal.
So our esteemed economist, who earned his doctorate at a top Ivy League university, would need to explain how the partisan use of anti-graft measures would deter most politicians and government executives, who are mostly from or close to the ruling camp.
It certainly did not give pause to Aquino associates like shooting buddy and former Interior Undersecretary Rico Puno, accused by Archbishop Oscar Cruz of receiving jueteng payoffs; and resigned Philippine National Police Chief Alan Purisima, yet to explain his well-appointed houses in Camp Crame and Nueva Ecija.
Nor did it stop such irregularities as the disappearance of 2,000-plus cargo containers in 2011, the largest spate of smuggling in the country ever; the Metro Rail Transit anomalies burdening and endangering MRT commuters every day; and the alleged billion-peso military helicopter deal scam exposed by this newspaper.
In sum, by targeting only political adversaries, Aquino’s Tuwid na Daan campaign against corruption actually encourages many grafters who find shelter within the dominant Liberal Party and its allies. So how can that policy of selective investigation and prosecution deter future corruption, especially if the LP wins power again?
Media and public forget excesses
As for the economist’s view that heightened public vigilance would further discourage sleaze, in fact, the Aquino administration and its media allies have time and again made Filipinos forget about controversies.
How many of you still remember or even know about the smuggling, MRT and armed forces chopper anomalies cited earlier? What about the $30-million bribery solicitation attempt exposed by the Czech company Inekon and the Czech Ambassador himself, for which no one has been held accountable?
And do we still remember that President Aquino himself ordered a probe into the billion peso PNP rifle bidding which was allegedly overpriced? Whatever happened to that and so many other Palace-ordered probes?
Not to mention the pork barrel scam, which surely implicated more than just three opposition senators and other non-administration legislators, and the Disbursement Acceleration Program, which the Supreme Court wanted investigated by the Ombudsman.
Rather than vigilance, in fact, the public has amnesia over scandals, getting all worked up when the media breaks the news, but losing interest when top newspapers and broadcasters drop the scam from the headlines.
The latest demonstration of this public fickleness is the rebound in President Aquino’s net satisfaction rating, rising 19 percentage points to plus-30 percent last month after hitting its lowest plus-11 percent in March. This despite no substantial action by Malacañang to address the Mamasapano massacre issues which brought down ratings.
As some may remember — and if one doesn’t, that’s precisely the problem — Aquino lost support for failing to explain his actions during the attack on PNP Special Action Force commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, on January 25. There was also much public objection to Aquino’s Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
If he had detailed his actions during the rebel assault that killed 44 SAF troopers, one would understand the ratings rebound. Yet Aquino has still refused to tell all, and his purported offer to disclose cellphone records is all but forgotten.
If the Palace had pulled back on its drive to get the BBL passed with little revision and before Congress adjourned this month, then that would explain why Filipinos rated Aquino higher. But in fact, he reportedly used not just financial largesse, but also pork barrel prosecution threats to get the bill passed by the House of Representatives committee with little revision.
So we must again ask whether the citizenry is indeed vigilant against misgovernance, or prey to media manipulation. And how will it be if the schemers so good at making people forget their schemes, emerge victorious in 2016?
And even if they lose, the winners saw how the nation was hoodwinked into allowing gross excesses, including the wholesale bribery of Congress, yet still rating Aquino high. All that doesn’t augur well for future governance.