OUR Tuesday column, “Three things Aquino should do for accountability,” asked if his Cabinet members and other top officials implicated in anomalies would quit, then come back after their names are cleared.
The question of resignation erupted again this week with pressure on Philippine National Police Chief Alan Purisima over his allegedly excessive wealth and the escalating crime, now double the 2010 rate.
Also under fire of late is Department of Transportation and Communication Secretary Jose Emilio Abaya, over a maintenance contract that the DOTC-supervised, breakdown- and accident-prone Metro Rail Transit concluded with a firm allegedly part-owned by him and ousted MRT general manager Al Vitangcol.
A few others resigned in the past, but only after long controversy. Close Aquino friend Ernesto Diokno hung on as prisons head, despite the expose on wealthy, influential inmates getting long furloughs out of jail. Two other penitentiary chiefs after him also left over anomalies.
All three have never been held to account for any irregularities, just like Aquino shooting buddy Virginia Torres. Her tenure as Land Transporations Office director lasted for years despite alleged improper meddling in an LTO supplier, plus gross mismanagement leading to computerization and vehicle plate problems. She was let go only last October, after she was videotaped in a casino, violating a gambling ban on government officials.
Staying on amid record smuggling
Other controversial agency heads have stayed on despite far greater irregularities and, like Diokno and Torres, they remain free from accountability after leaving government. The past two Bureau of Customs commissioners, Lito Alvarez and Ruffy Biazon, stayed in their post for many months amid the biggest BoC scandals ever.
Under Alvarez, more than 2,000 containers of uninspected and untaxed cargo disappeared in transit between Manila and other Luzon ports — the worst spate of smuggling in the country. Contraband leapt five-fold to a record $19 billion a year, based on International Monetary Fund data.
Biazon offered to quit after Aquino blasted Customs for an unheard-of P200 billion in smuggling losses in last year’s State of the Nation Address. But as the President has done with other top officials, he kept the Customs boss for months. Biazon left only after the pork barrel investigation implicated him.
The latest top official to offer his resignation but be retained is Budget Secretary Florencio Abad. The Supreme Court declared his Disbursement Acceleration Program unconstitutional for illegally allocating funds to unbudgeted expenditures, realigning allocatiions outside the Executive branch, and misdeclaring “savings” in violation of explicit provisions in the General Appropriations Act defining savings.
Quitting over Aquino, not anomalies
Two Aquino Cabinet members quit early in his administration, both in 2011, citing personal reasons, but were said to be unhappy with him. In June of that year, respected DOTC Secretary Jose de Jesus, public works czar under Aquino’s mother Corazon, resigned, officially for health reasons, but reputedly over Palace meddling in DOTC.
Two months later, then-Department of Tourism Secretary Alberto Lim quit. Months earlier, he survived a much-ridiculed DOT campaign copied from a 1950s Swiss promotion. But Lim resigned when Aquino kept Mark Lapid as Philippine Tourism Authority general manager, reportedly to please the latter’s father, Senator Lito Lapid.
One Cabinet member nearly quit over Aquino actions. Justice Secretary Leila de Lima admitted thinking of resigning after the President junked the incident report on the August 2010 Luneta hostage crisis, in which eight Hong Kong tourists died.
The investigation panel jointly chaired by de Lima and then-Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo, recommended sanctions against officials. But Aquino preferred to spared them, especially his shooting buddy DILG Undersecretary Rico Puno and longtime loyalist and then-Manila mayor Alfredo Lim.
The only other Aquino department secretary to quit was then-Economic Planning Secretary Cayetano Paderanga Jr. He left in 2012. officially for health reasons, after serving two years in a position he also held in the first Aquino administration.
Under Arroyo, resign and return — if cleared
Things were very different under Aquino’s predecessor Gloria Arroyo. In 2001, her administration’s first year, Justice Secretary Hernando Perez set the precedent followed by other Cabinet members implicated in anomalies. He resigned after being accused by dealmaker Mark Jimenez of asking and getting $2 million to give legal clearance for the $470-million IMPSA power plant deal contracted by the previous Estrada government.
Perez quit despite maintaining his innocence — something no Aquino Cabinet member has done. In May this year, after more than a decade of trials, the Sandiganbayan court dismissed a falsification charge against Perez, one of four filed over the IMPSA scandal. In 2008 he was acquited of the two main cases alleging extortion and bribery, plus another corruption charge in 2011.
Two other Arroyo department secretaries who quit amid controversy were cleared months later, and returned to the Cabinet: Arthur Yap of Agriculture and the late Angelo Reyes of National Defense. Yap’s family was suspected of evading taxes in a past property sale, while Oakwood Mutiny leaders accused Reyes of corruption in military procurement.
After his family was cleared of tax issues, Yap was named head of the Presidential Management Staff, before returning to Agriculture. As for Reyes, the mutineers’ claims proved pure canard from a fake document circulated online. He then became DILG secretary, licking a kidnapping surge; then moved to Environment and Natural Resources, launching a million-tree planting program; and finally Energy, where his 2008 power summit already highlighted the need to build generating plants.
Now, isn’t that the way Cabinet members should act when facing anomalies?
Evidently not for President Aquino. In controversy after controversy, he defends implicated officials sans investigation, and expresses unwavering trust in them. Maybe he thinks insisting on their innocence will keep at least part of the public believing there is no sleaze in his regime, rather than confirming anomalies by quitting. Or he is wary of antagonizing associates who can turn on him, as the “Hyatt 10” did to Arroyo, and Governor Chavit Singson to Joseph Estrada.
Whatever the reason, holding fast to officials come hell or high water, has led to reports of unexplained wealth, illegal fund transfers topping P150 billion, crime and smuggling trebling to record levels, MRT troubles mounting, “prepositioned” disaster response vanishing, and a power crisis looming, among other woes — all with no one accountable.
Plainly, for the Cabinet, it’s more fun on Tuwid na Daan.