This is a cautionary note for all the bureaucrats and allies of the Aquino administration who are falling all over themselves in attacking and pressuring Czech ambassador Josef Rychtar for exposing publicly the attempted extortion of $30 million by Filipino officials from a Czech transport equipment supplier in the supply of train coaches to the Metro Rail Transit(MRT) system.
The issue is extremely sensitive to the administration because since its exposure in the media (first reported by this paper last year by its chairman emeritus Dante Ang), the scandal has engulfed top officials of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) and MRT, and has threatened to ensnare as well close relations of President Aquino.
After an initial spate of media stories, the nascent scandal died down a bit. The threat against presidential sister Ballsy Cruz and her husband was headed off. DOTC secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya has absolved all officials of wrongdoing. But now, the scandal has resurfaced in a big way. Ambassador Rychtar and Inekon CEO and chair Josef Husek have renewed their allegations of extortion, apparently dissatisfied with the lack of a serious official investigation.
The two houses of our legislature have waded into the case in a big way.
The Senate finance committee chaired by Sen. Chiz Escudero has called a hearing and invited the Czech ambassador and DOTC officials to testify.
Not to be outdone, the House committee on good government and public accountability has called for its own hearing on the issue.
Filipino officials who have issued statements on the affair form quite a long list. And they include the factotum principally in the frying pan, MRT executive director Art Vitangcol. Vitangcol took a leave from his post when the case was first exposed. But he has since resurfaced, evidently confident that the way is clear for him to hold on. But now his alter ego in the extortion try, Wilson de Vera, has also been named by Rychtar and Inekon.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda has waded full-mouthed into the affair, expressing dismay that Rychtar has renewed his accusations against Vitangcol, in spite of the fact that President Aquino has ordered the matter investigated by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). Rychtar and Inekon have submitted full statements to the NBI, but the NBI still has to come up with its report.
In defense against the accusation, Vitangcol and De Vera have dared ambassador Rychtar to waive his diplomatic immunity so they can sue him for libel and to take a polygraph test with them.
The government should not count too much on such puerile tactics and on the number of our officials and politicians talking to bring closure to this affair. It’s more complex than it seems. The Czechs were not born yesterday.
I think it may be more useful for our government’s guidance and public understanding for us to learn more about Czech history so we can comprehend better this test of wills,
Some points for consideration
Some key points for consideration are:
When President Aquino cited Sudetenland in his criticism of Chinese leaders as acting like Adolf Hitler, he was referring to a piece of real estate in Czechoslovakia that is a major chapter in Czech history.
After World War I, during the Paris Peace Conference in 1918, Czechoslovakia was awarded the largely German-speaking Sudetenland to be part of its frontier.
In 1935, as Hitler and Nazism took over Germany, he demanded the “return of the Sudentenland.” In 1938, in response to Hitler’s threats, Britain, France, Italy and Germany met in Munich to deal with the issue. On September 29, 1938, the four powers agreed to award the area, which contained all of Czechoslovakia’s western defenses,to Germany.
Hitler waited just seven months and invaded Czechoslovakia on March 15, 1939.. Then followed the invasion of Poland and full-scale war.
In 1945, after the defeat of Germany, Sudetenland was returned to Czechoslovakia. A new republic was installed.
In February 1948, the communists staged a coup and took over the Czech government, and the country came under the sway of the Soviet Union.
In 1968, in the famous Prague Spring, Czechoslovakia experienced a brief period of liberalization. But this was swiftly crushed by Leonid Brezhnev and Soviet troops.
In1989, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, communism evaporated in Czechoslavakia and democracy was restored. Famed writer Vaclav Havel was elected president of the new Republic.
On 1 January 1993, the country split into two republics, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic, which brings us to now.
Reading snatches of Czech history yielded the interesting discovery of a new word and a historical sidelight.
Prague, the great Czech capital is noted for the phenomenon of “defenestration” — the act of throwing public officials and even clergymen out of the window by the people. This happened not just once but several times.
Vitangcol should ponder this while confronting the charges against him. He may not only be fired, but thrown out the window.
If our government can call on so many public officials, politicians and the media to join the chorus in this row with Rychtar and Inekon, the Czechs can also call upon a redoubtable line of notables to attest to their sense of honor and dignity.
Among these notables are:
Franz Kafka, the greatest figure in Czech literature, who gave the world the word “Kafkaesque.
Milan Kundera, the novelist-author of The Ubearable Lightness of Being, and The Book of Laughter and Forgetting.
Milos Forman, the great film director who has won the Academy award for best director twice with such films as Amadeus and One Few Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Vitangcol and De Vera can try lining up some famous names from our own history and culture. But never mind.
My point is simply this. This row will not be closed by piling up names over names, or facts over facts. It can only end with the discovery of truth and doing the right thing.
A Kafkaesque situation
Secretary Lacierda’s inept use of words has produced what we might call a “Kafkaesque” situation in the MRT system.
In trying to deflect the protest of the commuting public about the dismal situation of the MRT service, and the lack of new train coaches bought by the government, he blurted out that President Aquino never promised us “a rose garden.”
This is surreal and hilarious, worthy of Kafka. The Czechs must be having a good laugh.
Lacierda reasons that what Aquino promised us was genuine reforms, the “straight path,” not good train coaches.
In the book, Thinking Straight by Monroe Beardley, this is called “crooked thinking.”
Lacierda is guilty specifically of “the fallacy of Begging the Question.”