THE long-running mess that is the Land Transportation Office vehicle license plate anomaly hit the headlines again with the Supreme Court order stopping the Bureau of Customs from donating to the LTO some 300,000 plates seized by the BoC due to unpaid duties and taxes.
For those who missed this epitome of Aquino-era lawbreaking, the problem began in July 2013, when the LTO, in a contract signed by Transportation and Communications Secretary Joseph Emilio Aquinaldo Abaya, awarded the P3.8-billion license plate contract to Dutch-Filipino consortium PPI-JKG Philippines, Inc.
What caught the eye of state auditors was the lack of appropriation in the 2013 national budget for the contracted license plate purchase. The Commission on Audit (COA) pointed out in its order disallowing the contract that “the appropriated fund for the motor vehicle plate making project in 2013 was only P187,293,000.”
For the benefit of mathematically challenged transportation officials, the P3.8-billion value of the license plate award was more than 20 times what the LTO was allowed to spend on such purchases in 2013.
Moreover, the contract stipulated purchases over several years without the required multiyear procurement authority from the Department of Budget and Management.
The LTO has argued that Congress cured the lack of appropriations when it appropriated funds in the 2014 budget. But the COA retorted:
“The management cannot claim the 2014 appropriation because the 2014 national budget had not been approved when the bidding was conducted or awarded, and the 2014 appropriation amounting to P4,483,753,000 was specifically for the motor vehicle registration and driver’s licensing regulatory services.”
In its media campaign to justify its blatant violation of budgetary law, the LTO has repeatedly lamented that car owners suffer due to the COA order disallowing the contract, stopping the LTO from paying PPI-JKG, and compelling the company to return a P478-million down payment for the plates.
That’s like a player who stepped out of bounds blaming the referee for a game loss caused by the infraction.
It was the LTO and Secretary Abaya who have burdened motorists by awarding the anomalous contract, which has messed up the supply of license plates. As in the Metro Rail Transit mess, Abaya and his minions are to blame for the public’s woes.
Breaking and blaming the rules
For seasoned observers of the administration of President Benigno Aquino 3rd, the tactic of breaking then blaming the rules is a common one, as he himself exemplified.
After the Supreme Court unanimously ruled nearly two years ago that Aquino’s P157-billion Disbursement Acceleration Program was illegal, he likened himself to a driver who parked where he shouldn’t to help someone in need.
In short, rules can be broken if you have a good reason. And who can’t come up with a good reason, at least in his own mind?
Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda certainly gave it a try when casino czar and close Aquino associate Cristino Naguiat, Jr. broke anti-graft regulations by letting a foreign company seeking a casino license give him and his family a lavish Macau junket. “Industry practice” was Lacierda’s defense of Naguiat’s wrongful freebie.
The Liberal Party wants election rules relaxed. Having failed to submit the required Statement of Contributions and Expenditures on the unextendable June 8 deadline, the LP is asking the Commission on Elections to dispense with its December resolution disallowing late SOCE submissions.
If the Comelec sticks to its rules, then the LP is deemed not to have submitted its SOCE, and all its winning candidates are not allowed to take office, including Vice President-elect Leni Robredo, and dozens of lawmakers and provincial, city and municipal officials, including current Senate President Franklin Drilon.
So now, LP leaders and lawyers are arguing that the Comelec should not burden the electorate by disallowing their chosen officials from taking office, just as the LTO sought to blame the COA for the lack of vehicle license plates. No mention, of course, about the breaking of rules as the real culprit.
Such leniency in enforcing laws and rules, however, is reserved for Aquino and his coterie of classmates, allies, and shooting buddies.
When it appeared that there were items missing in the required Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth filed by then-Chief Justice Renato Corona, 20 senator-judges voted to remove him, even if such SALN errors could be corrected without penalty.
Of course, the biggest violation of law in that whole episode is Aquino’s open lobbying of legislators to impeach and convict Corona, even releasing billions of pesos in pork barrel and DAP funds to compliant senators and congressmen.
Restoring the rule of law
So what should the administration of Duterte do to restore the rule of law run roughshod under Aquino?
His chosen Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 3rd is on the right track in targeting the DAP for priority investigation.
Despite an explicit Supreme Court order to probe and prosecute the illicit program’s authors, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, showing her pro-KKK bias, has dragged her feet in implementing the July 2014 instruction. This despite the statement by her former High Court colleagues that DAP funds were allocated to expenditures not covered by any budgetary allocations—a clear pointer to malversation.
By finally holding Aquino to account for this gross violation of the Constitution, the Duterte government can set the tone for all public servants: follow the law or else.
Other Aquinomalies ignored by the Ombudsman should also be fast-tracked for investigation, including:
• The diversion of 2,000-plus cargo containers in 2011, with the connivance of customs officials, who kept releasing boxes despite dozens and even hundreds lost
• The P1.2-billion contract for air force combat helicopters, exposed in Senate hearings, and the P25-billion purchase of South Korean trainer jets, suspended by state auditors
• Pork barrel anomalies involving administration stalwarts, charged by Atty. Levito Baligod, former lawyer of Benhur Luy, who exposed the scam
After six years of KKK, let the law rule again.