It wasn’t very PNoy. Amid the current rumors about alleged influence peddling to the tune of P2 million to P20 million by his sister Ballsy and her husband Eldon Cruz, President Benigno Aquino 3rd has avoided taking up the cudgels for her, as he had repeatedly done for close associates and allies caught in corruption controversies.
Indeed, according to Monday radio reports, at the Philippine Air Force anniversary, a Palace media relations officer asked reporters not to ask Aquino about the Cruzes’ supposed demand for an advance from the Czech company Inekon Tram vying for the MRT3 commuter train refurbishing. Then, without explanation, the expected “ambush interview” after the event was nixed.
By contrast, from his first month in office, the Chief Executive has been quick to dismiss unsavory talk and taunts against his friends. In July 2010, he publicly defended his shooting buddy, former interior undersecretary Rico Puno, against accusations of jueteng payoffs by Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz. Two months later, Aquino trashed the Rizal Park hostage crisis report that recommended sanctions against Puno, among other officials deemed accountable for the bloody fiasco.
In 2011, after more than 2,000 uninspected containers disappeared in transit between Manila and Batangas — the worst spate of smuggling in Philippine history — Aquino expressed undiminished confidence in then Customs chief Joselito Alvarez. The commissioner resigned months later when public furor would not go away. And this year, when contraband under Aquino was valued at six times past levels, the President demanded proof before taking action against current Commissioner Ruffy Blazon.
The refusal to give any credence to reports of irregularities has left many corruption issues bereft of serious investigation. They include questions by the independent Commission on Audit, which qualified some P100 billion in agency transactions, including over P9 billion in disbursements by the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.
Hence, it seems curious that Aquino did not accord his sister and brother-in-law the staunch defense provided to, among other officials, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa over a P40-million mansion, casino czar Cristino Naguiat Jr. in his Macau family junket improprieties, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima regarding missing tax returns, Land Transportation Office head Virginia Torres for corporate meddling, and Political Adviser Ronald Llamas on firearms and pirated video incidents.
The quick and unyielding presidential defense against any and all allegations and suggestions of anomalies serves to maintain the image of good governance and honesty studiously cultivated by Aquino ever since his election campaign. That has helped keep public trust, approval and satisfaction in the President and the administration at high levels, with many Filipinos excusing Aquino’s failings since he is believed to be incorruptible.
True to that unflinching assertion of integrity against all accusers, Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte promptly defended Ballsy and Eldon Cruz from the unsavory allegations, which surfaced in a DZRH bulletin based on an unnamed source. The station had reported that Inekon refused to give an advance to a group including the Cruz couple in exchange for a contract to supply coaches to Metro Rail Transit, which the government is sprucing up after declining an upgrading program proposed by erstwhile MRT3 investor Metro Pacific.
Youngest presidential sister Kris was also miffed over the accusations against her sister and her brother-in-law. The star TV host did acknowledge that Ballsy and Eldon visited the Czech Republic. Ballsy herself expressed willingness to face investigation, and one columnist critical of Aquino wrote that the President’s eldest sister is not one to be extorting bribes, based on the writer’s knowledge of her. Instead, the seasoned journalist called on Czech Ambassador Josef Richter to officially speak on the claim.
That is indeed what’s needed —for starters. Inekon, too, should state unequivocally whether it indeed had issues with the Cruzes. And if they did visit Prague and other parts Czech, the couple would do well to provide media with certifications from their airline and hotels that all fares and fees were paid for by them or parties unconnected to Inekon. All that should put this matter to rest.
But it probably won’t happen that way. After Palace denials, its powerful media clout will likely sweep the story off the headlines and bury it in bigger news. Indeed, by not saying anything about his sister and his brother-in-law, President Aquino helps keep the Inekon allegations from becoming bigger than a radio blind item.
So that’s it? Will Ballsy and Eldon Cruz join other people close to the President who escaped controversies, helping keep Aquino’s image of integrity intact, thanks in large part to pro-administration media heeding the Palace media officer’s request not to raise the Inekon issue?
Perhaps another controversy may be instructive here. Media has gone to town recently over the accusations of sexual misconduct and abuse of power against consular officials victimizing overseas Filipino workers. After months, if not years, of silence, OFWs are coming forward with tales of being sexually violated.
The lesson here is clear: Even if the powerful may keep a lid on their nefarious activities for a long time, the truth eventually comes out once the perpetrators are exposed or lose their clout. Then the stories come out, and those who once lorded it over with impunity are brought low.
Or as Filipinos would put it, “May araw din sila.” A day of reckoning will come. Amen.