Last of two parts
While Senator Poe faces questions about loyalty to the country and lack of governance experience, Vice-President Jejomar Binay and Secretary Mar Roxas are untarnished by foreign citizenship and seasoned in affairs of state. The questions they face are also not so different.
The administration campaign to highlight anomalies in the Binay family’s three decades of running Makati has painted the VP as corrupt. Yet far bigger sleaze has happened under President Benigno Aquino 3rd, though pro-Aquino media never give it the space they give rabid attacks unleashed against Binay.
Compare the billions of pesos in alleged Makati sleaze with the Aquino era’s unprecedented smuggling of P4 trillion in undeclared or undervalued goods, based on International Monetary Fund trade data; and record pork barrel totaling hundreds of billions of pesos, including maybe half a trillion pesos concealed in violation of Supreme Court rulings.
Plus tens of billions of pesos in dubious deals and programs of the Transport, Defense, Agriculture, and Social Welfare Departments, as cited by state auditors and Ombudsman investigators. These include the disastrous Metro Rail Transit maintenance contract bidded out when Roxas was Transport Secretary, turning the MRT from a reliable train service into the daily bane of commuters.
Plainly, Binay and Roxas have mammoth sleaze to explain, at least for those knowing both the VP’s alleged past graft and the LP’s present documented excesses, perpetrated in large part to bankroll Roxas’s presidential bid. To twist a Biblical line about King Saul and David, Binay has his thousands, and Roxas his ten thousands.
What can these men say to convince Filipinos that corruption wouldn’t flourish even more if one of them becomes president? Probably nothing would make those who know of both Makati and LP sleaze trust them. Still, a few things come to mind.
The corruption issue
First, if Binay goes to Malacañang, both press and public would not have the blind faith and relatively uncritical coverage accorded to Aquino. That and the robust economy and fiscal reforms he inherited, allowed Aquino to maintain lofty approval ratings despite record-high smuggling and pork, the MRT mess, and his constant defense of associates’ irregularities, including the uninvestigated disappearance of more than 2,000 cargo containers in 2011, the worst flood of contraband in the country ever.
Binay as president would not be able to pull off anything approaching Aquino-era anomalies without press and public raising inferno. And with a tarnished family name to burnish, Binay has even more reason to keep his presidency scandal-free.
Then there’s the fear of post-presidency prosecution. The Sandiganbayan court convicted Estrada; it also detains former president Gloria Arroyo on plunder charges which even the Ombudsman’s own lawyers found unfounded.
Aquino also faces charges, at least for his P157-billion Disbursement Acceleration Program, which allocated funds to unbudgeted expenditures, according to the Supreme Court itself.
If even just one-tenth of the estimated 1,400 DAP documents he signed are ruled illegal, the mandatory minimum sentence of six months prison for every count of malversation would incarcerate Aquino for 70 years.
No wonder he desperately needs the LP to stay in power, with its selective justice sparing its own while jailing opponents.
And what if Roxas and the Liberals do win in 2016, despite six years of monumental sleaze and some pretty gross and gruesome incompetence, from the August 2010 Rizal Park tourist bus carnage to Mamasapano? It would only show that with tons of money, the brazen abuse of power, and automated election fraud, one can rob the people blind and still stay in charge.
That’s one key difference between a Binay and a Roxas presidency: the former would be closely watched and keen to clear its muddied name, while the latter would be emboldened to perpetrate more sleaze, having gotten away with six years of it.
Make no mistake: Administration politicos backing Roxas expect him to continue protecting corrupt allies, just as those switching to the Binay and Poe camps hope to evade accountability and continue their rapacious ways.
As for competence, both Binay and Roxas have yet to show anything truly impressive by way of governance initiatives. Makati is a gleaming, prosperous city with first-class facilities, but that’s mainly due to private sector development and taxes.
Binay used that largesse for free health care and education, enviable senior benefits, good public services, and peace and order. But without Ayala Avenue, Makati would not have been so blessed.
For his part, Roxas has little to boast from his Aquino Cabinet stints. Under his watch and that of his chosen successor and fellow LP stalwart Jose Emilio Abaya, the Transport Department has seen not just the MRT, but the Land Transportation Office and the Ninoy Aquino International Airport hit low points. There were also port congestion, buses falling off the Skyway, and no significant infrastructure like Arroyo’s economy-boosting RO-RO ports.
As Interior and Local Government Secretary since mid-2012, Roxas did a bit better. The Philippine National Police corrected crime statistics, even if it showed that incidents tripled since 2010 to more than a million a year in 2013 and 2014.
But the billion-peso overpriced PNP firearms bidding, which Aquino himself ordered probed, was forgotten, along with Roxas’ threatened crackdown on jueteng, a longstanding political funding source.
And Roxas’s leadership in disaster preparedness and response among local government units proved spotty. State auditors noted nil achievement in LGUs calamity readiness in its 2014 report, and it showed when Supertyphoon Yolanda ripped through the Visayas the previous year.
Still, questions raised about Binay, Poe and Roxas may matter little. No Philippine election was ever decided by a serious public assessment of candidates and platforms. Rather, presidentiables win by personal charisma, massive media spending, moneyed and rifled allies down to the barangays, and since 2010, the black box of “hocus PCOS.”
Elections won’t stop disloyalty, corruption and incompetence. The governed must monitor and pressure those who govern. Otherwise, rulers will again rob the blind faithful, whoever wins in 2016.
(The first part on Senator Grace Poe was published on Tuesday.)