PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte says he will resign if any of his children (and presumably other members of his family) were found to be or to have engaged in corrupt activities. This comes after one Mark Taguba, a customs broker and key witness in the House ways and means committee inquiry into the 605-kilogram, P6.4-billion illegal drug shipment that entered the country from China in May, named the President’s son, Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte of Davao City, as a person of interest in the ongoing inquiry. Some congressmen believe the contraband is mistakenly pegged at 605 kgs and P6.5 billion; they believe it could reach 2,160 kgs worth P22.5 billion, if the entire 23 crates inside the 40-foot container had been seized by customs, instead of only five crates.
Given DU30’s brutal war on drugs, reported to have already killed 8,000 suspects, not to mention the undetermined number of “missing”, reported to have been rising astronomically in Tondo, Kalookan, Malabon, Navotas and other areas, the biggest unsolved public puzzle is, who had the audacity to assure this Richard Chen, aka Ju Long Chen of Hongfei Logistics, that his prohibited lethal cargo could get past the Bureau of Customs “green lane,” like a government-to-government transaction, under the cover of “general merchandise”? This is how Vice Mayor Duterte’s name (more familiarly “Pulong”) came up.
What the Green Lane means
There are several channels involved in the release of shipments by customs, depending on their contents. The Red Lane requires the physical and documentary examination of all shipments. The Yellow Lane requires documentary examination only. The Green Lane requires no documentary or physical examination, unless there is a security alert that the shipment could contain contraband. The Blue Lane is the “super green lane.” The system is supposed to promote efficiency and curb corruption in the ranks.
Despite all of Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez’s visible efforts to clean up the bureau, reports persist of widespread bribery. Sen. Panfilo Lacson estimates that illegal payoffs at the waterfront could amount to P270 million a day. Certain names continue to be whispered about in relation to the smuggling of rice, sugar, iron and other metal bars, and other items, and some of them have been linked, fairly or unfairly, to Malacañang. However it was not until now that the illegal shipment involved “shabu” (methamphetamine hydrochloride), and a broker carelessly alluded to the possible involvement of a presidential relative.
The drug shipment arrived from China and was discharged from the vessel on May 17, 2017. It was cleared through customs and delivered to Chen’s warehouse in Valenzuela on May 24. Chinese authorities alerted their counterparts in Manila on May 25, and Customs Commissioner Faeldon acted on the information on the same day. On May 26, customs operatives entered Chen’s warehouse, and in his presence opened the wooden crates with heavy metal/steel rollers inside. One of the rollers, when opened, yielded 100 transparent plastic bags containing white crystalline substance, confirmed upon testing to be “shabu.”
Taguba offered no evidence or particulars against the Vice Mayor, saying he was merely quoting “rumors” swirling around the graft-ridden bureau. It was a daring yet irresponsible act, and it drew an instant acid reply from the young Duterte, who said he would not dignify any rumor or hearsay. The President was reported to have confronted his son and his aide Christopher (Bong) Go about it, and they reportedly assured him the “rumor” was completely baseless.
“Pulong” was legally and technically correct. Just as one does not answer a hypothetical question in an interview, one should not react to an accusatory rumor or hearsay. But in politics, what may be correct is not necessarily the best position to take, especially when it concerns the honor and prestige of the presidency. An accuser or even a plain slanderer may not be able to prove an offensive rumor or hearsay against somebody in high office, but if the base rumor persists despite the lack of evidence, then the one accused without proof could become a casualty.
“Where there is smoke, there’s fire,” so goes the popular political adage. This the young Duterte must know. He should therefore make every effort to make sure the smoke disappears, so that no one would persist in looking for the fire.
Like Caesar’s wife
A public official has to be above suspicion, rather than simply be able to say no one can prove their accusation against him. This formula began with Caesar, and it has come down through the ages in the simplest and most easily understandable language. “Be above suspicion, like Caesar’s wife.” The formula is known to most, but the story behind it is not. Wikipedia records it for us thus:
In 62 BC, a year after Julius Caesar was elected Pontifex Maximus, the chief priest of the Roman state religion, he married his second wife Pompeia, his first wife Cornelia having died the year before. That year, Pompeia hosted the festival of the “good goddess” (Bona Dei), to which no male was ever admitted. But a young patrician named Publius Claudius Pulcher, disguised himself as a woman, and with the apparent intent of seducing Pompeia, managed to be admitted inside. He was caught and prosecuted for sacrilege. Caesar gave no evidence against Claudius at his trial, and he was acquitted. Nonetheless, Caesar divorced Pompeia, saying, “My wife ought not to be under suspicion.” This gave rise to the saying.
DU30’s son may be completely innocent, but the President must try to ascertain whether or not the rumors quoted by Taguba have been completely dispelled by the Vice Mayor’s prompt dismissal of the same. If rumors persist despite the Vice Mayor’s stern riposte, the elder DU30 must find the equivalent of Caesar’s divorcing Pompeia to protect his son and his high office. This seems to be the most reasonable way out.
Aquino’s 2010 folly
There is an object lesson to be learned from the recent past. In 2010, there were some loud suspicions that the leading presidential candidate then suffered from some mental disability, and that it was necessary for all the presidential candidates to undergo a mandatory psychiatric test. But B. S. Aquino 3rd’s political propagandists, supported by a complicit media, brushed aside this proposal, saying they “would not dignify” it, exactly as the young DU30 said he would not dignify the alleged rumors about his involvement in the illegal drug shipment.
Our experience from 2010 to 2016 confirmed our worst fears, and we had to pay the price for our having allowed Aquino “not to dignify” what seemed a totally necessary and just demand. In 2016, the mental stability of our presidential candidates was not raised as an issue at all, and it is now too late to complain.
Andy Bautista’s case
Another fellow who could learn from Caesar’s wife is Commission on Elections (Comelec) chair Juan Andres (Andy) Bautista. His “legal wife” Patricia Paz Bautista has exposed him as having amassed over P1 billion from unexplained sources during the presidential election year 2016, hidden the same in 35 bank accounts in daily tranches of less than P500,000 in a rural bank, and failed to disclose any of it in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN). He needs to learn this lesson now.
Andy is an impeachable official and may not be charged in court with any crime unless and until he is impeached and removed from office in an impeachment trial. But some members of the Senate would like the blue ribbon committee to investigate his alleged failure to declare all his unexplained assets. They seem to forget the fact that in case he is eventually impeached—which is the only way he could be removed for culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes or betrayal of public trust—-it will be the Senate that will try him and render final judgment.
The charge is unfortunately being led by my good friend Sen. Tito Sotto who, as chairman of the committee on rules and Senate Majority Leader, should be the one reminding Sen. Grace Poe Llamanzares and other members, that the Senate cannot and should not investigate an impeachable official on anything that could be used as the basis for their possible impeachment.
Unfortunately, Bautista has unwittingly added to his own vulnerability by going to court to accuse his wife of various crimes, in an obvious effort to retaliate for the embarrassment she has caused him. This is only going to make things worse for Andy. The court case is likely to open the Pandora’s box which for his and his children’s sake should remain sealed for as long as possible. If no impeachment complaint is filed against him now, this court case could in fact facilitate it.
But one thing more: the seamy details of the Bautistas’ marital relationship, which I understand are already in the hands of Patricia’s lawyers, are bound to come out, creating a much bigger scandal than Andy’s allegedly unexplained wealth. Andy has said he is willing to quit if he had become a burden to the administration and to the Comelec. That was a good opening statement, but an incomplete one. Knowing the magnitude of the scandal that now envelops himself, his only correct move is to resign and try to fight for his honor outside of the Comelec. Only in that way could he try to behave beyond suspicion, like Caesar’s wife.