(Second of three parts)
Unlike his legal foibles, President Aquino’s second failing is simpler for most Filipinos to see: his unflinching defense of allies and associates caught in anomalies, while constantly castigating perceived rivals and enemies.
Besides swiftly insisting on their innocence, Aquino rarely subjects those in his camp to honest-to-goodness investigations, and only in the face of strong public pressure. Even if probes are ordered, many are forgotten, no grave fault is ever found, and no one is sanctioned. This has gravely undermined governance in his administration.
Called “KKK” for “kaklase, kakampi at kabarilan” (schoolmates, allies, and shooting buddies), presidential favor toward close associates and official appointees was, like disrespect with law and institutions, evident early in Aquino’s rule. And this KKK cronyism trumps even his avowed campaign against corruption.
Among his first appointments, PNoy named shooting buddy Rico Puno Interior Undersecretary overseeing the Philippine National Police on his behalf, stripping that authority from the legally mandated official, then Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo. Then Aquino staunchly defended Puno against accusations of jueteng payoffs and sanctions over the August 2010 Rizal Park hostage crisis.
In the latter incident, Malacañang trashed the official inquiry led by Robredo and DOJ Secretary de Lima. It also did not sanction then Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, a longtime Aquino family loyalist, whose arrest of the hostage taker’s brother triggered the carnage. And since PNoy spared his favored officials, others culpable could not be sanctioned. That bedeviled not just Tuwid na Daan, but also relations with Hong Kong and China.
If it’s KKK, it’s okay
Other Aquino friends benefited from double standard. Without probes, such reported anomalies as Executive Secretary Paquino Ochoa’s P40-million White Plains mansion, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima’s missing tax filings, and Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation Chairman Cristino Naguiat Jr.’s Macau family junket and no-bidding bottled water deal, were dismissed as baseless.
Ignored altogether was Pagcor’s loss of P400 million in just two weeks in May 2011, and the escape of the casino scam’s foreign perpetrators despite charges against them. Yet the State of the Nation Address just two months later highlighted the agency’s P1 billion in coffee spending over an entire past decade.
Other anomalies for which no Aquino appointees were punished include the outside forays and special privileges of wealthy prisoners and other Bureau of Corrections irregularities; the overpriced P1-billion PNP assault rifle bidding, cited by Aquino himself after checking gun costs online; and the escape abroad of suspects in criminal cases.
Yes, some accountable officials resigned under mounting public disdain, but even they were left alone, escaping accountability and perhaps quietly enjoying illicit gains. Puno quit last year after stirring suspicions for reportedly seeking out confidential Robredo papers after his death. The investigation ordered by Aquino into the billion-peso rifle bidding supervised by Puno has been forgotten.
Also gone, but only after being videoed gambling in a casino was LTO’s Torres. Her fellow Tarlac gun range aficionado Aquino kept on the job for years, partly prompting then Transportation Secretary Ping de Jesus to quit. This despite mounting agency debacles, including foul-ups in licensing and registration computer systems and vehicle license plates.
The mammoth cost of KKK cronyism
The refusal to even investigate KKK anomalies has allowed some to explode into multibillion-peso proportions. Forget firearms violations and pirate video shopping by Political Adviser Ronald Llamas. The big KKK money is in smuggling and jueteng.
Three years ago, the first Bureau of Customs internal report about many containers being lost in transit counted about 600 vanishing between Manila and Batangas ports. Nothing was done, and the Customs official who raised the alarm was himself sidelined.
Result: disappearances reached several thousand containers, and smuggling as estimated from International Monetary Fund data, hit an unprecedented $19 billion annually, six times the average in the Estrada and Arroyo years. In last year’s SONA, Aquino himself admitted that contraband cost P200 billion in lost revenues, and included drugs and guns—the main drivers of escalating crime.
So it is with jueteng. Archbishop Cruz’s accusations against Puno and then PNP Chief Jesus Versoza as “ultimate recipients” of numbers payoffs, were dismissed sans inquiry. Though the President told Robredo to crack down, Aquino still kept Puno overseeing the police. How big jueteng has grown and corrupted law enforcers can be gleaned from the 2012 Atimonan shootout between police and soldiers, reportedly over gambling turf. When the big fish swim in sleaze, many small fry jump in.
When PDAF and KKK mix
The PDAF controversy shows KKK at its most robust and wide-ranging, protecting the administration’s own while targeting rivals. As the Commission on Audit stated in its pork barrel report, the Department of Budget and Management under Secretary Florencio Abad provided spending records for 2007-09, avoiding the Aquino years. And DBM withheld papers covering two-thirds of the P29 billion in total disbursements over the three years—mostly involving administration allies—despite repeated COA requests.
So while opposition stalwarts like Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada face plunder charges, COA has yet to see the DBM documents for many top legislators of Aquino’s Liberal Party, including his own pork papers as senator. Evidently, even his PDAF is not clean enough to show off as proof of his perceived incorruptibility.
What to do? Three things, for starters
First, mainstream media must stop letting Aquino get away with just baldly denying KKK anomalies, or ordering then forgetting investigations once controversy wanes. Keep raising, among other issues, the hidden PDAF papers for Aquino, his allies and years; the PNP rifle bidding probe; and the Inekon extortion inquiry (presidential sister Ballsy Cruz remembers it well).
Second, the Sandiganbayan should accelerate the graft trials of LP stalwarts Election Commissioner and former Isabela governor Grace Padaca, Iloilo Representative Neil Tupas Jr. and his father, and Presidential Adviser Neric Acosta and his mother. And the Ombudsman should take to court at least 20 congressmen now in the Aquino camp who are implicated in the P700-million fertilizer scam.
Lastly, COA should petition the Supreme Court for a mandamus ordering DBM to release all PDAF records from 2007 to 2012, including those of then Senator Aquino.
Then hopefully the Philippines can turn away from more Marcos-style cronyism when presidential friends did as they pleased without fear of justice.
(The first part was published on Monday, and the last will run on Friday.)