First of two parts
In recent years, two myths have been put about among our people. The first claims that Tuwid na Daan has reduced corruption. The numbers say otherwise.
Under President Benigno Aquino 3rd, budget allocations for the sleaze-tainted Priority Development Assistance Fund almost tripled from an average of P9.6 billion a year in 2007-2009 to nearly P25 billion annually in 2011-2013, with hardly any measures to reduce longstanding anomalies.
Even the current PDAF crackdown is sparing most lawmakers, with only a third of 2007-2009 pork barrel documents given to state auditors, with no audit report on Aquino-era PDAF out. And one would be hard put to find his staunch allies among those charged by the Ombudsman for pork barrel graft.
The deadly surge in contraband
The other leap in graft came in smuggling. Contraband is estimated by comparing the value of total exports to the Philippines as reported by our trading partners, and the imports reported by the Bureau of Customs from those countries. A big difference between the two values is the likely amount of smuggled goods.
In the Estrada and Arroyo administrations, that gap averaged $3 billion a year, according to data from the International Monetary Fund. Under Aquino, the discrepancy leapt five-fold to $19 billion.
Now if all that was due from the mammoth contraband were 12 percent value added tax and no other duties, the lost revenues would reach $2.28 billion or about P100 billion a year. No wonder the smuggling surge of 2011-2012, President Aquino admitted in his 2013 State of the Nation Address that P200 billion was lost due to smuggling. That’s several times more than the PDAF kickbacks.
Yet the Palace has never subjected smuggling to the triple-agency probe Aquino ordered on pork barrel. Not even when more than 2,000 uninspected and untaxed containers disappeared in transit between Manila and other ports back in 2011—the biggest spate of contraband in the country ever.
In his 2013 SONA, President Aquino also confirmed what this writer had warned back in 2010 about raising political funds through smuggling: it allows drugs and guns into the country, spawning crime and death. In the months after the container disappearances, guns and drugs prices fell, and Metro Manila crime jumped 60 percent.
It is no secret that ruling parties use their clout to amass election resources. But some illicit fund sources are more harmful than others. And smuggling is the deadliest. Just imagine how much narcotics and how many firearms can hide in one unchecked shipping container. And how many lives that contraband can ruin and snuff out.
Well, the flood of illicit goods rose five-fold under Aquino to unprecedented levels. And he never had it investigated, not even the disappearance of containers by the thousands. It would have been so easy to check who were in charge of releasing the cargo for transit, making sure they got to their destinations, and raising the alarm when even just 20 trucks went missing. After more than 2,000 vanished, no one was probed and punished. That may well be the biggest failure of Tuwid na Daan so far.
If it’s KKK, it’s okay
If the President felt he could get away with letting customs officials and contraband traders go scot free after pulling off the biggest smuggling caper in Philippine history, it’s because the nation and mainstream media had complained little during the many times he played favorites with his coterie of classmates, allies and shooting buddies—dubbed “KKK” by their Filipino words: kaklase, kakampi, kabarilan.
In July 2010, his second month in office, Aquino dismissed without investigation Archbishop Oscar Cruz’s accusation in Senate hearings that then-Interior Undersecretary Rico Puno, who supervised the Philippine National Police for the Palace, was pocketing jueteng payoffs along with then-PNP Chief Jesus Versoza.
And when the presidential shooting buddy was among officials found culpable in mishandling the Luneta hostage crisis the following month, Aquino took no action against him and others recommended for sanctions—poisoning relations with Hong Kong and China.
Malacañang defended many other KKKs, even as it was quick to condemn opponents. Among controversies in which allies were absolved with little if any inquiry: Executive Secretary Pacquito Ochoa’s rumored P40-million White Plains mansion; Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima’s reported failure to file tax returns; and the videotaped meddling by shooting buddy Virginia Torres, then Land Transportation Office head, in an LTO supplier.
Also let off with just a resignation and no penalties were three heads of the Bureau of Corrections, including shooting buddy Ernesto Diokno, who quit over special treatment and unauthorized furloughs by rich convicts.
Aquino also paid the bail of fellow Liberal Party stalwarts Grace Padaca and Neric Acosta in their corruption cases with the Sandiganbayan. And many now feel disgraced Metro Rail manager Al Vitangcol is a scapegoat for higher-ups involved in the Inekon extortion scandal.
The favoritism list also includes gaming czar Cristino Naguiat’s P400-million casino loss and his family’s Macau junket, compliments of a foreign tycoon angling for a gambling license; Political Adviser Ronald Llamas’s assault rifle and pirate video incidents; and the billion-peso overpriced PNP firearms bidding overseen by Puno, who was reportedly treated to an Israel trip by one bidder. The President himself saw the firearms overprice by comparing gun prices online, but nothing further has come of the probe he ordered.
Mainstream media sustains the myth
Now, the nation is witness to the biggest display of Aquino double standard. with the pork barrel probe and prosecution. Top opposition leaders are skewered, while no top presidential ally has been charged. The Commission on Audit was denied the bulk of PDAF disbursement records despite repeated COA requests, sparing the pork barrel of administration lawmakers from review while targeting political adversaries.
Still, pro-Aquino press extol the probe and charges against Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla, while saying little about the virtual immunity from prosecution enjoyed by the great majority of legislators for being in the adminstration camp. After portraying Aquino as paragon of integrity and savior of the nation, mainstream media is holding fast to that myth despite mounting evidence debunking it.
Thanks to such press adulation and despite record smuggling, partisan PDAF prosecution and KKK coddling, the myth of Tuwid na Daan’s success thrives. And the press also has a hand in propagating the second myth claiming that the U.S. alliance is safeguarding national security and sovereignty. On Wednesday, we will discuss what dangers it holds for the Philippines.
(Part two will come out on Wednesday).