What’s the worst nightmare of President Benigno Aquino 3rd and his allies?
Another Yolanda-strength supertyphoon plus Bohol-intensity temblor hitting Metro Manila together and causing P1.5 trillion in damage and losses?
Chinese missiles landing just outside Philippine territorial waters off Manila Bay and collapsing stock and property prices, to show what US military expansion could bring?
Or perhaps a presidential sister or shooting buddy videotaped or wiretapped peddling influence for some defense contract or narcotics contraband?
No, none of those far-fetched scenarios. In fact, what may keep the Aquino camp up off and on till 2016 is no earth-shaking, explosive or extremist event. Rather, it is something the nation goes through every three years, and is expected to transpire as scheduled in May 2016: elections.
Two years, two months, and two weeks from today, 35 million or so voters will troop to the polls, and unless some dark horse races to the lead in the surveys as Aquino did after his mother’s tragic death and televised interment, the last man standing after canvassing may well be the highest rating politico today: Vice-President Jejomar Binay.
That’s the nightmare? Seasoned politicians and polical watchers may be chuckling right now and turning to the next story. After all, rather than being decimated by a victorious Binay, many Aquino allies would just jump from the outgoing administration’s ship to the incoming one, as they did in 2010.
If Binay becomes president
Well, consider this. Back in 2010, when Aquino campaign manager Florencio Abad took over the Department of Budget and Management, one of his early moves was to gather disbursement papers for the Priority Development Assistance Fund from 2007 to 2009.
Of the P29 billion in PDAF releases, DBM gave the Commission on Audit the documents for P8 billion, mostly for senators and congressmen outside the ruling camp, especially presidentiables. Three years later, opposition stalwarts Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla face plunder charges for anomalies found in PDAF papers handed by Abad to state auditors.
Now guess what a Binay budget secretary would do if he or she ever gets the keys to the DBM documents hall.
Not a few administration lawmakers, especially those lambasting Enrile et al. with lines like “three-point shot evidence,” can very well imagine the scene at the PDAF file rooms if the opposition takes charge. Just as President Aquino can now tar opponents and keep Congress in line with pork papers in Abad’s custody, a Binay government, if it happens, would turn the tables and repay its tormentors in kind.
Even those hoping to keep their dealings with fake non-government organizations under wraps by making peace with the next government, may not be so confident, especially if staunch Binay allies Enrile and Estrada have a say in the matter.
Having perverted its Tuwid na Daan anti-graft campaign into a grand trial by publicity targeting only the opposition, the powers that be cannot but expect the same treatment if they ever swap places with their villified adversaries. That’s why a Binay presidency is the Aquino camp’s worst nightmare.
You ain’t seen nothing yet
No doubt administration bigwigs are dreaming up and weighing various options to escape being buried by an avalanche of PDAF papers from the mountainous pile now under lock and key at DBM. Those reams of releases hold such details as names of NGOs endorsed by lawmakers and linked to pork barrel queen Janet Lim Napoles.
The hidden files also include disbursements in the past three years, when Aquino budgets tripled PDAF from the Arroyo years to about P24 billion average annually.
Also kept from COA and public scrutiny so far are funds from the patently unconstitutional Disbursement Acceleration Program, including P5 billion reportedly allotted to legislators who impeached and convicted then Chief Justice Renato Corona.
If even a mere fraction of the trebled Aquino-era pork papers come out of DBM’s locked cabinets, Filipinos agog at the current PDAF revelations ain’t seen nothing yet.
And self-righteous self-styled anti-sleaze crusaders now pointing accusing fingers may well learn first-hand what they are putting their fellow pork-tainted legislators through.
For sure, the administration will try to take down Binay, by impeachment or propaganda. But while opponents may try corruption issues to besmirch the VP’s reputation, his ally Joseph Estrada’s rebound to second place in the 2010 elections despite his plunder conviction, suggests that playing up anomalies won’t erode Binay’s votes much.
As for impeachment, it cannot be based on offenses before he became VP. So unless the Ombudsman produces bank data from the Anti-Money Laundering Council to debunk Binay’s asset declarations, as she did to Corona, impeachment won’t fly.
What about charter change to lift presidential term limits or switch to parliamentary government? The President claims to be against Cha Cha, but the smart money knows that the House won’t even whisper those syllables if the Palace didn’t quietly prod them. Still, Cha Cha could risk triggering mass protests, as they did under past regimes, and may even backfire if the wrong amendments get approved.
Instead of hiding, let it all out
What about destroying PDAF records, as may have already happened to then-senator Aquino’s yet-undisclosed pork papers? Over the decades, not a few government buildings have gone up in smoke along with damning evidence.
But DBM’s new and renovated digs have modern fire-fighting faclities, though its security people should still be extra-vigilant. As for shredding documents, the volume to be torn up ensures that such a criminal operation can’t be kept secret. And since state papers often have multiple copies, pulping DBM’s files doesn’t guarantee they won’t surface elsewhere.
Which brings up a third option first floated in this column’s two-part article on October 15 and 17, 2013: Establish an official body headed by credible moral and legal luminaries to receive evidence of PDAF anomalies with conditional amnesty for those admitting corruption, including lawmakers, as long as they don’t repeat their shenanigans. The proposal is explained in the articles accessible through the links below:
Think about it, Mr. President and honorable Senators and Congressmen: a grand cleansing of pork sleaze through a PDAF amnesty commission. It would be an unprecedented— and skin-saving—legacy of the Aquino presidency.