When President Benigno Aquino 3rd addresses the nation this evening, he will convince millions of Filipinos hearing him on TV and radio or reading and listening to highlights of his speech in pro-Aquino media. Despite years of open disregard for the law, double standard treatment of friends and foes, and the unprecedented anomalies in public spending and smuggling, many Filipinos who supported him since 2010 are just waiting for some sliver of justification to keep their faith.
That is the power of media narrative, which also makes it hard even for journalists to abandon an entrenched perspective on a well-covered topic, whether it is Aquino’s purportedly reformist rule, or his predecessor’s widely assumed corruption (see March 14 column, “The Pope and the President’s Mystique Sticks”). Such stubborn views persist despite evidence to the contrary. And that will make Aquino credible to many.
But for a growing number of Filipinos and media who put actions and facts above rhetoric and spin, nothing the President can say will persuade, simply because his actions and policies speak far louder than his soundbites.
He will repeat the Palace claim that the Disbursement Acceleration Program was done in good faith for the people’s welfare, offering examples of beneficial DAP-funded projects and programs. And his diehard supporters will echo those cited initiatives on the street, with friends, in print, on the air, online, and most especially in their minds.
The big questions
Other citizens and journalists, however, will pass up the presidential hook, line and sinker, and ask some telling questions, ideally with fellow countrymen listening:
Why didn’t Aquino ask for a supplementary budget to fund all those supposedly admirable undertakings, which would have been quickly passed with his immense clout in Congress and the hefty DAP allocation for legislators?
When will the nation see a full list of DAP-funded items, to judge for ourselves if most of the money was indeed spent wisely?
If Aquino and Secretary Florencio Abad purportedly made honest mistakes in violating the Constitution, how exactly did they miss established budgeting tenets and rules which Abad long knew as a lawyer, former House Appropriations Committee chairman and a two-time Cabinet secretary, and which Aquino espoused in a 2009 Senate Bill 3211 curbing the President’s power to withhold and realign budget allocations? (That bill, by the way, has lately disappeared from the Senate website. Nice one, Frank.)
CBCP vs. KKK
Aquino will also likely speak on the issue, most recently raised the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, that the pork barrel investigations and prosecutions are selective, targeting opposition figures but largely sparing his allies. He may point to some token figures also charged over the Priority Development Assistance Fund anomalies. And he may argue that the independent Ombudsman is in charge of prosecution, and he cannot tell her whom to charge and when?
Hard-core Aquinistas will nod in unison and intone, “Tama naman” (That is right). And they will not bother wondering, as the more impartial and better informed will:
If Aquino is not playing favorites, why didn’t he order Abad to comply with the Commission on Audit’s repeated requests to provide all PDAF papers for COA’s pork barrel report, instead of just one-third of 2007-09 documents now used in prosecuting opposition Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla?
Why hasn’t Aquino urged his appointed Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales to speedily charge offenders in his camp, when he harangued and eventually ousted her predecessor Merceditas Gutierrez for not prosecuting former president Gloria Arroyo? And isn’t his alter ego Justice Secretary Leila de Lima part of and, from all appearances, leading the three-agency pork barrel investigation task force?
Why should the public believe Aquino’s claims of blind justice when he has repeatedly defended and never seriously investigated and sanctioned his crony clique of “Kaklase, Kakampi at Kabarilan”?
The KKK include, among many others: former interior undersecretary Rico Puno over alleged jueteng payoffs and dubious billion-peso firearms bidding; Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa for the reported P40-million mansion and reputed customs bagman; Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima and missing tax returns; gaming czar Cristino Naguiat after the state casinos’ P400-million loss to foreign fraudsters.
Add to that list Political Affairs Adviser Ronald Llamas on firearms and video piracy violations; close friend Ernesto Dioko and two other Bureau of Corrections directors ousted for prison anomalies; and former Land Transportation Office head Virginia Torres for improper corporate meddling and casino playing.
Plus two partymates Aquino bailed out in their graft cases: Environment adviser Neric Acosta and erstwhile election commissioner Grace Padaca, the latter belatedly removed after it emerged that she failed to file statements of assets, liabilities and net worth for three years as governor. And most recently, Abad and Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, both named by alleged pork barrel operator Janet Lim Napoles.
Good leader, bad leader
The third and most frequently trotted-out Aquino speech ploy is harping on past anomalies to make his rule seem squeaky clean and staunchly against corruption. There would be the usual references to investment grade ratings, sustained growth performance and forecasts, and international and local commendation for the administraiton’s anti-corruption campaign. Along with this well-worn spiel, there may be implicit or outright warnings that those attacking him are part of a dark conspiracy to reverse his claimed reforms and return the nation to past sleaze and subjugation.
As those wearing yellow-tinted glasses applaud, those with clear vision cannot but ask:
If good governance is so crucial to economic gains, shouldn’t the administration desist from violating the Constitution and sparing allies from accountability?
If the nation has really progressed, how come basic problems like food and crime are worse than ever after four years of Aquino? His claimed rice sufficiency is a myth conjured by massive smuggling, which allows official imports to fall, as noted in “Note for the CBCP: Guard truth, justice and lives”. The July 2 column also cited corrected crime data showing a rate nearly double the 2010 incidence.
If past regimes are far worse, can Aquino say which one has illegally misappropriated more than the estimated P150 billion in DAP funds, depending on his tally—if it ever comes out? Not to mention P62 billion in PDAF, much of it plus DAP given to allies amid impeachment proceedings against Ombudsman Gutierrez and then-Chief Justice Renato Corona, as well as during the Reproductive Health bill voting.
Rather than just nodding, clapping and cheering this evening, let’s hope most Filipinos, especially media, ask these inescapable questions.