A CONVERSATION this week with two visitors from abroad, an investment banker based in Hong Kong and a veteran journalist covering Asian business, showed how the myth of President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s purported anti-corruption campaign has captivated even the very knowledgeable and highly informed.
The banker wondered whether Aquino’s much-touted fight against graft would continue after he steps down. To which this writer replied that far from reducing sleaze, this administration has, in fact, seen the worst corruption since the excesses of the Marcos regime. Consider the following unprecedented anomalies, among many others:
• Smuggling as indicated by International Monetary Fund Direction of Trade Statistics up five-fold to $19 billion a year in 2011 and 2012, from $3 billion in the past
• Pork barrel trebled to well over P20 billion a year in 2011-13, with even larger amounts in disguised pork all the way to 2016, as revealed even by Aquino ally Panfilo Lacson
• Dubious commuter train and military helicopter contracts putting people’s lives at risk and impacting adversely on daily travel and on combat and disaster operations
• The blatant demand for $30 million bribe from a Czech company, confirmed by no less than the Czech ambassador — never before in Philippine diplomatic relations
• The unconstitutional reshuffling of at least P157 billion in state funds, much of it to unbudgeted expenditures — the largest case of malversation in the country ever.
President Aquino’s last State of the Nation Address on July 27 is sure to trumpet his claimed accomplishments, so it’s timely to reprint portions of a four-part article on the myths of his rule. It was published on February 24 and 26, and March 3 and 5, debunking widespread untruths about purported achievements in the economy, anti-corruption, poverty alleviation, and national security.
The biggest myth of all claims that Aquino’s Tuwid na Daan campaign has dramatically reduced corruption. Excerpts of the portion dispelling the anti-graft image:
Along with Malacañang’s false claim that President Aquino engineered the economy’s growth surge, which in fact began with the 2005-06 fiscal reforms, the other oft-repeated myth to debunk is the untruth that he resolutely battled and drastically reduced graft. In fact, Aquino abetted anomalies by allies and friends, and corruption remains rampant after years of Tuwid na Daan.
Just as the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines lamented “selective prosecution” of the pork barrel scam, Aquino has used corruption accusations to jail and oust opponents, while sparing his clique of Kaklase, Kakampi and Kabarilan (classmates, allies, and shooting buddies). This “KKK” coddling sharply constrasts with the quick resignation of then-President Gloria Arroyo’s Justice, Defense and Agriculture secretaries when accused of irregularities in 2001, 2003 and 2005, respectively.
Coddling KKK cronies
Pro-Aquino pressmen and broadcasters helped Aquino get away with this cronyism by downplaying administration anomalies after initial headlines and controversy. Thus, the public has largely forgotten about:
• More than 2,000 containers lost in 2011, the country’s largest spate of smuggling ever
• Archbishop Oscar Cruz’s jueteng bribery charge against Aquino shooting buddy and then-Interior Undersecretary Rico Puno and then-National Police Chief Jesus Versoza
• The overpriced billion-peso PNP rifle bidding supervised by Puno, who quit afterward
• Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa’s rumored P40-million White Plains mansion
• Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima’s reported failure to file income tax returns
• Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala’s alleged pork barrel anomalies
• Political Adviser Ronald Llamas’s firearms and pirated DVDs brouhahas
• Rice smuggling under Aquino’s food czars Lito Banayo and Orlan Calayag
• Corporate meddling and gambling by Land Transportation head Virginia Torres
• Repeated Bilibid scandals, starting with Aquino’s first prisons head Ernesto Diokno
In these and other controversies, President Aquino has consistently defended his KKK cronies, and spared them from honest-to-goodness investigations and punitive sanctions.
When [casino czar Cristino]Naguiat and his family were found to have improperly enjoyed a Macau trip paid for by a company applying for a casino license, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda justified the junket as “industry practice”.
Aquino did not probe the unprecedented smuggling of thousands of uninspected, untaxed containers, which led to the trebling of contraband to $19 billion a year, based on International Monetary Fund data, and P200 billion in lost revenues, by Aquino’s own count. It would have been so easy to investigate officials accountable for releasing and receiving cargo, who should have taken steps after, say, 50 disappearances. But the Palace won’t sanction anyone who might then name the bigwigs behind the scam.
The real corruption score
Turning to statistics, the way the President and his political and media allies have trumpeted Tuwid na Daan, one might expect dramatic falls in corruption indicators. Yet most data have shown little improvement and even some worsening.
In the 2013 Global Corruption Barometer survey by Transaparency International, nearly one-fifth of GCB respondents in the country said corruption “increased a lot” since the TI poll in 2010. Another 12 percent said sleaze got a little worse, with nearly a third finding no improvement under Aquino. A further 35 percent thought graft “decreased a little”.
That’s almost nine out of ten Filipinos not greatly impressed with Tuwid na Daan.
Social Weather Stations polled businesses annually in 2000-09 and 2012-13 on actual and perceived corruption. The 2013 survey showed worsening corruption after improvements in 2008, 2009 and 2012.
Respondents with personal knowledge of corruption over the past twelve months dropped every year from the 2007 peak to a low of 55 percent in 2012. But in 2013, when the pork barrel scandal broke, those who personally know of graft rose to 59 percent. And bribery for government contracts in Metro Manila, where most national agencies bid out projects, rose from 42 percent in 2009 to 49 percent in 2012 and 50 percent in 2013.
(The excerpt ends.)
In or after his last State of the Nation Address on July 27, President Aquino will name his preferred successor to continue his legacy. God help the Philippines if they succeed.