Is President Benigno Aquino 3rd finally cracking down on sleaze in his government?
Now being probed for allegedly excessive wealth is Philippine National Police Chief Alan Purisima, Aquino’s former bodyguard during his mother’s presidency.
Transportation and Communication Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya faces an Ombudsman probe, along with cashiered Metro Rail Transit general manager Al Vitangcol, over the MRT maintenance contract with a company linked to the two.
National Food Authority chief Arthur Juan recently quit amid extortion accusations after just three months at NFA. He may be probed, unlike other resigned agency heads like Lito Alvarez and Ruffy Biazon of the Bureau of Customs, Virginia Torres of the Land Transportation Office, and Ernesto Diokno of the Bureau of Corrections.
After years of protecting his so-called Kaklase, Kakampi, Kabarilan clique of ex-schoolmates, allies, and shooting buddies, Aquino may finally be getting serious about holding the KKK to account.
At least, that’s the apparent message in the recent flurry of probes and potential prosecutions. Not to mention Aquino’s Harvard speech last week, where he urged those suspecting sleaze to charge his officials.
“The courts are open,” said the President. “If they think that I have dishonest people around me, then all they have to do is file an appropriate case.”
This episode may remind those with long memories of strongman Ferdinand Marcos’s interview with US media during a state visit to America. Asked about coddling cronies, he revealed that tycoon Ricardo Silverio, one of his reputed associates, was being investigated. On cue, a probe into the Silverio business empire was launched.
That nationally televised uncoddling of a crony may have impressed the American press, but not Filipinos. For the biggest anomalies continued, and the presidential friends associated with them remained in place and undisturbed. And this writer cannot recall if even Silverio was charged for anything.
Probe, publicize, forget
Will the same thing happen today — investigate some big fish, make headlines, then forget the whole thing — or will the probe of PNP and DOTC heads lead to an honest-to-goodness campaign to hold adminstration officials accountable?
Most people probably expect the investigations to eventually fade from the front pages and be forgotten. After all, that has occurred many times in this regime.
To jog our memory, let’s ask whatever happened to the Palace-ordered probes of these, among other anomalies:
The billion-peso bidding for PNP rifles, which Aquino himself pronounced overpriced after checking costs online, and which implicated his shooting buddy, then Interior Undersecretary Rico Puno?
The culpability of local leaders and private individuals for massive flooding and inadequate disaster response in the Sendong and Pablo typhoons in the south?
The alleged $30-million bribe demand for Czech company Inekon to get the contract for Metro Rail Transit train cars, which reportedly involved presidential sister Ballsy and her husband, and for which MRT manager Vitangcol was first suspended?
The pork barrel anomalies for which Malacañang harnessed a task force including the Department of Justice, the Office of the Ombudsman, and the Commission on Audit?
On the last item, the nation has yet to see the DOJ, OMB and COA file charges against administration lawmakers after the cases swiftly and prominently lodged against three opposition senators, plus several former congressmen outside the Aquino camp.
Or are we to believe that most of the legislators who collectively got billions of pesos every year — more than P20 billion annually in 2011-13 — are not guilty of the same irregularities for which Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla are charged with plunder and detained without bail? Come on.
Three things to do for accountability
If President Aquino really means to turn a new leaf and finally extend Tuwid na Daan to his KKK coterie, then here are ten things to do for Filipinos to take him seriously:
First, present full reports on the four investigations mentioned above, with complete findings, who did the inquiry and how, what actions were taken to hold officials accountable, and what measures are recommended to prevent future sleaze. If one or more investigations were not done, Aquino should identify and sanction the officials who failed to execute his orders.
Second, there must be honest-to-goodness investigations of the following irregularities, for which ample evidence should be available:
The failure to report and take corrective action against the repeated disappearance of more than 2,000 containers of uninspected, untaxed cargo in 2011, especially the officials responsible for monitoring containers in transit, as well as the Custroms heads
The unprecendented smuggling of rice under Aquino, as seen in both International Monetary Fund trade data and US Department of Agriculture estimates of grain consumption and production in the country
The P400-million casino loss under gaming czar Cristino Naguiat in May 2011, and the mishandling of criminal charges against the foreign perpetrators, who were able to leave the country despite court cases filed against them
The acceptance of free travel and accommodations from firms dealing with their agencies, by Naguiat for a family Macau junket, and then Interior Undersecretary Puno, hosted by an Israeli arms supplier
The anomalies that led to the resignations of Torres from LTO (gambling) and Diokno from Corrections (special treatment of wealthy prisoners), as well as others like Alvarez, Biazon, and ex-NFA boss Lito Banayo, who were all never held accountable after they quit.
Third, pass the Freedom of Information Act, which Aquino promised to prioritized during his election campaign more than four years ago.
It would greatly help if Cabinet members under investigation go on leave or be preventively suspended, especially Abaya, who can certainly use his DOTC power to conceal evidence and intimidate witnesses in the agency.
In the past administration, department secretaries under a cloud like DOJ’s Hernando Perez, Arthur Yap of Agriculture, and the late Angelo Reyes of National Defense, resigned on their own. The last two rejoined government only after they were cleared. Can’t Aquino’s officials do that?
If most readers are shrugging that Aquino won’t do any of three things urged in this article, this writer is sighing in agreement. Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, recently awarded by Ateneo de Manila for public service, is probing Abaya. But she has done little about other anomalies involving Aquino officials, including the decade-old P728-million fertilizer scam implicating administration lawmakers.
All the more reason to establish the citizens corruption investigation coalition proposed in this column on Sept. 23 and 25 (“The way to real change is not ‘aquino, resign!’ ”).
To clean up government, the governed must act. There’s no other way.