ONE and a half decades ago, Ilocos Sur Governor Chavit Singson barely escaped assassination in Manila when gunmen sent by a rival jueteng lord surrounded his bulletproof vehicle. They left him unharmed only after other local government leaders with armed bodyguards arrived to secure him.
That brush with death convinced Chavit that his erstwhile patron, then President Joseph Estrada, would no longer protect him. So he decided to snitch on jueteng payoffs shared with Erap, even declaring they should both go to prison. As it happened, Estrada was ousted and jailed, while Singson went scot-free.
Should Al Vitangcol do a Chavit? Like the governor, the ousted Metro Rail Transit general manager is no longer protected by the adminstration, not by President Benigno Aquino 3rd or Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas, whom Vitangcol served for years before Roxas, then heading the Department of Transportation and Communications, recruited him into the DOTC to run MRT.
Vitangcol is far from the only one facing Chavit’s dilemma: to snitch or not to snitch? At another DOTC agency, the Land Transportation Office, officials involved in the unsavory P3.8-billion license plate contract, whose stink has now wrinkled the nose of Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, must be wondering if they are next to be scapegoated, so higher-ups all the way to the top would be exonerated.
Nearby along EDSA from DOTC’s main office along Ortigas Avenue, underlings of Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and top military brass are getting edgy over the botched P1.2-billion Huey helicopter deal, recently canceled after being exposed by this newspaper. Now, state auditors have flagged even bigger anomalies in the P25-billion purchase of second-hand trainer jets from South Korea.
Many others had a hand in many other headline-making anomalies, including:
The disappearance of more than 2,000 cargo containers in 2011, for which it is easy to pinpoint the Customs officials who allowed the scam to go on for months
Rice smuggling in cahoots with National Food Authority bosses
National Bilibid Prisons irregularities under all NBP heads appointed by Aquino, starting with his close associate Ernesto Diokno
Alleged Immigration bribery by suspected Chinese crime lord Wang Bo, supposedly the source of funds to get the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law railroaded in Congress
Massive unaccounted funds provided to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao under Aquino’s handpicked ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman, cited by state auditors.
Pork barrel raps for DBM underlings
But the largest ranks of alleged underlings-turned-accomplices in the sleazy schemes along the Tuwid na Daan are across town on the approach to Malacañang Palace. At the Department of Budget and Management, not a few officials in charge of pork barrel releases and the illegal Disbursement Acceleration Program must be wondering for some time now if they would end up like DBM Undersecretary Mario Relampagos.
The longtime budget official was charged by the Office of the Ombudsman and the Department of Justice under the OMB-DOJ’s “selective prosecution” — as Catholic bishops labeled it — of opposition stalwarts over pork barrel anomalies. If convicted, Relampagos faces a dishonorable exit after decades of loyal service, loss of retirement benefits, and imprisonment for actions authorized, if not ordered by politicians.
In the present dispensation, DBM officials have done the same at a far greater scale than ever. Pork barrel more than doubled under Aquino and budget czar Florencio Abad, topping P20 billion a year, from well below P10 billion in the past.
Add to the largesse the P157-billion Disbursement Acceleration Program. Like pork barrel, DAP was used to get pet Palace bills passed and then Chief Justice Renato Corona ousted. The program illegally misdeclared savings, tranferred funds from one branch of government to others, and allocated funds to unbudgeted items.
If a veteran budget official like Relampagos could be charged over the Priority Development Assistance Fund, so can others involved in releasing PDAF and DAP. Plus: officials are liable if they helped author the DAP scheme or did not point out its blatant flaws, especially in disbursing money for expenditures not in the General Appropriations Act (GAA).
In its unanimous ruling a year ago declaring DAP unconstitutional, the Supreme Court specifically instructed Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales to investigate and charge DAP’s authors. Yet she has not filed even a single charge, despite the voluminous and undeniable documents — signed by Aquino and Abad — releasing state resources for programs and projects not in any GAA enacted by Congress.
If public, media and opposition pressure forces Morales to again file charges, more DBM and other agency subordinates may find themselves in Vitangcol and Relampagos’s predicament. Or that of another fall guy, resigned Philippine National Police Chief Alan Purisima, recently dismissed by Morales, along with other top PNP officials, to demonstrate impartiality when she suspended Makati Mayor Junjun Binay.
Do’s and don’ts of snitching
Should DBM, DOTC, NFA and other agency officials follow Chavit’s example and snitch on the masterminds of scams for which they may well become scapegoats?
If they will, they should do so before they are charged, so they don’t appear to be just saving their skin. Whistleblowing must be backed by hard evidence, including original contracts, memoranda, meeting minutes, and verified emails. Needless to say, all this must be done with competent and trusted legal advice.
In whom should whistleblowers confide? The way Morales has shielded DOTC Secretary Jose Emilio Abaya in the MRT case, few tell-all officials would go to her. Media and the opposition would love to hear their stories, but some may exploit them for self-serving ends. The best bet may be independent-minded religious leaders providing sanctuary and public support.
Like Chavit, those exposing anomalies must be ready for vilification, prosecution, and jail. While that is daunting, they in fact face the same nasty fate as fall guys, but with no moral purpose and public backing behind them.
The chieftains who put them up to the scams would. of course, repeatedly insist they are safe. Until they read news that they are being charged — but not their bosses.