THERE are two stories that are simultaneously unfolding in the long-running Alvarez vs. Anderson controversy, which the public should have the patience to follow and comprehend.
One story concerns Speaker Pantaleon Avarez’s erratic and bullying leadership of the House of Representatives, which has ignited full-blown quarrels with other branches of government, abused the investigative power of Congress, and brought embarrassment to the institution and on himself.
The other story concerns the attempt to cover up the P6.4-billion smuggling of illegal drugs through the Bureau of Customs, which was uncovered in May and which a House committee is investigating, and which the Customs bureau evidently seeks to cover up with the ruse of lawyer Mary Therese Anderson (chief of staff of Customs commissioner Nicanor Faeldon) quarreling with Alvarez.
You will miss the explosive clash of narratives if all you look at are the headlines in the newspapers and the lead reports on television, and you make your mind up without digging further.
I was ready to surrender to the beguiling tale of a pretty lawyer-accountant courageously crossing swords with the Speaker, when I read of the work of a House committee to get to the truth of the P6.4 billion smuggling case.
All of a sudden, the hard questions came up front. Is one narrative designed to cover the other? Did Anderson get into this controversy for her own ulterior motive? Are we the public being played for fools?
Now the story has become more complicated as the Senate, through its blue-ribbon committee, has begun its own inquiry into the shabu shipment from China.
Alvarez, the incredible PR disaster
Before the smuggling probe could register, Alvarez was hung out to dry like a laundry item. He is such an incredible PR disaster that the public and the media quickly believed Anderson’s tale about being bullied by the Speaker.
It is embarrassing to note that Alvarez is third in the line of presidential succession (after Vice President Leni Robredo and Senate President Koko Pimentel), and is possibly, based on my calculation, the third or second most powerful official of the republic. Yet here he was being driven from pillar to post by a consultant of the Bureau of Customs.
In just a year as House Speaker, Alvarez appears to have surpassed the dubious achievements of former Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, who served as the principal enabler of former President Benigno Aquino 3rd in his schemes to impeach two top justice officials of the government, Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and the late Chief Justice Renato Corona, and to create the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) and PDAF allocations for legislators. Alvarez has strutted to show the powers of the house and his office. He talked ahead of the President on controversial initiatives like the restoration of the death penalty, extension of martial law in Mindanao, and federalization though constitutional change. He has made threatening agencies, officials, and private citizens a signature act of his office. Finally, his life has been paraded, even in sordid detail, in defiance of the restraints and code of official conduct.
It was no surprise to anyone that in its last survey, Pulse Asia reported that among the top five officials of the land, Speaker Alvarez alone got his approval and disapproval ratings at roughly the same level.
Anderson’s blast: Misdirection or cover-up
Mary Therese Anderson’s blast and criticism of the Speaker cleverly exploit his shaky public standing.
First, Anderson alleges that Alvarez pushed hard for the promotion of acting Customs operations officer Sandy Sacluti.
Alvarez initially denied Anderson’s statement, saying it was “far from the truth.”
But he later admitted endorsing Sacluti after he was shown a letter dated May 15, which he had sent to Faeldon, that was leaked to the media.
Alvarez’s request fell on the desk of Anderson for vetting. She did not endorse Sacluti’s promotion. Anderson said Sacluti was not qualified for the post he was seeking and which he was holding in an acting capacity.
Anderson said the Speaker became angry with her and called Faeldon, who also did not agree to promote Sacluti.
Later, in a Facebook post, Anderson transformed the misunderstanding into a full-blown controversy, by calling the Speaker an “imbecile” when he threatened to dissolve the Court of Appeals.
“I’m hoping and praying he tries so he realizes what an imbecile he is when he fails. Isn’t there anyone else in the House composed of 200+ representatives who can actually be Speaker? Nakakahiya na! (This is getting to be embarrassing),” posted Anderson.
Subsequently, at a House hearing on the P6.4 billion “shabu” shipment, Anderson was scolded by House Majority Leader Rudy Fariñas for insulting Alvarez.
House leaders now allege that the row between Alvarez and Anderson is not related to the Speaker’s recommendation to promote an “unqualified” BOC officer as she had asserted.
The Alvarez-Anderson controversy, they believe, is an evident attempt by Customs officials to cover up their inefficiency and the mysterious release of P6.4 billion worth of shabu that a team led by Faeldon himself recovered in Valenzuela City in May.
“Who could have leaked her private post if not she herself and her cohorts in order to divert the public from the House’s investigation of the smuggling of more than P5 billion worth of shabu through the BOC express lane?” Fariñas asked.
To defend her story, Anderson described as preposterous the allegations that illegal drugs were behind the quarrel between her and Alvarez. She denied exposing Alvarez’s request to promote a BOC personnel to divert the media and public attention from the illegal drug issue.
“These are libelous and preposterous imputations and allegations which are not backed by a single iota of evidence,” Anderson said.
Alvarez for his part does not want to comment anymore on the controversy.
More sinned against than sinning
If the exposure of the Speaker as a bully and imbecile was designed to take away public interest in the investigation of the smuggling incident, it succeeded at first. Many completely lost sight of the customs case.
If Anderson agreed to quarrel openly with the Speaker as part of an elaborate scheme to stymie the House probe of the smuggling incident, she may have cunningly succeeded. But now the other story is coming out, and the customs’ hands and Anderson’s hands do not look clean or innocent.
Anderson may have more to explain than she is saying.
As a result of the controversy, corporate lawyer Arthur Villaraza has disclosed that Mandy Anderson was a member of his firm, until former military mutineer Nicanor Faeldon was appointed last year to head the customs bureau. She was hired as “Chief of Staff” to the commissioner, and in this post, she has been authorized by Faeldon to sign documents in his behalf. I got this information from my colleague, Bobi Tiglao. He may have more to report on the saga of Ms Anderson.
Putting the many pieces of the controversy together, I am not comfortable with the opinion of some that Ms Anderson did nothing wrong in calling Speaker Alvarez “an imbecile,” or with the wild thought that Anderson should replace Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales.
Really? The final shock of this controversy may be this: Speaker Alvarez here is more sinned against than sinning.