THE war on drugs is back, and with it an alleged war on corruption to boot, but the first real war we must wage should be against a failure of reason and a shutdown of the intellect. Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella says the war on drugs should not be confused with extrajudicial killings, but reason tells us the second defines the first. When the police are able to go after drug dealers without killing, then the clear distinction between one and the other would have been made. Meanwhile, what PNP Chief Bato de la Rosa would like to happen cannot possibly happen: priests cannot join his raiding teams so long as priests are priests. Bato could ask them to run pastoral programs in prison and rehabilitation centers, but not to join arresting teams.
The war on corruption is not new. But if it is to be taken seriously, it must target not only the “corruption of others.” President Rodrigo Duterte cannot allow the communists to raise funds from government contracts, just because they funnel the proceeds to their revolutionary cause. Corruption, rightly understood, should not only involve bribery, petty theft or grand larceny; it should include any perversion of the mind that distorts the individual’s view of reality. This includes fornications and adulteries.
Talking of coups
We also need to wage war against political irresponsibility. Before anyone ever thought that one loose tongue was more than enough for one administration, Communications Secretary Martin Andanar used to talk about plots to oust DU30. This was sheer irresponsibility. No responsible government announces any attempt to bring it down, even if true. Lee Kuan Yew wisely warned that “to name the enemy is to make him.” Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, Saddam Hussein’s lovable rogue of an information minister, insisted the 2003 US invasion of Baghdad was failing very badly, even as CNN and BBC showed US tanks occupying the Iraqi capital.
Even if poor Martin had not accused the media of having been bribed to cover a controversial press conference, his unrestrained talk of plots to unseat DU30 would have merited his removal. His current sentence of mandatory silence, including the cancellation of the column with his byline on the op-ed section of the Inquirer, is a reward rather than a punishment. The best spokesman, the eminent Carmen Guerrero Nakpil once told me when I held the position under Marcos, was one who said nothing or next to nothing. I never made it there, but Andanar has just earned it. He should be thankful, and we should not be hearing any more coup stories from him.
After Andanar, Cayetano
But Senator Alan Peter Cayetano has taken over, he has announced the possible withdrawal of support by national government officials. Given such friends, what need has DU30 of enemies? Cayetano was DU30’s unsuccessful vice-presidential candidate in the last elections; he is waiting for the unconfirmed Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. to vacate his post so he could replace him. Yasay has been exposed as a naturalized American citizen until two days before his Cabinet appointment; Cayetano on the other hand is a natural-born Filipino because of his Filipino father, and a natural-born American (under US law) because of his American mother. If appointed, he would be the country’s first foreign secretary with two conflicting nationalities and allegiances. There goes DU30’s “independent foreign policy.”
Cayetano obviously wants to protect DU30 from possible destabilization, so he has come out with his strident warning. At the height of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s political crisis, a similar plot was hatched by her Cabinet members. They planned to invoke the provision of the Constitution which says that whenever a majority of the Cabinet informs the leaders of Congress that the President is unable to perform his duties, the Vice President takes over for the duration. The Cabinet plotters came to be known as the Hyatt 10, for having done their active plotting at the Hyatt Hotel.
Rising paranoia and making hay while the sun shines
Unhappily for them, they failed to convince Vice President Noli de Castro to support them, and Arroyo got wind of it and nipped it in the bud. Cayetano’s feared withdrawal of support for DU30, as he seems to see it coming, goes beyond the Cabinet, and cuts across a wide swathe of government officials. But who, other than Cayetano, sees the smoke belching from this supposed great fire? No one else. What perceptive observers seem to detect rather is a growing fear on the part of DU30’s inner circle that his audacious experiment is about to end and that they must make hay while the sun shines.
The irreversible stigma of the extra-judicial drug killings; the increasing public anxiety about DU30’s unmonitored state of health; the international community’s low and diminishing regard for his capability to recognize his moral duties and responsibilities; the inability of his communist allies to gain effective political and military control—all these may have convinced DU30 and his allies that the center cannot hold for long. The government is under siege, and it is easy to exaggerate the dangers when you’re an insider and for paranoia to take over. This seems to be happening now.
This is why Cayetano is crying wolf, and some of DU30’s supposedly best people are apparently trying to become “15 percenters or worse.” DU30’s response should be appropriate, adequate and prompt. He cannot afford to institute measures whose unintended consequences would only heighten the problem he is trying to solve. This means he should reexamine almost everything he is trying to do in response to the worldwide clamor against his brutal war on drugs. He should also consider very carefully his mechanical response to reports of corruption in his government.
Organized corruption, Laviña as scapegoat
Not too long ago, a couple of guys known to be extremely close to the President, with the help of a former NEDA official and a former mayor from Bohol, were reported to have set up a “clearing house” on the second floor of the Atrium Building in Makati. Its reported purpose was to facilitate transactions with the government for a fee of 15 percent of project cost. The group was reported to have recently branched out to a new location in Ortigas.
The group was reported to have figured in the P14-billion Balog Balog project, in which National Irrigation Administrator Peter Laviña became a collateral casualty (a scapegoat), while those who stood to make a killing from it are likely to go scot free. Balog Balog is a dam system with power and irrigation components to serve 33,000 hectares of agricultural land. Originally priced at P6 billion under the Aquino administration, its cost has ballooned to P14 billion. It was awarded by the five-man bid and awards committee to Quanxi Corporation, a Chinese construction company.
Laviña reportedly heard that those who had facilitated the award got a 15 percent cut, some people above him got another 15 percent, and some local players 10 percent, or a total of 40 percent. Outraged by this development, Laviña refused to sign the contract, and resolved to raise the matter to the President. But before he could do so, Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr. reportedly told the President that Laviña was sitting on the contract for some pecuniary motive. DU30 accused Laviña of corruption, and made a big speech about it. Buoyed by the headlines and the positive public response, DU30 said more officials would follow. Evasco singled out National Food Authority Administrator Jason Aquino as probably next in line.
After Laviña, Aquino?
Aquino and Evasco are both extremely loyal to DU30, but they belong to opposite poles. Aquino is a no-nonsense Scout Ranger colonel, while Evasco is a top communist organizer. But their conflict is not over ideology; it is on the issue of private rice importations. The Philippines consumes 33,000 metric tons of rice a day, and the government imports one million to 1.5 million metric tons for its buffer stock every year. The private sector is authorized to import rice under the minimum access volume (MAV) provision of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade of the World Trade Organization, which allows the importation of a specific agricultural product at a lower tariff. For 2016, the MAV quota is 805,200 metric tons.
On September 9, 2016, the NFA Council made up of members from seven departments and agencies opened the guidelines for the importation of 805,200 metric tons of white rice under the MAV for 2016. Under these guidelines, the rice imports should arrive in the country not later than February 28, 2017. After a while, however, some importers sought an extension of the deadline. As of February 16, 2016, only 345, 435.90 metric tons out of 484,130 metric tons that had been allocated had arrived. The food security committee thought an extension was needed.
Aquino, however, was not inclined to be persuaded. He knew the importers knew the deadline was inflexible, except of course in case of a force majeure, but he was convinced they were deliberately slowing their deliveries to create a shortage so they could eventually jack up their prices and make a killing at the expense of the public. Cooperatives, which did not have the capacity to import, were also being used by the big players like Bong Lim Sui.
An absurd council
Because of the importers’ intense lobby, the NFA Council had an unscheduled meeting, during which Aquino, who is the council’s vice chairman, was in Cagayan on official business. Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III and his alternate Rosalia V. de Leon were absent, and Chairman Evasco and the other four members were represented by their respective alternates. Evasco was represented by Atty. Maia Chiarra Halmen Reina A, Valdez; Executive Secretary Salvador C. Medialdea, by Atty. Ricardo P. Bernabe III; BSP Governor Amando M. Tetangco Jr. by Diwa Gunigundo; Secretary and NEDA Director General Ernesto Pernia, by Mercedita A. Sombilla; and DTI Secretary Ramon M. Lopez, by Teodoro C. Pascua.
The “rump” council decided:
To extend the arrival period of the rice imports not later than March 31, 2017;
To authorize Evasco to sign the amended guidelines for the private imports;
To direct the NFA to publish the said amended guidelines in the NFA website and to make sure all importers and other concerned parties are informed of the amendment;
To authorize Evasco or Aquino to sign the relevant import permits and extensions of import permits; and
To continuously update the NFA Council on the implementation of the 2016 MAV.
Cui bono—for whose benefit?
Not even the congressional railroad on the death penalty bill performed as crudely as this “rump” NFA council. Aquino had every reason to question the legitimacy of the resolution absurdly adopted by alternates. But he kept his peace and instead reported to the President his reasons for opposing the extension. He also said he wanted to give the local rice farmers a chance to participate in supplying the rice inventory for food security.
Evasco has embarked on a high-profile propaganda campaign accusing Aquino of disobeying the council’s lawful orders. The media reporting on the subject has been uniformly one-sided in favor of Evasco. DU30 will have to conduct his own investigation to see who is right and who is getting what. The classical question is, Cui bono? — For whose benefit? The extension covers the importation of 70,000 metric tons, or 1.4 million of bags of rice at P1,300 per bag. Trading sources calculate a profit of P600 per bag, or a total of P840 million. If the NIA formula were followed, those who facilitated the extension could get a windfall of as much as P300 million. DU30 should find out who got what and show that none of his Cabinet men are too big to be sacked. This is a war he should not lose.