Things could really get tough for Benigno Aquino 3rd when his presidential term and immunity from prosecution end on July 1. Just the illegal Disbursement Acceleration Program alone could land him in prison for decades.
In its unanimous decision voiding DAP in July 2014, the Supreme Court said: “Upon careful review of the documents contained in the seven evidence packets, we conclude that the ‘savings’ pooled under the DAP were allocated to PAPs [programs and projects]not covered by any appropriations in the pertinent GAAs” or General Appropriations Acts, the national budget.
If, as the justices found, DAP money was disbursed for expenditures not in any budget law, that means the P157-billion DAP is the biggest malversation or misspending of state funds in Philippine history.
With some 1,400 separate DAP disbursements reportedly signed by Aquino, even if just one-tenth of them are judged in violation of law, that’s at least 70 years in prison, based on the minimum mandatory penalty of six months jail for each count of malversation.
That’s just Aquino. There’s also Budget Secretary and DAP architect Florencio Abad. Plus dozens of Liberal Party stalwarts who received the bulk of pork barrel funds tripled from past levels since 2011 to more than P20 billion a year.
That unprecedented LP largesse has yet to get the kind of auditing and investigation which landed opposition Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla in the dock.
And there is the Metro Rail Transit maintenance contract already charged in the Sandiganbayan, but with LP leaders Mar Roxas and Jose Emilio Abaya spared despite being transportation czars during contract bidding and signing. Plus other plunder-size scams in license plates, combat helicopters, and trainer jets yet to be probed.
Endgame scenarios for Aquino
Plainly, the LP leadership has to be working out various endgame scenarios that would spare them from accountability for administration anomalies, which also include the trebling of smuggling to more than $25 billion a year, based on International Monetary Fund data, and the uninvestigated release of thousands of untaxed cargo containers.
So what’s ahead for Aquino and his top allies? Let’s plot out the exit strategies,
The ideal one, of course, is no exit: Roxas wins the elections and the LP gets six more salad years spared from plunder investigations and charges. This is looking less and less viable with each voter survey placing Roxas in third or fourth place.
Obviously, that placing would not win the presidency. And if the widely feared repeat of computerized cheating catapults Roxas to victory, that “hocus PCOS” would almost surely provoke an uprising.
Imagine the combined three-quarters of voters backing Vice-President Jejomar Binay, Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, and Senator Grace Poe enraged over their chosen leaders overtaken by the opinion poll fourth-placer. That may well trigger another People Power revolution on the year of its 30th anniversary.
Realistically, only a second-ranked survey contender could possibly pull off a manipulation scheme using the Precinct Count Optical Scan system, with just the topnotcher’s supporters feeling cheated.
Can Roxas manage to reach No. 2? Reports of administration factions, including that of Aquino shooting buddy Rico Puno, turning to other presidentiables suggest that even those in the ruling clique doubt the LP standard bearer’s prospects.
Which brings us to Aquino’s Plan B: back Senator Poe and pressure her to spare LP chiefs from accountability.
Those who see this scenario unfolding point to the chorus of Aquino appointees in the Supreme Court asserting that Poe is a natural-born Filipino, despite zero evidence that any of her parents are Filipino, as expressly stipulated in the constitutional definitions for natural-born citizenship that apply to her.
But will Poe protect Aquino and his friends? She denies being his secret candidates, as rumors have it, though she says she would make him an adviser. And he insists that Roxas is his only candidate.
The best answer to this question is another question: Will any of the other rival presidentiables be accommodating to Aquino, enough to be a viable alternative if Roxas fails? Will Binay or Duterte protect the Aquino camp?
Answer that, and you know why Poe is Plan B.
The last resort
What if she is disqualified or defeated like Roxas? Here’s where the Aquino endgame gets really interesting — and scary.
The easy way out for him is to flee to the United States, which would probably shelter him in appreciation for his pro-American stance against China and his forging of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement escalating US force rotations in the country and granting them to Philippine military bases.
If there’s an outcry against American asylum for Aquino, the US weathered far worse when it allowed dictator Ferdinand Marcos, his family and his associates to settle in Hawaii after his ouster.
Yet Aquino may just decide not to flee, but to fight — by declaring martial law and having it affirmed by Congress.
Huh? How can he do the very thing his family’s hated tormentor did?
Actually, Aquino has done a good number of Marcosian things.
He coddles a coterie of cronies whom he always defends and never investigates. His media allies keep off the headlines such enormities as the trebling of crime, smuggling and pork barrel under his watch. He even contemplated ruling beyond the Constitution’s term limits. Now, he may yet do so.
How? One scenario: Knowing all about PCOS shenanigans, the administration engineers a massive expose, prompting failure of election. Aquino declares martial law to prevent naitonal instability, the LP-controlled legislature affirms it, and Washington, fearful of losing the EDCA, backs another Filipino strongman.
Impossible? We never thought a president would bribe Congress to impeach the Chief Justice, look away while 2,000 cargo containers disappeared, usurp lawmakers’ budgeting power with their open support, and let dozens of police commandos die in an operation run by a suspended police chief.
We should know by now that Benigno Aquino 3rd can make the unthinkable happen.