Send JocJoc to Abu Ghraib

December 14, 2007

STRATEGIC PERSPECTIVE
René B. Azurin

Scorching judgment

So, Mrs. Arroyo is now perceived by the Filipino people to be the most corrupt president in Philippine history, even more than Mr. Marcos, according to a just released Pulse Asia survey. By any benchmark, that is a scorching judgment. Mrs. Arroyo shrugs this off, however, saying that this perception “does not match reality” and the public may not be aware of the government’s efforts “to stamp out corruption”. Now, as an interested member of the Filipino public, let me just say, uh, what efforts?

“I assure you that progress is being made,” says Mrs. Arroyo. That incredible claim made me pause and wonder if I had, perhaps, been living in another country all this time. Well, if progress is being made, might one ask what progress is being made in the extortion case involving Mrs. Arroyo’s former justice secretary, Mr. Hernando Perez, a case where there is specific testimony from the party from whom $2-million was supposed to have been extorted and even an alleged paper trail on this payment? As I recall, Mr. Perez was accused of demanding this in exchange for signing off on a $470-million power plant rehabilitation contract proposed by the business firm IMPSA, which he did just four days into this administration. Being a criminal case with sworn statements having been filed, I believe the extorted party’s attempt to retract his charges many years after the fact should only open him up to charges of perjury and should not affect an honest-to-goodness prosecution of this case.

Might one also ask what progress is being made on the case involving an estimated 234% overprice by JD Legaspi Construction in the construction of part of the Diosdado Macapagal Avenue? As I recall, Mr. Sulficio Tagud Jr., a director of the Public Estates Authority (the implementing agency) filed that complaint in October 2002 against 28 persons including the Chairman of that agency, Mr. Ernest Villareal. (Mr. Villareal, by the way, is a Rotary Club buddy of Mrs. Arroyo’s husband and was part of their entourage in the recent state visit of the President to Spain.) As Mr. Tagud relates in his well-documented complaint, JD Legaspi’s portion of the P731-million original contract – significantly, the only portion payable in cash, not land – amounted to only P329-million but it billed the PEA P1.1-billion, P837-million of which had already been paid at the time the anomaly was exposed.

Oh, and what happened to the case involving the (alleged) diversion by an agriculture undersecretary, Mr. Jocelyn Bolante (another Rotary buddy of the President’s husband), of some P728-million in public funds meant to help farmers, supposedly in order to buy the support of local officials for Mrs. Arroyo in the 2004 presidential elections? Notwithstanding Mr. Bolante’s subsequent flight – in the absence of proof to the contrary, a clear sign of guilt – there would surely be a paper trail that a genuine anti-corruption effort could convert into a viable case against those who participated in and benefited from the illegal fund diversion.

And what about several reported graft cases – typically for overpriced contracts – filed during this administration against high National Power Corporation officials and Department of Public Works and Highways officials that, apparently, are moving at a glacial pace (if they are even moving at all) in the office of the Ombudsman?

I think the public would also be interested in knowing of any developments concerning former Senate President Drilon’s vehement assertion a few years back that the $510-million North Rail contract, a pet project of Speaker De Venecia, was “grossly anomalous”. I, for one, would certainly like to know if our anti-corruption bodies didn’t hear that publicly-aired accusation and so didn’t act on it or if Mr. Drilon backed off from pursuing the case because he was na-areglo.

And then of course there is that curious case of the P1.3-billion Comelec computerization contract that the Supreme Court voided because it found it tainted with irregularities. The curiosity is that all the Commission on Elections commissioners who approved the contract – including its Chairman, Mr. Abalos – were cleared by the Ombudsman of any wrongdoing. Should one imagine that a phantom commissioner, not any of the flesh-and-blood ones, was solely responsible for all the irregularities and was the only one involved in cutting a check to pay the supplier?

Finally (because I am running out of column space), we should bring up the case of the ZTE broadband contract which the Speaker’s son admits going after, even if he is disqualified by his relationship to the Speaker from doing so. In this affair, the Speaker’s son accuses the Comelec Chairman (also disqualified as a government official) of lusting after the same project so much that he was supposedly bandying around $10-million bribes and the President’s husband (likewise disqualified) of being so interested in it that he jabs a finger into the Speaker’s son’s face and tells him to “back off”. Furthermore, the Speaker himself admits arranging meetings with other government officials to get them to back his son’s proposal, apparently not the first time the Speaker has interceded on behalf of this son’s enterprising activities. All these are, by definition, corrupt practices. Is the Ombudsman or the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission doing anything about these at all?

Likewise, is the Ombudsman or Presidential Anti-Graft Commission doing anything about the case of the paper bags, each containing undocumented cash of P500,000, that were cavalierly passed out – sans vouchers or receipts – to congressmen, governors, and mayors in the presidential palace? Surely, it should be elementary to follow the bank audit trail, pinpoint the real source of the cash, and build a bribery, malversation of public funds, or money laundering case against those involved. Weeks after the event, however, our anti-corruption bodies are grotesquely silent and motionless.

So where, Madam President, is the “honest and hardworking government (that) the people deserve”? Where are all those vaunted anti-corruption efforts? I believe the public has already reached the conclusion that those are as substantial as today’s most talked-about gas, methane. The reality stinks.

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(This article may be viewed online at <www.bworldonline.com>. You may address reactions to it to the BW editor at <editor@bworld.com.ph> .)

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