But barely passing for anti-crime
By Raïssa Robles
It’s remarkable. President Benigno Aquino has yet to be mired in a major money scandal two years into his presidency.
Of course we do not know if a scandal has already happened and someone is just waiting for the right time to expose it. Of course there are constant whispers that a senior government official is involved in shady dealings but proof has yet to be offered. And I’m sure the anti-Aquino forces have been scrabbling hard to find dirt. Any dirt.
I find the absence of any major sleaze story two years on highly remarkable because our last two presidents were hit hard by major scandals during their first year in office.
UPDATE as of 9:10 PM, July 23, 2012
President Aquino’s palace aides had promised that his State of the Nation Address today would be inspiring. I waited to be inspired. I found most of it ordinary and boring, like other SONAs I had covered. That is, except the end.
The end was like the touch of a warm hand on a cold night.
Here it is. Read it for yourself:
Batid po sa tinatamasa natin ngayon: hindi kayo nabigo. Sa inyo nagmula ang pagbabago. Ang sabi ninyo: posible.
Humaharap po ako sa inyo bilang mukha ng isang gobyernong kayo ang boss at kayo pa rin ang lakas. Inuulat ko lamang ang mga pagbabagong ginawa ninyong posible.
Kaya nga po sa lahat ng nurse, midwife, o doktor na piniling magsilbi sa mga baryo; sa bawat bagong graduate na piniling magtrabaho sa gobyerno; sa bawat atletang Pilipinong bitbit ang watawat saan mang panig ng mundo; sa bawat kawani ng pamahalaan na tapat na nagseserbisyo: Kayo po ang gumawa ng pagbabago.
Sa tuwing haharap ako sa isang ina na nagsasabing, “Salamat at nabakunahan na ang aking sanggol,” ang tugon ko: Ikaw ang gumawa nito.
Sa tuwing haharap ako sa isang bata na nagsasabing, “Salamat sa papel at lapis, sa pagkakataong makapag-aral,” ang tugon ko: Kasama ka sa gumawa nito.
Sa tuwing haharap ako sa isang OFW na nagsasabing, “Salamat at puwede ko na muling pangaraping tumanda sa Pilipinas,” ang tugon ko: Ikaw ang gumawa nito.
Sa tuwing haharap ako sa isang Pilipinong nagsasabing, “Salamat, akala ko hindi na magkakakuryente sa aming sitio. Akala ko hindi ko na aabuting buhay ang liwanag na ganito,” ang tugon ko: Ikaw ang gumawa nito.
Sa bawat pagkakataon na haharap ako sa isang magsasaka, guro, piloto, inhinyero, tsuper, ahente sa call center, karaniwang Pilipino; sa bawat Juan at Juana dela Cruz na nagsasabing “Salamat sa pagbabago,” ang tugon ko sa inyo: Kayo ang gumawa nito.
Inuulit ko po, posible na ang dating imposible. Humaharap po ako sa inyo ngayon, at sinasabing: hindi ko SONA ito. Kayo ang gumawa nito. SONA ito ng sambayanang Pilipino. Maraming, maraming salamat po at magandang hapon po sa lahat.
The P24 million textbook corruption scam under Estrada
Barely months into the term of President Joseph Estrada, a woman entered the tightly secured presidential palace with a box containing P3 million in cash. Mary Ann Maslog, an “agent” for textbook publishing firm Esteem Enterprises, went to the office of Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno to follow up the release of P24 million for a textbook project.
Diokno was shocked to see the cash upon opening the box. He immediately ordered an investigation. The probe implicated, among others, a presidential assistant named Cecilia de Castro who turned out to be a distant cousin of President Estrada. Estrada’s Education Secretary Andrew Gonzalez later testified in a Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing that it was Cecilia de Castro who had lobbied for the approval of the textbook contract.
In the Senate hearing, Mary Ann Maslog claimed she just happened to bring the wrong box to the palace. She said she had meant to bring a box of coffee cups, not cash.
Estrada denied he knew Cecilia de Castro personally. He also denied he knew she was his distant cousin.
The scandal damaged Estrada’s presidency.
Nothing happened to Mary Ann Maslog despite the clear case of bribery and corruption. But two years ago, she was arrested in Seattle for fraud. She was running a racket where she promised to obtain US student visas for a fee of up to US$6,480. Please click on this link to read the story.
The P17 billion IMPSA corruption scam under Estrada
Eight months into his presidency, the Manila Times published a banner story on February 16, 1999 which called Estrada the “unwitting ninong” or godfather of a P17 billion power contract allegedly rigged in favor of the Argentine firm IMPSA (Industrias Metalurgicas Pescarmona Sociedad Anonima). Estrada and other Palace officials denied the charge. Estrada sued Manila Times for libel, and then leaned on the Gokongwei family to apologize and shutter the newspaper. But Estrada trashed the IMPSA contract.
By the way, Estrada – who was convicted and pardoned – is now setting himself up as some sort of influential kingmaker or political godfather in the coming elections. Why is an ex-con being politically courted actively and what does this say about our politicians and our electorate?
Will things ever change?
Gloria Arroyo’s two corruption scandals in first year
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who replaced Estrada under extraordinary circumstances, promised at the EDSA People Power monument to root out corruption. The exact opposite happened early on. Her first year alone had two serious corruption scandals.
The first occurred in the first week of her presidency and it involved her favorite cabinet secretary, Justice Secretary Hernando Perez. Upon Perez’ recommendation, Arroyo awarded a US$470 million contract to IMPSA . Never mind if the same Argentine firm was what got Estrada into a deep hole in the first place.
The scandal would not have surfaced if businessman Mark Jimenez had not told Senator Panfilo Lacson that the IMPSA deal he brokered involved US$14 million in payoffs. Jimenez admitted receiving a US$7 million commission; while he said Justice Secretary Hernando Perez got US$2 million; the “boys” inside National Power Corporation got US$1 million; and “Malacanang” got US$4 million. Jimenez did not name those in the presidential palace.
Further confirmation of the corrupt deal came in 2008 when Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez filed graft charges against Perez, his wife Rosario and businessmen Ernest Escaler and Ramon Antonio Arceo Junior. Problem was, the period for filing such charges had lapsed by then and the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan threw out the graft charges for this reason.
Apparently, however, Perez still has a pending case with Sandiganbayan for non-declaration of the illegal commission he received in the IMPSA deal in his 2001 Statement of Assets and Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN). Perez has argued before the court that he should not be held liable because his boss, then President Arroyo herself had approved his SALN because he was then a member of her cabinet.
Can Arroyo now be made a co-accused in Perez’ case since she was the authority in charge of making sure that SALNs were truthful? Just a thought.
Arroyo’s schoolmate implicated FG Mike
Six months into her presidency, Arroyo’s correspondence secretary Veronica “Bing” Rodrigo publicly accused First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo of taking a P50-million bribe in exchange for the recall of the president’s veto on the grant of two wireless telecommunications franchises allegedly owned by businessman Jaime Dichaves. Dichaves is the self-proclaimed fall guy for the Jose Velarde account – Estrada’s secret bank account.
Rodrigo’s accusation would not have held water if she had not been an Assumption classmate and personal friend of Arroyo. Mike Arroyo denied her accusation and shot back that it was Rodrigo who had received the payoff. During a subsequent Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing, Rodrigo retracted her charge. She later claimed to a newspaper columnist that the physical safety of her family caused her to backtrack. Rodrigo died in 2004.
Our history is filled with men and women succumbing to temptation.
So when I find someone who seems to draw the line on corruption, I can only stand amazed.
I would like to think it is something more than that. During my ambush interview of Aquino in 2009, just before he decided to run for president, I noticed he was not into branded shoes, clothes or watches. But I forgot then to ask him about cars and guns, which it turns out he is very much into.
However, last year he made a personal sacrifice and sold his newly-bought Porsche 911 Turbo.
If he keeps this up, he would be setting a record which all future presidents would have to match.
Having said that, I now wish he will combat crime with the same passion and determination. I will tackle the serious problem of crime more extensively in another post.
There is one other thing I wish President Aquino would do and that is – to equalize opportunities for majority of Filipinos to make a living in this country. At the moment, only those who are in power or close to power are the ones who make a lot of money.