It doesn’t compute The Economists Journal

It doesn’t compute Featured

IN the wake of the shabu controversy at the Bureau of Customs (BoC) and the promotion of Commissioner Lapeña to cabinet rank and the military takeover of the BoC, I can’t help but do a cursory review of the Deegong’s responses on similar cases these past two years — within Customs and other agencies of government.

In August last year, during the watch of Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon, broker/fixer Mark Taguba testified at the Senate blue ribbon committee hearing on the entry of P6.4 billion worth of methamphetamine hydrochloride, or shabu, from China. Taguba linked the Deegong’s son, Paulo “Polong,” son-in-law, Mans Carpio and the then Manila International Port district collector Vincent Philip Maronilla to the smuggling, accusing the latter of being among officials of the bureau taking bribes to facilitate such transactions.

Faeldon was subsequently “taken out” of Customs and appointed deputy administrator of the Office of Civil Defense (OCD). Maronilla was later appointed assistant commissioner at the BoC. I don’t know the whereabouts or the status of Taguba or that of Deegong’s family members. Regarding the latest shabu controversy, there is an ongoing investigation by the NBI, Senate and the House of Representatives and could reveal the extent of the culpability of the former BOC Commissioner Lapeña.

I don’t question the prerogative of the President to promote Lapeña to cabinet rank and to appoint Faeldon and Maronilla to other posts in the bureaucracy. I just don’t think this computes.

Jose Gabriel “Pompei” La Vina was not reappointed as SSS commissioner because of some unexplained anomaly. There was no investigation. After an interval of a few days, he was appointed undersecretary of tourism. La Vina was DU30’s social media consultant when he was a candidate for the presidency. This does not compute.

In May of last year, Duterte fired Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) chairman Benjamin Reyes for supposedly contradicting the government’s official data on drug addicts in the country.

In April, 2017, he sacked Cabinet undersecretary Maia Chiara Halmen Reina Valdez for overruling National Food Authority Administrator Jason Aquino’s decision to suspend rice importation as it was still harvest season in the Philippines. Valdez denied the allegations.

The President also fired Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) chief Anna Rosario Paner for hiring consultants who earn as much as P200,000 monthly.

These selected cases illustrate the varied responses of the President. And there are many more examples where the President acted oftentimes seemingly contradictory to the facts presented. And these are arbitrary — not deserving of a president whom 70 percent of the citizenry support.

Central to the legitimacy of government is the consistency of policies that are applied to the body politic. These policies have to be thought out carefully and must reflect the values of civilized behavior. And the leadership must adhere to these with at least a minimum of fairness with justice overarching these decisions. The President above all, must be the exemplar, subordinating his biases, always with an eye for the greater good.

Thus, his declared policy at the start of his rule needs to be revisited. The cases of former Interior Secretary Ismael ‘Mike’ Sueno and Peter Laviña, head of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), are a milestone in this regime as these cases were the prime examples of the Duterte Doctrine of the “whiff of corruption.” It states simply that DU30 will “…not tolerate any corruption in his administration and he will dismiss from office any of his men (women) who are tainted even by a ‘whiff of corruption’; and he is ready to sack any public officials even on a basis of false allegations of corruption.” (, March 30, 2017)

After the Cabinet meeting, PRRD fired DILG Ismael Sueno on the spot due to “loss of trust and confidence”. This dismissal was precipitated by a joint report of his 3 Undersecretaries through a letter sent to the President alleging among other things the anomalous purchase of fire trucks from Austria. (The Manila Times, April 27, 2017)

The irony of it all is that the transaction was found later to be aboveboard and the trucks were eventually purchased and delivered. But the reputation of Sueno was irreparably damaged.

Peter Laviña’s sacking as NIA head was precipitated by a report personally given to the President by NIA directors on February 23, which claimed that Laviña had ” …allegedly called them and pointed out projects the regional office had and told them, ‘Kayo nang bahala sa akin’.” (Rappler).

The President sealed Laviña’s fate and left his reputation shattered with PRRD’s statement: “When I said there will be no corruption, there will be no corruption…even a whiff of corruption, talagang tatangalin kita (I will fire you) …”. No investigation was ever conducted.

The handling of these cases by the President is a reflection not of the justice system of this country but of his very subjective and capricious ways. This too is not a deficiency of the libertarian ideals of our government but the failure in the structure of the office of the presidency and therefore of the President to discriminate between what is good for the public against his personal interests.

I will rephrase what I wrote years ago: “There is no question that the President has the power to terminate from government bureaucracy anyone who fails to serve at his pleasure. But the President must be subject to the minimums of fairness and the etiquette of dismissal, for no apparent reason than that the process is widely regarded as civilized behaviour. But more importantly, there is a greater overarching principle that covers the conduct of the mighty, the powerful and the humble — the rule of law.

In a democracy under which we claim we practice, prudent laws are the foundation and the glue that must bind a civilized society. It is imperative that the laws laid down by government must be followed by all its citizens. The simplicity of the concept of the rule of law is oftentimes made complicated by those authorized to uphold it.”

President Duterte is not exempt from civilized behavior. What endeared him to people compared to other presidents before him was his penchant to tell it like it is, and in a manner that projects decisiveness. It was refreshing at first, but repetition has blunted the sharp edges – “If you will destroy my country, I will kill you!” And what passes for the application of political will in this fashion becomes merely an inelegant display of bravado.

True, the heavy load of governance and the welfare of the Filipinos rest on the President. But the presidency as an institution is fully armed with mechanisms to lighten the burden and share the same with his alter egos and departments which are constitutionally mandated. He is not therefore expected to arrogate upon himself the full burden of solely carrying out this responsibility.

And he needs to listen very carefully and discern the voice of his constituency, not only that of those who voted him to power.

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