Reopening of pork barrel scam probe and Dutertenomics

 

President Rodrigo Duterte

You might be wondering why I am lumping up the two together when they are different and distinct subjects.

Well, they are not really contradistinctive.

What makes them related or akin to one another is the fact that both deals with preventing corruption as the country is steered towards growth and development.

Thus, while Dutertenomics is getting to be a popular buzzword here and abroad for President Rodrigo Duterte’s 6-year development plan that aims to make the Philippines a high middle-income status before his term ends in 2022, it is a much welcomed boost for the country also that Duterte is keen and in fact throwing his full support behind the reopening of a congressional inquiry into the scandalous P10-billion Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel scam.

Dutertenomics is actually about the 10-point agenda that is listed below and which emphasizes transparency and inclusiveness in every step:

  • Higher infrastructure spending, with 5 percent of gross domestic product targeted
  • Lower income and corporate tax rates to better compete with other Asian nations
  • Less red tape and corruption, including permits and land titles crucial to business
  • More state resources for the countryside, reducing poverty and boosting rural growth
  • Strong law enforcement and peace efforts to enhance the business environment
  • Small business gains with GoNegosyo’s Ramon Lopez as Trade & Industry Secretary
  • Better China relations enhancing Chinese trade, tourism and investment flows
  • Charter change to devolve power to the regions and ease foreign investment limits.

In the same manner, in revisiting the pork barrel scam probe, Duterte simply wants to make sure that all those government officials involved in unscrupulously diverting the government funds for the poor and needy into their own bank accounts are taken to task and prosecuted.

I just hope that in so doing Duterte will not interfere and just allow the Sandiganbayan ( a special appellate collegial court) to run its course in prosecuting the high profile accused namely, ex-senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada. He will be doing the country a great favor if he does.

Oozing with political will with no one to be beholden to and having the interest of the nation and the welfare of the people foremost in his governance, I am sure Duterte will find success in this twin concerns he is driving at.

 

Plunder with impunity and rape deserve the death penalty

hb-4727I could only describe as self-serving the decision of some members of Congress to exclude plunder and rape, and even treason, in the controversial House Bill (HB) 4727 which seeks to restore the death penalty in the country.

But I am more bothered about the exclusion of plunder and rape.

It must be remembered that the original version of HB 4727 originally listed 21 crimes punishable by death. It was reported that the congressmen later agreed to remove plunder, rape, treason and other heinous offenses following several caucuses by the so called super majority bloc leaving the much talked about crime of illegal drugs as the sole monstrous offense deserving of death penalty.

Yes, illegal drugs destroy the future, if not the lives of people, but don’t plunder, especially if done with impunity, rape, murder, treason, kidnapping, and the likes, also ravages the dreams, the aspirations, the future and practically the lives of people?

The gall of these politicians again to fool the Filipino people!

Plunder is a crime more associated with politicians than any other group of people in our society and it is always committed with impunity and to the very people these bastards have been sworn to serve and protect.

If lady justice could only have turned her wheels faster I am sure we would have been seeing a lot more of politicians the likes of former senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla, and the latest, incumbent Sen. Leila de Lima, following their footsteps leading to the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center because of plunder associated with the pork barrel and drug money scam.

It does not surprise me therefore that, while the lawmakers should have only proposed the exclusion of plunder, they also have to recommend the forbiddance of rape, treason, etc., so it may not appear that they are being subjective and biased for their own selfish motives.

These politicians/lawmakers who are working hard for a watered-down version of HB 4727 should remember Abraham Lincoln’s famous saying: “You can fool part of the people some of the time, you can fool some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all of the time.”

 

Enrile’s suspicious visit to Malacañang

Former Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile visiting Pres. Rodrigo Duterte in Malacañang.

Former Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile visiting Pres. Rodrigo Duterte in Malacañang.

For anybody who has been following the political life of former Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile one cannot help but be suspicious about the circumstances of his much publicized visit to Malacañang for a one-on-one tete-a-tete with President Rodrigo Duterte.

Enrile made a sucker of the Sandiganbayan when the court where government officials, from the President of the Philippines down to the lowest ranked public servant, are prosecuted, ordered for his release after posting bail totaling P1.45 million for the plunder and graft cases filed against him over a multibillion-peso pork barrel scam supposedly masterminded by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.

Before his release Enrile had been detained at the Philippine National Police (PNP) General Hospital in Camp Crame for a little over a year.

Two of his co-accused — former senators Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon “Bong” Revila — remain detained in Camp Crame, at the PNP Custodial Center.

Also in detention to this day for the same offense is Enrile’s former chief of staff, Jessica “Gigi” Reyes.

The court said the Enrile should be granted temporary freedom because of his old age and frail health, which did not make him a flight risk.

Enrile may not be a flight risk until now that he has fully regained back his health, but he continues to remain astute as he has always been known to be and his once temporary freedom, for all intents and purpose, is now a permanent one.

Or so it seems because while Enrile may have posted a bail he is still an accused out on bail for humanitarian reasons, but now that he is back in the pink of health the Sandiganbayan should send him back to the PNP Custodial Center for that is where he belongs in reality.

In fact Enrile is strong enough now that he has been able to visit Duterte in Malacañang and reportedly handed the latter a letter and three books that apparently contained unsolicited counsel/guide to help the president address the country’s problems.

Despite presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella’s claim that the meeting of the two political personalities was social in nature that included discussions on “current developments”, still it raised eyebrows of many Filipinos concerned about corrupt politicians on what really was the motive of Enrile’s visit.

We cannot help but hope that Duterte will stay his course and his commitment to the nation that he will have no mercy to those involved in illegal drugs, corruption and criminality that have caused near perdition to the hopes and aspirations of many Filipinos.

Enrile’s baneful advice

 

Senator Juan Ponce Enrile

Senator Juan Ponce Enrile

I do not know how much longer the foxy Senate Minority Leader, Juan Ponce Enrile, has to live after he turns 92 on February 14.

Not that I wish him ill, but at this stage in his life Enrile should stop being deceitful by using his influence and self-serving ideas in urging people to vote for Vice President Jejomar Binay to succeed President Aquino in the presidential election in May.

Just like him, Enrile described Binay as “experienced”, thus the latter’s long years in public service and as a politician should serve him well, if and when he becomes president.

What a phony and sanctimonious statement!

“Experienced” is relative in the eyes of people these days.

Yes, both Enrile and Binay pride themselves of being “experienced”, and honorable at that, and this is what they want people to know about them, but look what they have gotten into!

Shame and scandal of outrageous proportions!

Enrile and two other senators face plunder and graft charges over the biggest corruption scandal in recent Philippine history. They are accused of pocketing millions in public money and diverting development funds to fake non-governmental organizations allegedly controlled by Janet Lim-Napoles.

If not for his advanced age and failing health, Enrile could have been detained longer like his cohorts, Jinggoy Estrada aand Bong Revilla, and that would have served him right instead of peddling lies now and giving baneful advice.

Binay on the other hand was the subject of a Senate Blue Ribbon Subcommittee probe over graft and corruption charges during his stint as mayor of Makati City that lasted for nearly one and a half years.

There is nothing more appalling and dangerous than one old, sly and corrupt politician supporting and urging people to vote for president another sly and corrupt, but younger politician, to save us from living a miserable life.

Certainly, Enrile wants Binay to win not because it is good for the country and its people, but rather, it is an assurance that Enrile retains his freedom and that his former chief of staff, Gigi Reyes, should not languish in jail more than necessary.

Talking about ulterior motives and making a pact with the devil himself!

The fate of corrupt politicians in the PDAF scam

pork barrelLet us recall first what the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam, more popularly known as pork barrel scam, is all about before it loses its meaning and importance to the vast number of Filipinos who have come to appreciate the prosecution of corrupt politicians in government.

The pork barrel scam is a political scandal of the highest order involving the alleged misuse by several members of Congress of their lump sum discretionary fund granted to them for spending on priority development projects, most especially on the local level.

It is estimated that the Philippine government was defrauded of some P10-billion in the course of the scam, reportedly from 2003 to 2013, and at the expense of the poor and marginalized Filipinos.

Going after noted corrupt government officials, the likes of retired chief justice Renator Corona and the high-profile senators in the PDAF scam, Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla for plunder has given many Filipinos hope that we can be a better country yet.

Though Enrile was granted bail by the Supreme Court and is back in the Senate throwing barbs at President Aquino still many people believe that he should have remained detained together with Estrada and Revilla at the PNP Custodial Center in Camp Crame, Quezon City until such time that they can prove themselves innocent of the crimes charged against them.

The reason why I am bringing this up is my fear that people might forget the significance of this political will exercised by Aquino in bringing these corrupt politicians to face justice and instead elect someone who will just willingly open the gates to free these unscrupulous individuals.

What I am saying is that there are still many more of their ilk out there who should be prosecuted, but because the man who would be the next president in 2016 is against everything that Aquino has done, that everything also will come to naught.

I don’t think this is acceptable.

Many are in favor of what Aquino has done along this path, given the circumstances. It has to be sustained and pursued even more to the hilt if that is the way the poor of this country can attain justice. Servants of the people these arrogant politicians are not.

I am sure Enrile, Estrada, Revilla and the many more politicians in the Ombudsman’s list to be prosecuted are hoping that Jejomar Binay would win. Birds of the same feather, so to say.

Or maybe Grace Poe and Rody Duterte who will easily show nothing but kindness and sympathy to movie stars and politicians now expressing their support for them with their ulterior motives.

I don’t think Estrada, Revilla, and especially Enrile, would want Miriam Santiago or Mar Roxas to win. The same goes with the politicians in the Ombudsman’s list. No easy way out for them.

Thus, it really matters who we elect to succeed Aquino if Filipinos consider the downfall of a Supreme Court chief justice and the arrest and detention of three notable senators of the realm to be a milestone in the democratic history of this country.

Enrile bail and ‘balikbayan’ boxes inspection are both unfair

Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile

Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile

The recent decision granting bail to Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile on humanitarian grounds and the latest announcement of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) to open up ‘balikbayan’ boxes for inspection in a bid to curb the smuggling of taxable goods are two acts that do not really sit well to many Filipinos who wants government to do the right things.

What I mean is that we seemed to have been making the right move by asking people to avoid the mistake of voting into office corrupt presidential and vice presidential candidates during the 2016 elections so that whatever development and growth the country has undergone can be sustained and even made faster and loftier.

We all welcome the positive direction the country is heading brought about by political will with the most noted corrupt legislators being detained for their involvement in the scandalous pork barrel scam, this, after no less than the chief justice of the Supreme Court (SC) had been impeached.

But with Enrile now stepping out free from hospital arrest for humanitarian consideration, being old and ailing, and not for any legal grounds, surely smack of deception, double-dealing and mockery of justice.

Note that Enrile is being charged with, supposedly, a non-bailable offense of graft and plunder for allegedly receiving kickbacks in the P10-billion pork barrel scam, but has posted a P1.4-million bail that the SC justices upheld.

So, are we saying now that if one is old and ailing, but does not have the money to pay for his release, like the many that are languishing in jail today who are even more deserving of freedom, that that person will rot in jail while the rich gets freed?

What is even worse is that Enrile is being harnessed back to work, as if we miss him in the senate.

If Enrile is old and ailing and the SC is really bent on twisting the law to favor the rich, then why not just let him go home to be taken care of by family and fade away, instead of his presence in the senate constantly reminding the people what money and clout can do to regain one’s freedom and seat despite advanced age and failing health?

Talking about an injustice and an ugly precedent that will certainly open the doors to freedom for Enrile’s cohorts/disciples, Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla.

Another unfair treatment that many Filipinos are about to experience is what the BOC wants to do with the ‘balikbayan’ boxes sent by oversea workers for their families.

On the pretext that it will save money for the government coffers, some BOC officials want the boxes opened up and inspected in case some contrabands are found together with the goodies being sent to their loved ones.

Of course there will be contrabands, like brand new items, being sent because one could not just keep on sending used items, for chrissake! Would that be considered a crime?

How about asking these gung-ho customs officials to put themselves in the shoe of every OFWs, who are fighting all kinds of adversities abroad just so they could improve the quality of life his or her family is having in the country, if they themselves will be happy to have members of their family deprived of new, good, useful things that they never experienced having before?

Seeing the happy faces of your love ones and hearing their appreciation for the things sent is enough prize being out there working your butt off. It is the most that one can do in place of one’s absence – their happiness and well-being are yours to enjoy, too, despite the pangs of loneliness suffered by both sides.

That is all there is to it.

The problem with some customs officials is that they think that, like them, the OFWs are corrupt, too.

Well, if the customs people will only do their job the way God intends them to do and the way people expects them to pursue, going after big time smugglers and unscrupulous businessmen without fear or favor, they will not only earn the respect of the people as an honest agency of government, but will also be reaping honors for helping government make money.

The ‘balikbayan’ boxes should be acknowledged as symbols of sweat and tears and should not be tampered with.

Give the OFWs a break!!!

PNoy’s ‘tuwid na daan’ advocacy is not so ‘tuwid’ after all

 

President Benigno Aquino

President Benigno Aquino

I had been always praising President Benigno Aquino (PNoy) for his ‘tuwid na daan’ (straight path) advocacy and like a horse with blinders I had been looking straight at it from the monetary point of view.

How else should one react except to utter hosannas for a job well done in going after corrupt government officials who have enriched themselves in office at the expense of the well meaning Filipino taxpayers and the poorest of the poor who were expecting help through the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF, popularly known as ‘pork barrel’), a lump-sum discretionary fund granted to each member of Congress for spending on priority development projects of the Philippine government, mostly on the local level, but got channeled instead into the deep pockets of the politicians themselves and some unscrupulous people who hatched the scam.

We are all witnesses to what happened to ex-Supreme Court chief justice Renato Corona and we are all seeing where Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr. are now.

One cannot say therefore that PNoy lacked the political will to do what he did, for the events surrounding the ouster of Corona and the detention of the high-profile senators are living testament of his strong ‘tuwid na daan’ advocacy.

But like “Jekyll and Hyde”, PNoy exhibits also another personality that makes his ‘tuwid na daan’ advocacy short of being perfect, and therefore questionable.

Not until I saw this article from Rappler did I realize how blinded I was not to have noticed that PNoy’s ‘tuwid na daan’ advocacy should not only apply strictly to grafters and plunderers who are his political foes, but should also include his unprincipled and dishonorable friends and supporters.

No wonder then why former PNP chief Alan Purisima is still around and why, even, Vice President Jejomar Binay continues to stay in PNoy’s cabinet.

PNoy’s ‘tuwid na daan’ advocacy is not so ‘tuwid’ after all.

For more on PNoy’s unfavorable personality, I am reprinting below an article from Rappler, dated June 20, 2015, and written by Judith Balea.

Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla and President Benigno Aquino

Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla and President Benigno Aquino

INSIDE STORY: The real reason behind Petilla’s resignation

EXCLUSIVE: Sources close to Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla say his resignation was prompted by President Benigno Aquino III’s decision to appoint Geronimo Sta Ana as the 5th commissioner of the Energy Regulatory Commission

Former Customs Commissioner John Sevilla and outgoing Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla didn’t just resign back to back. They had similar reasons for doing so, too.
While Petilla’s resignation was attributed to his plans to run for the Senate, sources close to him said it was, in fact, prompted by President Benigno Aquino III’s decision to appoint Geronimo Sta Ana as the fifth commissioner of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC). Sta Ana is reported to be a nominee of one of the country’s biggest power players, the Aboitiz group.

The appointment didn’t sit well with Petilla because it compromises the ERC and jeopardizes public interest, the sources said.

The ERC is the body tasked by law to protect energy consumers and ensure competition in the electricity sector. It is in the process of determining whether or not power players, among them a unit of the Aboitiz group, colluded in jacking up electricity prices for millions of customers of the Manila Electric Company (Meralco), the Philippines’ largest electricity distributor, in 2013. The ERC’s recent probe found the Aboitiz unit, Meralco, and 11 other power firms liable for “market abuse” but it didn’t say if they were guilty of conspiring with each other.

Petilla officially announced his resignation on April 28, six days after Sevilla tendered his to the Office of the President. Sevilla revealed in an exclusive interview with Rappler that he left the Customs bureau after an appointment he believed was part of a political deal with the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC). The INC, with its 2.25 million followers, is known to be a powerful bloc vote during elections.

On Thursday, June 18, Petilla said he would stay in the department until June 30.

A favor to the Aboitizes?

Petilla actually resigned ahead of Sevilla. At least two independent sources in the power industry, with whom Petilla shared his story, narrated to us what happened in the run-up.

Based on the informed sources’ accounts, Aquino asked Petilla sometime in 2014 to recommend names for the last ERC commissioner post that was vacant for two years. The appointment would complete the ERC’s 5-commissioner line-up. Petilla submitted to the President in November 2014 the name of an engineer who had years of experience in his field and a doctorate under his belt.

The President further asked Petilla to have the person vetted by other Cabinet secretaries, and Petilla willingly obliged.

On March 25, however, things took a surprising turn when a report came out announcing the appointment of 75-year-old Sta Ana, an accountant by profession. “It appeared to be a last-minute insertion,” said one source.

Puzzled by the report, the source said Petilla confronted Aquino about it. He wanted to know who Sta Ana was, what his credentials were, and if he was qualified. What Petilla discovered upset him.

Recalling snippets of the conversation between the two officials, the sources said the President admitted appointing Sta Ana upon the request of the Aboitizes, adding that it was the only time he did the business group any “favor.”

“Sec said he literally almost fell off his seat,” one of the sources recalled, noting it was an obvious case of influence-peddling.

This same source said Sta Ana’s nomination was made through Petilla’s predecessor, former energy secretary and now Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras. Almendras is one of the President’s closest friends who actively helped him in his 2010 presidential campaign. He was also a former official of Aboitiz companies.

This is not the first time that an ERC appointment was linked to Almendras. Josephine Patricia Magpale-Asirit, Almendras’ niece from his sister, was appointed ERC commissioner in July 2013.

Rappler reached out to Almendras and Sta Ana for their side, but they did not respond.

We also sought a comment from Aboitiz group officials and they told us: “It is the President who appoints the ERC commissioners. We cannot comment on this as the Aboitiz group is not involved in the appointment process.”

The President appointed Sta Ana on March 19, but the ERC didn’t announce it until April 8.

Petilla tendered his irrevocable resignation on March 26, effective April 30. He however remains in his post and will be there until the end of the month.

Web of connections

Petilla’s confidantes pointed out the connections among Almendras, Sta Ana, and the Aboitizes – all of whom hail from Cebu.

Founded in the late 1800s, the Aboitiz group is one of the country’s oldest conglomerates that successfully transformed itself from a shipping to a highly diversified company with a focus on power.

Industry data show it now accounts for over 2,700 megawatts or 15% of the Philippines’ total power generation capacity. It comprises the “big three,” along with San Miguel Corporation, which accounts for also 15% of the total capacity, and the Lopez family, which accounts for 14%. In power distribution, Aboitiz owns the second and third largest electric utility firms in the Philippines – Visayan Electric Company and Davao Light & Power Company, respectively.

Like the Aboitizes, Sta Ana is a well-entrenched member of Cebu’s business sector, having served as partner at auditing firms there for more than 11 years. Among other posts he held, Sta Ana was the president of the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry from 1992 to 1993 and was a trustee from 1994 to 1997 and 2008 to 2010.

Almendras is the glue that holds them together. Before being appointed to the government as energy secretary in 2010, he spent nearly 3 decades in the private sector in Cebu. He sat as president and CEO of Cebu Holdings and Cebu Property Ventures and Development Corporation, both parts of Ayala Land.

Prior to this, he was treasurer of Aboitiz Company, the privately held company of the Aboitiz family, and Aboitiz Equity Ventures, the family’s publicly listed holding company. He has reportedly maintained his close ties to the Aboitizes, with critics claiming he had favored his former employer in his decisions as energy secretary. The Zamora group, for instance, accused Almendras of keeping Mindanao in darkness by blocking the development of hydropower projects in favor of costlier projects of the Aboitiz family.

One of Almendras’ siblings is a friend of Sta Ana, revealed one source close to Petilla, though the source didn’t identify which sibling. Almendras’ sister, Agnes Almendras-Magpale, is Cebu Vice Governor, while his brother Ruben is the chairman of Cebu City Traffic Operations Management and former Metro Cebu Water District chairman.

Conflict of interest

Petilla didn’t fail to warn the President about the repercussions of his decision and what it means for Filipino energy consumers, sources said.

A questionable appointment puts the ERC’s credibility and competence in question – fundamental things demanded of the regulatory body.

Republic Act No. 9136, known as the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001 (EPIRA), squarely puts the burden of protecting the interest of consumers and ensuring competitiveness in the power sector on the shoulders of the 5-member commission.

In a nutshell, the ERC’s roles revolve around making sure electricity prices passed on to consumers are rational and at the least cost. The ERC is also tasked to promote true market competition, and prevent and penalize market abuse.

To ensure its independence, it must have commissioners who have neither run for political office nor previously worked for, or are affiliated with, any player in the power industry. It is crucial that individuals with unquestionable integrity are appointed to the body. There is no room for conflict of interest.

Putting a commissioner nominated by a power player at the ERC results in a compromised regulatory body. “How can you be sure that the ERC will act in favor of the public and not the power player?” an industry insider lamented. – Rappler.com