THE way President Duterte has been responding to allegations of corruption involving people closely associated with him betrays his anti-corruption rhetoric. He has a habit of saying one thing and doing another thing that is completely irreconcilable with his pronouncement. When it comes to the subject of corruption, he talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk.
One case in point was when he warned corrupt officials in government: “Even a whiff, or a whisper, of corruption and you’re out.” That is a very powerful message, the kind that really makes a good sound bite. Yet it doesn’t figure when one thinks about how he dealt with resigned Customs commissioner Nicanor Faeldon after the latter was linked to a shabu shipment to the tune of P6.4 billion. What “you’re out!” when Faeldon was merely transferred to the Office of Civil Defense? That appointment was impossible to reconcile with the even-a-whiff-or-a-whisper-of-corruption-and-you’re-out rhetoric, and it also contradicts his “My God, I hate drugs” message.
Another presidential buddy, Peter Tiu Laviña, has been enjoying presidential protection. In paper, he resigned as administrator of the National Irrigation Administration over corruption allegations and, in the words of the Duterte 2016 campaign spokesman, in order “to spare the President from these embarrassing stories.” There has been no effort at all to prosecute, and about a year later, he’s still rubbing elbows with other Duterte boys like nothing happened. Like Faeldon, Laviña is a poster boy for impunity and Duterte patronage politics.
Somebody should tell them that resignation is neither being accountable nor is it punitory; it is, in Faeldon’s and Laviña’s cases, merely a graceful exit.
As it appears now, Duterte’s anti-corruption campaign is empty talk. Cheap talk. It applies only to those who have not reached apple-of-the-eye status.
As columnist Pat Diaz of Mindanews correctly observed, Duterte announced that he has “banned foreign travels of officials in the executive branch of the government without his personal authority… at the final day of the five-day birthday celebration of Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez in Tagum, Davao del Norte.” Five days of modest partying? Such an irony.
I must state that the ban really makes a good sound bite until one sees photos of Duterte’s May 2017 all-star trip to Russia that was aptly called a “junket” by former president Fidel Ramos. The photos included a damning and self-incriminating “groufie” in Russia posted (and then taken down) on social media by concert producer Bernard Cloma with one-time famous action stars Philip Salvador, Cesar Montano and Robin Padilla, and the now Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office noisemaker Sandra Cam. Okay, okay, they paid for their trip, to and fro, and we’re supposed to buy that. Yeah, right.
Just this month, to make up for the faux pas and as a damage control, obviously, Duterte skipped his granddaughter’s grand debut at the Rigodon Ballroom of The Peninsula hotel, a glitzy party that has been marred by criticisms because of a pre-debut photo shoot in Malacañang and preparations that were seen as not exactly modest. So, was the President’s absence supposed to make it non-Imeldific?
What’s really disturbing is how Duterte is responding to reports on corruption. One moment, he tells citizens to report to him corrupt officials; the next, he runs amok when corruption stories are reported in the media.
What did Duterte do when Rappler reported that his right hand man, Bong Go, “intervened in the multi-billion-peso project to acquire two brand new frigates or warships for the Philippine Navy”? Duterte threw a tantrum, and told reporters that Go belongs to a rich family that “owns the biggest printing press in Mindanao” like it is an argument. Sorry, but that’s not an argument at all.
Rappler reported that in January last year, “Go gave Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana a white paper endorsing a supplier that now stands to be selected to provide the critical Combat Management System (CMS) to be installed in the warships. The total project cost is P15.5 billion.” And how did Duterte take the Rappler report? His Securities and Exchange Commission moved to shut the media company down.
It looks like Duterte has successfully convinced himself that he alone can decide who is corrupt and who is not corrupt, what is corruption and what is not, and what anti-corruption report is acceptable and what is not. Duterte is selective, and woe unto those who don’t report corruption in his government in “moderation”! Pastilan.