While President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III has yet to make good on his oft-repeated promise – or threat — that “heads will roll,” one of his controversial appointees took the honorable way out of an embarrassing situation. Sensing that the cards were stacked against him, Bureau of Corrections Director Ernesto “Totoy” Diokno pre-empted P-Noy by quitting the day after P-Noy told reporters that Diokno was in a “no-win” situation.
When the Leviste “prison break” scandal erupted, P-Noy refused to take immediate action against Diokno, his longtime friend. But when Diokno tendered his “irrevocable resignation” during their meeting at Malacañang last May 31, 2011, P-Noy awkwardly announced, “public interest should always prevail over friendship.” In hindsight, I think it would have been better if P-Noy fired Diokno the moment the scandal erupted and then made that statement, which would have made him look like a decisive leader who would discipline or punish his friends if they committed a grave error in their jobs. Nevertheless, Diokno’s resignation saved P-Noy from the agony of not having the courage to fire him.
Once again, P-Noy had to deal with a sensitive issue that has been haunting him since the August 23, 2010 Rizal Park hostage-taking fiasco where eight Chinese tourists from Hong Kong were massacred by the hostage-taker. In that bloody incident, P-Noy’s “shooting buddy” — Rico E. Puno — was criticized for “running away” from his responsibility as Undersecretary of Interior and Local Government who had oversight on security and police matters. A subsequent Department of Justice investigation panel recommended that Puno, together with several others, be charged criminally and/or administratively; but P-Noy ignored their recommendations and instead absolved Puno of any malfeasance.
Since then Puno avoided the media and went “underground.” Other than unconfirmed news report that he was in “training” at the FBI Academy in New York, his whereabouts was a mystery. Then after an eight-month hiatus, Puno resurfaced a few days ago, like a grizzly bear coming out of hibernation. However, he insisted that he had always been around doing his job. Oh yeah?
Besides Puno, another “shooting buddy,” Land Transportation Office Administrator Virginia Torres, was under fire over the controversial Stradcom deal. P-Noy fended calls for her resignation or firing by ordering her to take a 60-day leave of absence. She’s been off the radar screen since then; however, it remains to be seen if she would return to her job when her “sabbatical” ended.
But while the Diokno scandal has simmered down, another scandal erupted involving former Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. — the alleged Maguindanao massacre mastermind – who was reportedly given VIP treatment at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig where he is being detained pending his arraignment for the massacre of 58 unarmed civilians last November 23, 2009. After being informed of the special treatment accorded to Ampatuan Sr., P-Noy fired another “heads will roll” salvo against those who were complicit in giving Ampatuan Sr. VIP privileges, which included getting a massage from another prisoner outside his cell and having 13 visitors all at once, a violation to the “three visitors per inmate” rule. And hear this: according to the massacre victims’ lawyer, Atty. Harry Roque, Ampatuan Sr. was seen dining at the five-star Hotel Sofitel in Pasay City. How nice.
The report about Ampatuan Sr.’s VIP treatment prompted DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo to suspend the jail warden and other jail personnel. But it shouldn’t stop there; suspension is just a mere pinch on the ear. P-Noy should make good on his promise that “heads will roll” if he wants to instill discipline in the country’s prison system.
P-Noy is also concerned that the wheel of justice has been turning at a very slow pace. The Department of Justice prosecution team ought to be reorganized and replaced with topnotch prosecutors who have the ability to parry the delaying legal tactics that the defense lawyers employ. The defense lawyers know that delays could weaken the government’s case against the Ampatuans, which could end in a mistrial or – God forbid! – acquittal. As they say, “Justice delayed, justice denied.”
Corrupt government officials
And on top of all these problems, P-Noy is faced with the task of cleaning up the Bureau of Customs. Indeed, corruption is so widespread at Customs that cleaning it up is likened to cleaning up the Payatas garbage dump: “Mission Impossible.”
The recent arrest of a Filipino businessman, Lynard Allan Bigcas, a permanent resident in the United States, unraveled a huge car smuggling network in the Philippines. In its investigation, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) linked powerful politicians and ranking government officials to the car-smuggling activities. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation also confirmed that some of the cars smuggled to the Philippines were reported missing in the U.S. The NBI also revealed the existence of a “black book” containing the names of influential and powerful people in southern Philippines, which include a congressman, a governor, a mayor, a police colonel, politicians, and other ranking government officials in the region.
Customs Commissioner Angelito Alvarez has been under fire for the recent spate of smuggling activities. He also fell short of projected revenues, which could be attributed to rampant smuggling.
A couple of years ago, during the Arroyo administration, China reported exporting $20 billion to the Philippines. However, for that same year, the Philippines reported importing only $12 billion from China. What happened to the $8-billion discrepancy? It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the goods were smuggled in with the connivance of customs officials.
Alvarez, who serves at the pleasure of the President, appealed to P-Noy to give him more time to curb smuggling activities. He said that smuggling cannot be stopped overnight but he promised that he’d curb 80% in three years. But it’s been almost a year since Alvarez became the head honcho at Customs and so far no progress is being made to stop smuggling. To corrupt officials, smugglers, and fixers, it’s “business as usual.” And some might even say, “It’s never been better!”
The question is: Should P-Noy give Alvarez another chance? Or should he let go of him and appoint someone who has the cojones to go after smugglers regardless who they are or who are protecting them? P-Noy needs a pitbull, not a poodle, to go after smugglers. Alvarez is no pitbull.
Mr. President, please make good on your promise that heads will roll.