What will Duterte do?
These were reports that, by rights, should have remained blind items or fodder for show biz columns. But because the scandals in which actor and presidential appointee Cesar Montano and one-time whistle-blower and defeated senatorial candidate Sandra Cam find themselves impinge on their official duties, the reports carry the smell of politics and sought-after privilege.
Beyond Cam’s shenanigans at the airport, it’s certainly Montano’s actions as head of the Tourism Promotions Board that are not just more newsworthy but also actionable by relevant government bodies.
Employees of the TPB, which is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Tourism—even if Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo has clarified that the actor was not her appointee but was directly appointed by President Duterte—have filed a complaint with the Presidential Action Center. The complainants allege abuse of authority, incompetence, nepotism, conflict of interest and corruption on Montano’s part. So far, nothing has been heard from Montano’s camp.
The complaint letter accused Montano of entering into performance contracts with producers, including one in which the TPB forked out over P6 million, and where Montano was himself a performer together with his nieces. He likewise provided sponsorship money for concerts featuring fellow actors abroad. Disgruntled employees also claim that Montano hired a number of associates and consultants—some of them his relatives, others his former colleagues in the movie business, with no demonstrable competence in tourism promotion—and is paying them lavish salaries.
They likewise said Montano would often take trips, with no official itineraries and with his friends and relatives in tow, and have the TPB foot the bill. He was also said to be in the habit of walking out of board meetings and failing (or refusing) to align the board’s programs with those of the DOT. Note that he has been in office for all of three months!
But one complaint against Montano, given the current atmosphere under the Duterte administration, may enable the actor to squirm out of the mess he’s in. This is the allegation in the complaint letter that he authorized the release of P16.5 million to fund the Feb. 25 pro-Duterte rally at the Luneta, where he was also a performer.
Given reports that local government units had been “encouraged” to muster attendance at the rally—providing transportation for their delegations, for instance—it appears that taxpayer money was indeed used to pay for this “private” initiative.
Would this be taken against Montano? Or would the charge not instead be used as “proof” that the complaints against the actor are “politically motivated”?
That’s the same argument that Sandra Cam is offering in reply to complaints filed by employees at the airport regarding her rude and arrogant behavior when they failed to grant her special favors.
Cam laid the blame on the Liberal Party, to which former president Noynoy Aquino belongs, for allegedly orchestrating the negative campaign against her. When asked about Cam’s case, Mr. Duterte—who just a few days ago proclaimed that “just a whiff” of corruption (which presumably includes influence-peddling and name-dropping) would be enough for him to axe an appointee—said he “owed” her and would not do anything about her actions at the airport.
Note that when she failed to produce a government ID to justify her entry into a VIP lounge, Cam said she had no need for one since she would soon be appointed to the Duterte Cabinet.
For sure, there are far more serious and grave issues confronting the administration. But we can say that the accusations against Montano and Cam represent but the tip of the iceberg that underlies the base of corruption, abuse and bloodlust in the Duterte regime.
At this point, as the cliché goes, the ball is in Mr. Duterte’s hands. Will he ignore the facts and implications of the charges filed against an appointee and an appointee wannabe? Or will he live up to his posturing as an anticorruption enforcer and conduct an honest-to-goodness investigation? We’re holding our breath!
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