Who wants Acosta away from DENR?
I SEE that a full-page ad was taken out recently in a newspaper (not the Inquirer), lobbying against the appointment of former Rep. Neric Acosta as secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). He was widely rumored to be a shoo-in for that post once the one-year ban against the appointment of losing election candidates expired. And rightly so, for his qualifications and experience put him head and shoulders above anybody else.
The ad was in the form of an “Open Letter to President Aquino,” and essentially focused on four cases brought against Acosta and his mother by the Office of the Ombudsman, and which are now being heard in the Sandiganbayan. And after the letter-writers stated piously that they “didn’t wish to discuss the merits of the case already undergoing trial at the Sandigan,” they proceeded to do exactly that for the rest of the ad.
If there was no truth to the charges against him, they ask (piously?), why then were these brought up in the first place, and why were these given due course by the Sandiganbayan? Thus their worry for the President and for the country, because a man like Acosta, with such stains (“bahid dungis”) on his honor and integrity has no place in the “daan na tuwid,” etc., etc.
Such concern. Such patriotism. One would think that they should be proud and unafraid to publicly be connected to such an exposé of wrongdoing, since they are such daan-na-tuwid advocates. But no. No signatures are included at the bottom of the ad. All the identification there is “Crusaders for Good Government” (which of course I Googled, only to find out that there is no such animal).
So now the question is, why should such concerned citizens wish to remain anonymous, especially since a full-page ad, at least in the Inquirer (which boasts the largest circulation), costs more than P188,000 on weekdays?
And another question: Should a newspaper print such an ad, which is clearly defamatory and in the nature of a poison-pen letter?
Wanting to know who these concerned citizens are, I called up the newspaper in question, and asked who paid for the ad. I was told that the ad was paid for by a certain “Roly”—in cash, mind you—with cell-phone number 09209191522. I then called up “Roly,” but he denied that it was he who paid for the ad. He is merely an agent, an ad-taker for the newspaper. When asked if he could supply me the name of the person/s who gave him the (cash) money, he begged for more time, and said he would return my call (alas, past my deadline). And here is media, noisily pushing for the Freedom of Information Act. What’s sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander, don’t you think?
Now to the nitty-gritty: Is there any basis to the accusations against Acosta, his mom (and apparently her sister)—i.e., that as a congressman, he used P10.5 million of his “pork barrel” (aka Priority Development Assistance Fund) to finance a family-owned NGO (a lot of legislators apparently do this, alas) which serves only as a conduit so that the money ends up with the family? The answer has to be a resounding NO. BINHI has been in operation for nigh 20 years now, very successful (more than 7,000 beneficiaries), with one of its projects, the so-called Bulig, operating in the same manner as the famous Grameen Bank. The operations of this NGO caught the eye of my fellow columnist Rina Jimenez-David, who devoted three columns to it in September 2003. Everything is on the up-and-up, with neither Neric Acosta nor any member of his family getting any salary or allowance or any benefits from the NGO. The same thing can be said for BVPC, a cooperative for the husbands of the female members of BINHI. There was every reason for Acosta to put some of his pork barrel into what had become a truly people-centered activity.
So then, how come the Ombudsman saw it fit to file criminal charges against the Acostas? And how come the Sandiganbayan gave it due course?
To answer the first question, his political opponents filed charges with the Ombudsman in March 2004. It took almost four years, and a change of ombudsman—to Merceditas Gutierrez—before the decision was made to file charges, with the Acostas receiving the relevant communications two whole weeks after the Sandiganbayan took cognizance of the information, which means the Acostas were effectively deprived of due process and their right to question the filing of charges.
And why did Gutierrez make a move against the Acostas more than three years after she became ombudsman? One of two reasons: either she was really slow, or she wanted to retaliate for what she considered to be Acosta’s attempts to impeach her.
Who would think that keeping Acosta out of the DENR was important enough to shell out some P180,000 for an ad? A partial list: There are his political enemies—i.e. the Zubiris of Bukidnon and their allies, who want to deny Acosta any opportunity to shine. There are those who want to keep the status quo—the incumbent is affiliated with the Iglesia ni Cristo whose power to capture and retain plum appointments is legendary. And there are those who look at the DENR as a potential cash cow (permits, licenses, certifications, etc.) or who think they can get what they want from the present dispensation and whose activities may be drastically impaired with Acosta there because he is anything but corrupt.
Obviously the paid ad was just the tip of the iceberg. One can imagine the other efforts to keep Acosta out of the DENR.
Well, it seems that these have been successful. And the country has lost. Again.