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09:59 PM July 28th, 2013

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By: Conrado de Quiros, July 28th, 2013 09:59 PM

Of course it was an unconfirmed report. But if true, then it’s quite disturbing. That’s the one that said President Aquino was leaning toward accepting the resignations of two of the six Customs deputies but not Ruffy Biazon’s.

Why ever not? There’s such a thing as command responsibility. If Customs is as deep a pit of iniquity as Aquino suggested when he savaged it last week, then it must owe in huge part to its head. Either he doesn’t know what’s happening under his nose or he’s turning a blind eye to it. Either he is inefficient or tainted himself.

The two deputies whose resignations Aquino is expected to accept instead are Danny Lim’s and Juan Lorenzo Tañada’s. They are two of the more efficient people in Customs, they are two of the more honest people in Customs. Their disappearance will truly effect a revamp in Customs—in the direction of leaving the field to the people who like to make hay while the sun shines. The Palace knows who they are: Taking them out is not a question of wit, it’s a question of will.

From farther afield, there’s another development that looks more like a retreat than an advance in the war against corruption. I applaud Aquino’s tack of embarrassing or shaming devious officials in public. But it carries an enormous burden too. You do that and people will ask questions, or issue challenges, about why you took some errant knaves to task but not arrant others. Particularly those others closest to you.

Which brings me to DOTC officials’ reported attempt to extort from Inekon. Allegedly it happened when Mar Roxas still headed the Department of Transportation and Communications and was done by his favorite people. The story burst in the other week but has steadily slipped away from the papers, disappearing from Malacañang’s view, disappearing from public view, disappearing from reality and plunging into the whirlpool of fantasy. It’s as if it never happened.

It was Dante Ang who exposed it. According to him, a group of DOTC officials, led by Al Vitangcol, MRT general manager, met several times with Czech Ambassador Josef Rychtar and several officials from Inekon, a Czech company bidding for a project to expand and modernize MRT 3. Vitangcol wasn’t there during the fateful meeting but participated in it nonetheless. That was when Wilson Rivera proposed that a contribution of $30 million from Inekon would greatly improve DOTC’s appreciation of their proposal. When Inekon flatly rejected his overture, he said he would talk to Vitangcol and see if he could bring the amount down. Rivera called up his boss and subsequently proposed a steep discount—now only $2.5 million.

Edwin Lacierda’s reaction to this was to say that in the absence of any definite accusation by the Czech ambassador to that effect, he was not giving credence to it. “If you look at the story there are no quotes from the Czech ambassador. We are asking the Czech ambassador to present us with evidence so we can investigate.” I purposely did not say “Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda” because I’m not really sure whom he is spokesperson for. Is he the spokesperson of Aquino or Roxas? Is he the spokesperson of the President who won in an Edsa masquerading as an election or of the vice presidential candidate who lost but is now the DILG head masquerading as the president?

One is tempted to say that this is a case where you really should be careful what you wish for. Rychtar may just grant Lacierda his wish, throwing government—Aquino’s and not Mar’s—into a tailspin. He’s probably banking on the idea that the Czech ambassador will balk at creating a diplomatic scandal, or at least will do everything in his power to protect Czech interests in this country. But you never know, everything has its limits. We already have a

reputation for treating foreign investors shabbily. We need more of it like a hole in the head.

But quite apart from that, and far more importantly, we do have it straight from the horse’s mouth. Boo Chanco wrote some weeks back that he came into the possession of a letter from Rychtar to Aquino. It said: “In early April 2013, I was able to secure a meeting with Sec. Emilio Abaya to report an incident between some officials of his department and myself, together with the top management of Inekon…. I had hoped that Sec. Abaya would have dealt with this issue in a swift and judicious manner before it reached this embarrassing and untenable state of affairs.”

How much more do you need to investigate this “incident”?

By any ranking of rottenness in types of corruption, extortion is pretty high on the list. It doesn’t matter if the amount is $30 million or $2.5 million—and it is a testament to how freely these people bandy money about that they can jump from this high to this low without batting an eyelash,  baka  lang  makalusot. Extortion is extortion and exudes a stench.

At the very least of course, the principle here, as in Biazon’s, is command responsibility. Indeed, more so here than there: This thing didn’t just happen under Roxas’ watch at DOTC, it happened under the direct command of one of his protégés. “Mga  bata,” as the boss says in the Tagalog movies. Either Vitangcol struck out on his own or he gave him his blessings. The first doesn’t do wonders for his leadership, the second for his character.

The real test of the daang matuwid  is not taking action where it feels good, it is taking action where it hurts. It is not taking action with the people farthest from you, it is taking action with the people closest to you. It is pursuing evidence wherever it leads to, it is pursuing guilt whomever it points to. The  daang  matuwid  is not a well-paved road, it is a thorny path. The measure of  katuwiran  is sacrifice. The measure of  katuwiran  is blood, sweat and tears.

The measure of  katuwiran  is  katwiran.

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