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At Large

Just a whiff or whisper?

What’s this President Duterte said? “Even a whiff, or a whisper, of corruption and you’re out.”

Reports said he meant it as a warning to all government officials, but the quote is now being resurrected to explain the reported sacking/resignation of his one-time campaign spokesperson Peter Laviña.

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Laviña has either been fired or voluntarily left his post as administrator of the National Irrigation Administration amid allegations that he was demanding a cut from suppliers of the NIA. Mr. Duterte had even earlier revealed that an appointee of his was asking for “40 percent” from possible contractors.

Which is all well and good—making a stark example of Laviña to illustrate what’s in store for all officials who are caught, or even talked about, helping themselves to the people’s money. Except that there are glaring exemptions to the “Duterte Rule.”

Foremost of these is the fate of two Bureau of Immigration bigwigs, both of them fraternity “brods” not just of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre but also of the President, who were caught on camera carting away bags filled with what is believed to be P50 million after a meeting with representatives of casino and online gambling operator Jack Lam.

Hearings are still being conducted on the full story behind the extort try, even if former BI deputy commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles admitted receiving P50 million from Lam’s friends—all part of a covert intelligence operation, they said.

If so, then why did it take the pair about two weeks before surrendering the money to their boss, Aguirre? Shouldn’t they have been falling all over themselves in rushing to higher-ups with actual proof of extortion?

Actually, they returned only P30 million, saying that the balance had gone to the middlemen. Meanwhile, the money was sitting in a private home safe even as hundreds of Chinese illegal workers hired by Lam were allowed to leave the country.

To my mind, more than a “whiff” of the stink of corruption sticks to The Wigged One, who it seems is Mr. Duterte’s designated hatchet man against enemies of the administration. I don’t think Argosino and Robles would have acted so boldly if they didn’t know someone had their backs. But it seems that in the Senate hearings, the ones implicated in the scandal are even taking the high-and-mighty road. True, the two have been relieved of their posts at the BI. But no word yet about the filing of criminal charges against them. And we have yet to discuss the killing of Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo and the extortion job on his widow. For this, the President had to suspend police involvement in the campaign against illegal drugs, only to think of reviving it. So much for acting on even a whiff of corruption!

His name may be obscure, even insignificant today, but spare a thought, or more, for Dr. Dreyfuss Perlas, a physician who was serving in the government’s “Doctor to the Barrios” program in Sapad, Lanao del Norte. That is, until he was shot dead while riding a motorcycle and returning from a medical mission.

Dr. Perlas, I learned, chose to stay on and work among “people he had come to love” even after he had completed his contract. He could have opted to practice in Manila, or anywhere else in the country—or even abroad—where medical facilities are better and remuneration was certainly higher. Instead, he chose to stay on and serve an underserved community. Certainly, a treacherous killing was not what he deserved!

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That news of his death comes on the heels of a series of dismaying and despairing developments in the country only serves to put in stark contrast the sacrifices of so many young people like Dr. Perlas and the shenanigans of so many of their elders in government.

Further details on the shooting of Dr. Perlas, who hails from the Visayas, are as yet forthcoming. But I foresee his death due to violence as having a chilling effect on many more youths who dream of serving their country, not for the glory or

money, but simply to help their countryfolk. Dr. Perlas’ sacrifice is one we need to acknowledge and reflect on.

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TAGS: At Large, Dreyfuss Perlas, Inquirer column, Inquirer columnist, Inquirer Opinion, National Irrigation Administration, NIA corruption, Peter Laviña, Rina Jimenez-David, Rodrigo Duterte, war on corruption
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