‘Not even a whiff of corruption’
“Huwag na huwag talaga akong makarinig na (Let me not hear anything about) corruption, [not] even a whiff or whisper. I will fire you or place you somewhere.”
President Duterte said those words in June 2016, days after his election to the presidency, the tough, uncompromising words setting the tone for his incoming administration.
In that same speech, he minced no words about three government institutions that he said were hotbeds of corruption and needed to change, or else: the Bureau of Internal Revenue, the Bureau of Customs, and the Philippine National Police. “Kailangan huminto na kayo (You need to stop),” he warned.
Two years later, how has the promise panned out?
The President has axed a number of government officials ostensibly because of whispers of official malfeasance that have reached him — none brought to court so proper accountability could be made, but good enough to earn his ire.
He didn’t renew the appointments of Social Security System Commissioner Jose Gabriel La Viña and SSS Chair Amado Valdez, he sacked National Irrigation Administration chief Peter Laviña, he took to task Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno during one Cabinet meeting and then fired him on the spot.
These men were among the President’s close allies: La Viña was his social media manager during the presidential election campaign, Laviña was his campaign spokesperson, and Sueno was the former national chair of the ruling PDP-Laban.
In each of these firings, Mr. Duterte’s doctrine was intoned. About La Viña and Valdez, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said: “The President has mentioned time and again that he will not tolerate even a whiff of corruption.”
About Sueno, on the other hand, the President said, firstly, that he was not misinformed about the then interior secretary’s conduct in office (Sueno had protested his innocence, saying he was a “sacrificial lamb” and a “victim of intrigue”), and, secondly, that his principle was clear and spared no one: “The first whiff of corruption, even if not true, goodbye …”
Can’t be any clearer. How, then, to square the President’s words with the news that he has appointed former Manila International Container Port district collector Vincent Philip Maronilla as assistant commissioner of the Bureau of Customs?
Mark Taguba, the Customs fixer-turned-whistleblower, identified Maronilla as among those who received grease money to facilitate the smuggling of the P6.4-billion drug shipment from China, the botched entry of which led to a series of Senate hearings that implicated a number of high-profile individuals.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, in a privilege speech, also mentioned Maronilla as part of the “tara” system receiving multimillion-peso bribes at Customs.
“Even if not true” (as Mr. Duterte put it), Maronilla evidently carries more than a whiff of corruption about him.
However, he is not the only one who appears to have been exempted from the President’s stark, ostensibly impartial stance against wrongdoing.
Former Customs chief Nicanor Faeldon escaped accountability for the China drug haul, and has even been appointed to the Office of Civil Defense.
Aristotle Reyes, one of the Department of Justice prosecutors who dismissed charges against confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa, businessman Peter Lim and several others, was likewise not only spared any official chastisement for his actions, but was even promoted; he is now the new regional trial court judge in Lucena City.
And Supt. Marvin Marcos and his cohorts, accused of involvement in the brazen jailhouse killing of Mayor Rolando Espinosa of Albuera, Leyte, have seen the charges against them downgraded, and their eventual reinstatement in the police force.
Is the President being ill-advised? What accounts for the special treatment they seem to enjoy?