Was anyone surprised at the news that Vitaliano Aguirre II has been nominated to the board of the Social Security System? The former justice secretary has been out of government less than two months, after resigning his post in April in the wake of public outrage at the revelation that his department had dismissed drug charges against self-confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa and alleged drug businessman Peter Lim.
Before that, he had presided for two years over arguably the greatest debasement of the justice department in its history, as Aguirre lurched from one shabby controversy to the next that eventually made his stay in office a signal injustice itself. Other than the Espinosa-Lim debacle, Aguirre also granted witness protection status to pork-barrel scam brains Janet Lim Napoles, colluded with convicted drug felons to conjure dubious evidence against Sen. Leila de Lima, and abetted the brazen attempt by two fraternity brothers of his and President Duterte to evade plunder charges through the simple expedient of losing P1,000 of the bribe money, and thereby miss the P50-million plunder threshold.
His removal from government was supposed to be an affirmation of Mr. Duterte’s promise to fire anyone with so much as a “whiff of corruption” on him or her—the mark of a strong, decisive leader, so it is said, who brooks no wrongdoing even, or especially, among those closest to him. But Aguirre apparently knows something the public doesn’t, because a few weeks out of office and he was already heard crowing that he would be back in the official fold soon. “From Malacañang, I believe that they have something for me, but there is yet no definite offer so far,” he said in a May 29 interview.
Whether Aguirre does get confirmed for the SSS board, the fact that he is in the running at all for another position in government is further proof of the basic insincerity of the Duterte administration’s vow to cleanse public office and get only “the best and the brightest” for it. Malacañang makes much of Mr. Duterte’s frequent firing sprees as evidence of his robust anticorruption stance, but is cagey about the corresponding program of recycling that has brought back many of the same tainted, but apparently loyal, men and women to new positions of power.
The playbook is familiar by now: Fire or ease out controversial officials, let them wait out the heat, then launder them into new positions. Hence, the disgraced Aguirre soon to nest on the SSS. Hence Nicanor Faeldon, sacked from Customs over the P6.5-billion shabu smuggling case, then appointed deputy administrator of the Office of Civil Defense. Hence Pompee La Viña, fired from SSS along with chairman Amado Valdez because, according to Mr. Duterte himself, they “abused” public funds—only to be resurrected as tourism and then agriculture undersecretary. Hence Marvin Marcos, Chito Bersaluna, Roberto Fajardo and other police officers like them who, after some months in the freezer for the questionable deaths of alleged drug suspects in their hands, were back on the job or even promoted, because, as former Philippine National Police chief Ronald dela Rosa justified it, “sayang ang sweldo” (it’s a waste of their salary).
Hence Vincent Maronilla, Joan Lagunda, Manuel Serra Jr., Milo Maestrecampo, Athelo Ybañez, Teddy Raval, Gerardo Gambala, Celestina de la Serna… The list goes on. As more regurgitated names pad up the Duterte administration’s organizational chart, the public’s faith in the President’s avowed zero-tolerance policy against corruption can only head further south. Surely there are far more Filipinos of unquestioned character and competence for public office than those in Malacañang’s list of reliable recyclables?