Nothing is more ironic about this administration’s vaunted anticorruption stance than President Duterte’s endorsement of Jinggoy Estrada’s comeback bid for senator in the May 2019 polls.
In an event in Legazpi, Albay, last week, Mr. Duterte was reported to have raised Estrada’s hand and proclaimed him as one of his candidates as well as that of his daughter Sara, mayor of Davao City.
Estrada is the same guy currently on trial at the Sandiganbayan for plunder and 11 counts of graft, for allegedly pocketing P183.8 million of his pork barrel allocations when he was a senator. The social media generation can be forgiven, then, for responding to the jarring news of the presidential blessing with green-faced emojis and a litany of “WTF!” (Google this.)
Back in 2016, the tough-talking Davao City mayor ran on an anticorruption (and anti-illegal drug) platform, mesmerizing voters with his cuss-laden, scorched-earth threats against the addict and the corrupt. “I will really skin you alive,” a freshly elected Mr. Duterte warned corrupt officials and employees in early 2016. “I do not like graft and corruption, especially involving money that’s intended, you know, for the poor, for farmers,” he added.
Every now and then, some government functionaries have been shown the door as Mr. Duterte dramatized his vow to fire those with even just a “whiff of corruption.”
But this tough stance against the corrupt rings hollow with the President’s endorsement of one of three senators implicated in the unconscionable P10-billion pork barrel scam of 2013, where funds intended for the poor were siphoned off to ghost projects of Janet Lim Napoles’ fictitious NGOs and distributed as kickbacks to corrupt officials and lawmakers.
Jinggoy, the son of former president Joseph Estrada who was also convicted of plunder and booted out of Malacañang, was able to gain temporary freedom through a P1.3-million bail even if his case is non-bailable. (In a mockery of the justice system, the younger Estrada, along with Juan Ponce Enrile, accused of receiving P172.8 million, and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., accused of taking P224.5 million but was recently acquitted, are now all back in the race for the same office they were accused of having plundered.)
By Mr. Duterte’s stark definition of corruption — taking money away from the poor — Estrada should not merit even a whiff of an anointment. For one, he has yet to be cleared of the grave accusations against him. For another, no less than the Supreme Court ruled to admit in his trial the report of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC), which found large sums of money going into his accounts at the time of the scam. AMLC said it found P629.2 million in Estrada’s nine bank accounts from 2004 to 2013, as well as evidence that he received P157.6 million in “commissions or rebates” for funneling his pork allocations to Napoles’ bogus NGOs.
Whistleblower Benhur Luy has testified to how kickbacks were given to “Sexy,” the code name for Estrada. And who can forget the authoritative testimony of Ruby Tuason, former social secretary of Jinggoy’s father who turned state witness? Tuason testified that she gave the kickbacks to the younger Estrada (in P1 million to P2 million placed in a bag) right inside his office at the Senate.
To be sure, Estrada is not the first case attesting to how selective Mr. Duterte’s anticorruption drive can be when it comes to his friends and favorites.
There’s Solicitor General Jose Calida, whose security agency has bagged at least P150 million in contracts from government agencies, a clear case of conflict of interest; Isidro Lapeña, who was Customs commissioner when P2.4-billion worth of shabu stashed in magnetic lifters slipped through the bureau’s inspections; and, of course, the Marcoses, whose resurrection he has ardently championed.
But endorsing Estrada, whose trial is still barely halfway through, is fundamentally warped on many counts. One is the potential effect a presidential anointment is bound to have on those litigating the case. (Earlier in 2016, Mr. Duterte publicly endorsed the grant of bail to Enrile and Revilla. Enrile did get bail, and Revilla was even acquitted.) Another is enabling the impunity and scourge of corruption to flourish through political patronage.
But the biggest blemish would be on the sincerity and authenticity of Mr. Duterte’s image as a graft-busting, corruption-hating leader. Given the evidence presented in court so far on the monumental pillage of taxpayer money, endorsing Estrada is tantamount to endorsing the very corruption that supposedly gets the President all worked up. WTF indeed.
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