All the President’s recycled men
Reusing materials that are still useful to protect the environment is one thing, but recycling compromised government officials, let alone promoting them, is quite dangerously another.
And yet that is what the Duterte administration has done yet again when it announced last week the appointment of Vener Baquiran as deputy commissioner of the notoriously graft-ridden Bureau of Customs.
This is the same Baquiran who was sacked in August last year as district collector of Manila International Container Port, where two massive drug shipments concealed in magnetic lifters inexplicably slipped through in June 2018.
The estimated hoard of 500 kilograms of “shabu,” worth some P13.4 billion, is believed to have made its way into the streets, another blow to the administration’s so-called war against drugs.
Logic dictates that President Duterte, who has said time and again that he would rid his government of officials with just “a whiff of corruption,” would have nothing to do with the likes of Baquiran, and even zealously pursue the cases filed by the National Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice to their just end.
Baquiran, in particular, is enmeshed in charges involving the suspicious entry of illegal drugs, which Mr. Duterte has referred to as the scourge of the nation and has made the primary object of his centerpiece war.
Instead, Baquiran has been promoted — the latest official under this administration to go through the by-now familiar recycling process of Malacañang, where officials are dismissed from office or relieved from duty for reported anomalies, only for the Palace to reassign them to other government positions without so much as a slap on the wrist.
Isidro Lapeña, the Customs commissioner who sacked Baquiran after the discovery of the empty magnetic lifters in January this year, himself resigned his office following the smuggling incident.
He was charged with graft by the Department of Justice, but that was apparently of no import to the President, who simply moved him around, making him the head of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.
Nicanor Faeldon, the first Customs commissioner appointed by President Duterte, similarly left his office under a cloud of suspicion, after P6.4 billion worth of shabu was smuggled in during his short stint. But no worries for Faeldon—he was swiftly transferred first to the Office of Civil Defense, then appointed to head the Bureau of Corrections after former Philippine National Police chief Ronald dela Rosa left to campaign for the Senate.
Then there’s Roberto Fajardo, the chief of the Northern Police District who was suspended from office following the killing of teenager Kian delos Santos, which sparked massive protests over the bloody conduct of the drug war. Fajardo is now the chief of the PNP’s Highway Patrol Group.
Contrast all this royal accommodation for suspect yet dependably loyal officials with the unroyal treatment accorded Food and Drug Administration Director General Nela Charade Puno, who was fired “in line with the President’s continuing mandate to eradicate graft and corruption,” announced the Palace — without detailing what the exact issues were, save for a vague reference to complaints filed against her by the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines, a big pharma group.
Before this, Mr. Duterte had also made a big to-do about firing Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council Secretary General Falconi Millar over corruption allegations. Millar was said to have been extorting funds from a real estate development company, charges that he denied and said would be willing to respond to in court. No formal raps were filed, but he’s out of office.
Puno and Millar’s sin, it would seem, was not getting themselves close enough to the President such that whatever shortcomings they might commit in office would have merited not the feared presidential public tongue-lashing, but the virtual reward of a transfer to another agency, or even a promotion.
If the cases of Baquiran, Lapeña, Faeldon, et al., are any gauge, government action toward reports of wrongdoing by administration officials is dictated by one yardstick: how close the tainted officials are to the powers that be. When it comes to the President’s men — reuse, recycle, repeat.
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