Lord of the flies
The President, lest we forget, had to be jolted into action by the increasingly panicky appeals of business groups, because the anti-“endo” bill was approaching the point of lapsing into law, meaning it would have gone into effect without President Duterte’s signature. The frenzy was itself a manifestation of a wider concern over the fate of legislation, permits and other matters that have gained the Palace a reputation for being a black hole into which documents requiring action regularly vanish. (“What,” I quipped to one businessman, “as bad as in the previous dispensation?” “No,” came the instant reply: “Worse!”)
That the President finally acted on the matter, by vetoing the measure, only reveals a third problem: For a priority measure, the bill, as it passed through the upper and lower intestines of Congress, was quite obviously lacking in attention from the Palace, whether on the part of the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO) or the economic managers.
Inattentive/ineffective/incompetent PLLO’s are nothing new, but the result, as the Thais say, is same-same: Congress’ majority does what it wants, the Palace ends up with a hot potato on its lap, the result is that presidents lose political capital while Congress goes scott-free.
Having divorced itself from the Left, the President, of course, could care less what one of the prime movers in terms of sectors now feels; there are enough moderate labor organizations to patiently support another bill more acceptable to management. So one will be passed, eventually. The political cost of the veto was moderated by the President then suddenly ordering a stop to the operations of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), which reminded everyone of his power, as the PNP leaped into action and the secretary of justice obligingly abolished the hearsay rule (as one legal wag put it) by saying that as long as someone heard it, it must be true.
There were other collateral benefits, too: Negative public reactions to the President’s State of the Nation Address (Sona) kowtowing to China was forgotten; so was the ongoing scheme to corral not just the political opposition, but also anyone of any standing who has expressed disapproval of the President, into a wholesale charge of sedition. This, in particular, is a legacy move: to permanently hobble critics not just for the duration of the current dispensation, but even after it leaves office, because having to relinquish power can suddenly lead to a (belated) national chorus of the emperor having no clothes.
Yesterday, two friendly voices chimed in to try to stem the tide of popular speculation on the PCSO operational shutdown, since beyond a few official mumblings, the most the public had to go on was reminders that last year, the President pitched for that impressive specimen of integrity, Atong Ang, to take charge of cleansing the PCSO: a proposal so startling it even jolted then PNP chief Bato dela Rosa to denounce Ang, insisting the squeaky-clean police weren’t on the take from small town lottery (STL) operators. Ang had accused the cops of being on the take from STL operators; Bato clarified that what the cops got was a percentage that was legally mandated and given to the regional and national headquarters, and used in the antigambling campaign (Bato had been waging war on illegal gambling since 2017).
Friendly voice No. 1 was the Supreme Insider’s, Mon Tulfo. The President, he said, was fed up over trusted lieutenants (PCSO general manager Royina Garma, a retired police colonel, and that other glittering poster child of impeccable behavior, Sandra Cam, a member of the board) who were bickering over “who would collect the remittances from STL, lotto, Peryahan ng Bayan and Keno operators.” Garma wanted her office to do it; Cam wanted the board and the PCSO chair to do it. Cam had succeeded in ousting a previous chair, Jose Jorge Corpuz, but it seems her luck’s run out.
Tulfo also pointed out that STL franchises had “ballooned” in the current era: When it took over, there’d been 18 STL operators; now there are 85. These were, according to Tulfo, handed out by the retired officers appointed to PCSO to their mistahs from the PMA. The previous chair gave out four, the current chair’s given out one. But the alumni backslapping is nothing compared to former justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, whom Tulfo says got six franchises.
Friendly voice No. 2 is our very own Jake Maderazo, who says the President acted because the receivables of the PCSO had ballooned (something noted last year by the Commission on Audit); Maderazo received information that, in recent weeks, PCSO efforts to collect have been hampered by “numerous restraining orders” issued by judges upon the request of “errant STL operators.” He broadly described what Tulfo was more specific about. So far, then: It’s a fight within that got out of hand. If only Atong Ang had been in charge!
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