Absolved again, naturally
Immigration chief Jaime Morente has said he welcomes the investigation being conducted by the Senate and the National Bureau of Investigation on the recently exposed “pastillas” scam at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
The operation, as revealed by Sen. Risa Hontiveros and subsequently corroborated by an Immigration officer, Allison Chiong, allegedly entailed the illegal entry into the country of Chinese workers posing as tourists, facilitated by corrupt Immigration personnel paid off with grease money by tour operators.
Morente said he was “very disappointed with the unauthorized activities of some personnel…,” and vowed to “cooperate with any impartial probe and lifestyle check conducted by authorities.”
In an ideal time, under an ethically rigorous environment, Morente wouldn’t be lambasting his own people for their wrongdoing, downplaying the scandal as a mere case of “unauthorized activities,” and making noises about welcoming a probe.
He would not, as has happened, allow that 19 officials and personnel under him would end up getting sacked by President Duterte (only 19 suspects for such an elaborate scheme, when Chiong said as much as 90 percent of Immigration personnel may be involved?), while he would conveniently remove himself from the mess and suggest, with properly wounded bravado, that “the intense public scrutiny and accompanying trial by publicity that the Bureau has been subjected to will only ensure that we come out stronger as we weather yet another storm.”
He would, instead, assume command responsibility for such a monumental failure by his office, and resign forthwith.
But not for Morente is that old-fashioned, honorable way. Then again, he is likely just taking his cue from Malacañang. Mr. Duterte, while commendably moving swiftly against lower-level officials, just as quickly exempted Morente from any risk of accountability with some profusely solicitous words: “Si Morente, mahal ko ’yan kasi chief of police ’yan dito [Davao]. Mabait ’yan. Hindi niya kaya, limitado na rin kasi.”
It’s clear that the Duterte administration’s unofficial but firmly established program granting instant presidential absolution to favored officials who mess up has found its latest beneficiary. The President may readily admit that his appointee to Immigration can’t do the job, but he’s keeping him nonetheless — because of love.
Embattled police official Jovie Espenido is another recent recipient of the protective affections of the Chief Executive. The Western Visayas Regional Police Office has cleared him of any alleged drug links, following the confirmation that Espenido’s name had appeared in a list of police personnel suspected of drug involvement that was submitted to Mr. Duterte. The regional office said it found no “intelligence information” against Espenido — a foregone conclusion, if you will, because the Palace had already said the same thing.
How did the “poster boy” of the administration’s drug war — the ruthless executioner sent by the President to pursue high-profile targets such as Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa (terminated) and Ozamiz Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog (terminated) — end up a suspect himself in his boss’ list?
Mr. Duterte’s notorious narcolist — drawn from so-called intelligence reports available only to him and the findings of which no independent eyes have seen and/or vetted—has been wielded against a wide swath of citizens, many of them ending up publicly shamed with unverified accusations or, worse, dead.
Amazingly, however, in the case of Espenido, the Palace would not only rush to his rescue by declaring that the police officer remained “clean” in the President’s eyes and perhaps a victim of “black propaganda”; presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo would also attack the very credibility of the President’s list — something he had defended unfailingly in the past.
“There may be some flaws in intelligence-gathering,” he said. “That happens.”
The list is flawed, in short, the accusation it carries amounting to nothing, if it implicated a favorite. The jury may still be out on Espenido, but Morente, Nicanor Faeldon and Isidro Lapeña (Mr. Duterte on the shambles the last two made at Customs: “Nalusutan lang talaga kasi ’di nila kaya ’yan kasi insider eh, kinain sila ng sistema”), former police chief Oscar Albayalde who was allowed to retire with full benefits and no charges despite the “ninja cop” stain on his record — they’re only the topnotchers in the swelling list of supremely lucky guys and gals in this administration to be given so much power and responsibility, to then screw up so royally, and to be rewarded with presidential remission so casually.
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