Ham-handed hit jobs
Was there something in the air around April Fool’s Day that caused people in the Duterte administration—led by the President, of course—to run off their mouths?
First, there was President Duterte himself in another late-night peroration warning common folk, and particularly the Left, that he would order “my soldiers, my police” to shoot at them if they dared to “disobey” lawful orders. Earlier that day, residents of a poor neighborhood in Quezon City had massed on Edsa to protest the lack of food relief.
Then the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) tried to make itself appear busy by issuing a letter of “invitation” to Pasig Mayor Vico Sotto, to question him on alleged violations of quarantine protocol. The issue: Sotto’s appeal to the national government to allow tricycles in Pasig City to ferry health care workers to their places of work despite the ban on public transport, a proposal he dutifully dropped after the Palace thumbed it down.
This was followed by a member of the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) asking that the NBI likewise summon Vice President Leni Robredo for “competing” with the national government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis. Robredo’s “crimes”? Soliciting funds from private donors to answer the crying need of frontline health workers. Specifically, she was accused of providing shuttle services for frontliners who’d been stranded due to the transport ban, looking for dormitory facilities for these same workers, and providing scarce life-saving personal protection equipment for them—actions that, according to PACC Commissioner Manuelito Luna, were “calculated to undermine government efforts on the coronavirus pandemic.”
Huh? “When has helping people become a crime?” opposition Senators Franklin Drilon, Risa Hontiveros, and Kiko Pangilinan asked, incredulous and outraged like many ordinary citizens. “Is it a crime to look for resources so that our health care workers are protected when they attend to the sick? Is it a crime to offer free shuttle vehicles (for) our essential service providers in this unprecedented shutdown of business operations?”
The pushback was swift and stunning, forcing the administration to retreat. Interior Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya described the NBI move against Sotto as a “useless political distraction” while the country is struggling to cope with the COVID-19 crisis. Malaya noted that while there had been an “exchange of views” between the DILG and Sotto at the time, the mayor eventually complied with the ban on tricycles. Sen. Tito Sotto, meanwhile, who also happens to be the mayor’s uncle, reminded the NBI that a law cannot be applied retroactively, referring to the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act that directed “strict compliance” with national orders on pain of sanctions, but which was passed days after Vico Sotto’s attempt to deploy tricycles.
So what was this imbroglio all about? The NBI said the issue was “politicized and sensationalized,” even as it turned out that, per Sotto’s office, it had been the bureau itself that leaked the letter of invitation and even brought along a media contingent when agents served the summons on Vico Sotto. It seems but another means of harassing the young mayor, who had previously been the unnamed subject of another midnight Duterte presser where the President lashed out against supposedly noncompliant local executives. The clumsy NBI ploy, however, only gained Sotto even more fervid public support, and condemnation of the government’s bewildering priorities.
As for the Vice President’s accuser, another PACC member eventually disowned Luna’s call as “just a personal opinion” and not the position of the entire commission, which “is not asking anyone to investigate” Robredo. The Vice President, whose COVID-19 projects began weeks before Malacañang even got into the act (with more than P44 million in donations raised as of yesterday), flicked away at the complaint, noting in a tweet that too much work remains to be done for her office to
Again, what was all this about? Could it be that the administration and its clueless coven of political operators were simply testing the winds of public opinion? Had there been no fierce backlash against the ham-handed hit jobs on Sotto and Robredo, would the Palace have moved on to other targets it deems as “competition” to its muddled, shambolic efforts at addressing the public health crisis, bringing the lot down to its level so no one else gets to outshine and outperform the Big Boss? If so, it didn’t reckon with a testy public hunkered down in their homes with all the time to scrutinize their government, and clearly in no mood for such cheap, base antics.
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