If President Duterte’s words and actions constitute policy, as they logically should, then topsy-turvy is the name of the game.
Only in November, Mr. Duterte took on a strangely diffident stance in announcing that he had “no business” naming lawmakers engaged in corruption at the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) because “they belong to a separate branch of government… coequal with the President [and also] the Supreme Court.” But late last month, as though to show that his words don’t amount to much, he did exactly that: He named a number of lawmakers supposedly being investigated for corrupt activities at the DPWH, but claimed at length that it didn’t mean “a condemnation or an indictment that [they] are guilty of something.”
His public disclosure of the names of those allegedly on the radar of the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission, and against whom there was as yet no hard evidence, was hardly a surprise. He has done so a few times in connection with his administration’s centerpiece war on drugs; he has named persons in his “narcolist” without benefit of damning evidence, in the process endangering their lives, and indeed leading to the killing of a number of them, most recently Mayor Caesar Perez of Los Baños, Laguna. (Perez, who had vehemently protested his being named in 2019, was shot in the head twice last Dec. 3 and died in hospital. Thousands mourned his passing. Later addressing the mayor’s sons, Mr. Duterte expressed regret at their father’s fate and said the list was “not mine,” but was based on intel reports from the military, police, and drug enforcement agencies.)
But whatever its purpose, the timing of the President’s reading of the list of allegedly corrupt lawmakers was off: It was done just as the disturbing implications of his remark to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) director general Eric Domingo that “almost all soldiers” had received China’s Sinopharm vaccine were being absorbed by the general public, and it gave rise to the suspicion that it was a distraction, an attempt to contain the damage inflicted by the admission of the entry — the smuggling — of an unapproved vaccine that was administered to privileged persons sub rosa.
The shaming of the allegedly corrupt lawmakers, plus a former congressman and several DPWH district engineers, didn’t work. With Interior Secretary Eduardo Año confirming clandestine inoculations, public interest in the smuggled vaccine grew instead of waned, and official inquiries were planned by the legislature, the military, the National Bureau of Investigation, and even the FDA, whose hapless chief was effectively unmanned by the President’s “frank” statement on the vaccination of the troops under his, Domingo’s, unsuspecting nose. (The military’s inquiry, scheduled to start yesterday, has since been shelved, apparently based on Mr. Duterte’s Monday-night warning to Congress to lay off the Presidential Security Group, or else.)
And no, it didn’t help that Mr. Duterte said his disclosure of the list of allegedly corrupt lawmakers was part of Filipinos’ “right to have access to information” — a remark that his mouthpiece Harry Roque corroborated, adding for good measure that in naming the lawmakers, the President was in a “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” situation. But in the course of Malacañang’s invoking of the list as a public document to which Filipinos should, by right, have access, the matter of a most important public document arose: the President’s statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth, and its continuing unavailability to the media and the general public.
By now it should be clear to Malacañang that the tack it took in this case was tricky. In piously claiming transparency, it called attention to itself; it gave leeway to the likes of Bayan Muna Rep. Ferdinand Gaite, a member of the Makabayan bloc that is in the Palace’s list of irritants, to point out, correctly: “If we are going to talk about freedom of information, then the Palace should probably take the lead, not by naming names, but [by] making public the President’s own records.”
Other contradictions to the Palace’s sudden posture of transparency are cropping up, such as the President’s veto of certain provisions in the 2021 national budget, including one that requires the executive branch to submit quarterly reports on the use of billion-peso intelligence funds to the Senate and the House of Representatives.
And speaking of contradictions, only on Monday, Roque declared at his regular press briefing that Malacañang wasn’t hiding anything and that the President’s security detail would “definitely” testify at any inquiry into the use of an unauthorized vaccine on its members: “Haharap ho ba sila sa mga imbestigasyon? Syempre po! Wala po tayong itinatago.”
Hours later, in a clear demonstration of the topsy-turvy state of communication between the ruler and the ruled, the President said he would brook no investigation of his men.
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