Following Ruby Tuason’s appearance at the Senate to speak on the Napoles pork barrel scam, Vice President Jejomar Binay questioned her enlistment in the government’s Witness Protection Program, dismissing as a “dud,” not a “slam-dunk,” the testimony she could provide.
Perhaps this was an instinctive response to a question launched in an “ambush.” His political advisers would have cautioned him against stepping into the pork barrel muck, safer to continue flying below the radar and distancing himself from the sticky stain spreading from the scam.
Commenting on the case involving the Priority Development Assistance Fund exposes him to danger from two directions. It opens a potential, premature rift with the President, because the Napoles scam has emerged as the defining milestone in the administration’s “daang matuwid” campaign. It also risks raking up unproven charges of sustained and systemic corruption in Makati during the multiple terms as mayor of himself and family members.
But the Vice President’s leadership over UNA (United Nationalist Alliance) does aggravate the public perception problems from the Binay terms in Makati. When this political coalition was launched, the branding focused on the leaders, projected as the Three Kings of Philippine politics: Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, former president Joseph Estrada, and Vice President Binay himself.
The alliance, obviously not based on ideology or governance programs, collects “strange bedfellows.” Senator Enrile and Vice President Binay had been fierce antagonists: the architect of martial law and the street parliamentarian defending human rights. Senator Enrile’s perceived involvement in the post-Edsa coup attempts squandered the merit gained at Edsa 1 and again placed him and VP Binay on opposite sides.
Now Manila Mayor Estrada was convicted of plunder and pardoned by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, now also charged with plunder. Senator Enrile also faces plunder charges, together with UNA partner Sen. Jinggoy Estrada. People will wonder what kind of kingdom the UNA Three Kings control. Another cliché, “birds of a feather,” comes to mind. This hurts the Vice President, who has avoided being tarred and feathered by the Napoles scam.
Those charged in the scam denounce the investigation as “politically motivated,” connecting it to the alleged bribery of legislators to secure the conviction of the impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona. UNA secretary general Tobias Tiangco demanded that the budget department disclose the congressional recipients of DAP (Disbursement Acceleration Program) funds.
Sec-Gen Tiangco’s fixation on who got what and for what reason focuses him on the wrong end of the gift horse. The DAP differs from the PDAF, although some politicians illegally deployed the funds the same way. But even the PDAF, until revealed as a vehicle for plunder and ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, enjoyed the presumption of legality.
The public is correctly more concerned about how politicians used the funds, a question Sec-Gen Tiangco does not probe. He could set an example by disclosing to whom he entrusted his PDAF allocations and urging his colleagues to do the same.
Neither have print and broadcast interviewers pressed the indicted senators on this question. For over six months, they have remained silent on where they put their PDAF allocations, for what reasons, and with what results.
In the same Inquirer report citing Sec-Gen Tiangco (2/25/14), Rep. Terry Ridon maintained that the disbursement of DAP funds was “politically motivated.” This phrase has become a shorthand formula to denounce behavior, policies and people as unworthy of support or belief.
Student activists do complain about “commercially motivated” education programs or liberals about “religiously motivated” demographic policies. It would be surprising for a businessman to condemn a venture as “commercially motivated,” or a priest to dismiss projects as “religiously motivated.”
Politicians themselves like to use “politically motivated,” often to deny charges they find difficult to debate. But it is a retort that diminishes and discredits their chosen profession. Why are motives associated with politics seen by the practitioners as somehow suspect? What should matter is not the source from which the motives spring, but their substance and validity.
Politics addresses issues of governance and citizenship. The movement to liberate the country from the Marcos regime and to impeach a president linked to illegal gambling were, undeniably, “politically motivated.” Despite having been debased by many political leaders, politics remains an honorable and a necessary calling. Politicians should want to celebrate, not demean, motives inspired by politics.
Citizens want officials who will protect, not plunder, the resources of the state, and will use these for the benefit of the public. They want a strong state that can ensure the rule of law and exact punishment for those who exploit their exalted offices to steal from the people. They want elections that will place in power officials who will hold themselves accountable to the electorate.
To establish a strong state, ensure the rule of law and enforce public accountability are politically motivated objectives: legitimate and, in the view of political philosopher Francis Fukuyama, necessary for the development of a mature, democratic community of citizens.
Edilberto C. de Jesus ([email protected]) is professor emeritus at the Asian Institute of Management.
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