LET’S MOVE on.” That was what the allies and apologists of the Arroyo administration would quickly say whenever somebody important was caught with his or her hand in the cookie jar. And indeed President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her top officials would move on—to the next scandal, from the P728-million fertilizer scam to “Hello, Garci” and then to the NBN-ZTE deal, among other irregularities.
Now that Arroyo is no longer in power, the same mantra is being repeated every time another case of fraud or corruption during her administration comes to light. It is the cry of her loyalists, who pretend not to see anything wrong with everything Arroyo did when she was in power or who cynically believe that dipping one’s hands into public funds is part of the perks of public office and that the opportunity is a matter of “weather-weather lang,” so why don’t the incumbents just help themselves to the people’s money? And it is also the advice of presumably well-intentioned observers who seem to think that the efforts to unearth irregularities in the previous administration is nothing but a distraction from the task of governing the nation, perhaps forgetting that righting wrong and dispensing justice lie at the core of governance.
Had the Aquino administration listened to their siren song, the Filipino people would have been kept in the dark regarding these things:
1. The many ways funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office were misused by the general manager and the members of the board appointed by Arroyo. These include the diversion of hundreds of millions of pesos into an intelligence fund that was used for purposes not covered by the charter of the PCSO, such as “blood money” for OFWs convicted of murder, anti-terrorism operations, etc. Curiously, the PCSO spent the most money for intelligence—P138 million—in the first six months of 2010, an election year. In every case the augmentation of the intelligence fund was proposed by the PCSO general manager, Arroyo’s friend Rosario Uriarte, and approved by Arroyo, who also kept the records pertaining to the use of the fund.
Equally scandalous was the expenditure of about P7.2 billion over a period of nine years for public relations and advertising ostensibly to promote products that have no competition, like the lotto. Worse, some of Arroyo’s friends in media reportedly received kickbacks from ad placements. The PCSO’s advertising manager, Manuel Garcia, also stands accused of demanding and receiving as much as 40 percent of the cost of advertising contracts.
2. The misappropriation of about P186 million from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. to promote the election bid of former Pagcor chair Efraim Genuino’s daughter. Plunder charges have been filed against Genuino, two of his children and the members of the old Pagcor board that approved the fund releases and several other officials. Genuino and other Pagcor officials were earlier accused of misusing P30 million that was supposed to go to the Philippine Sports Commission and spending P26.7 million to finance the film “Baler.”
3. The purchases made by the Philippine National Police of rubber boats worth P135 million and of three helicopters at a cost of P105 million. The helicopters were passed off as brand new and priced as such, although two of them were in fact second-hand; while the boats cannot be used because the engines don’t match their specifications.
4. The purchases of overpriced rice in quantities that far exceeded what the country needed, which led the National Food Authority to pile up debts amounting to P176.5 billion by 2010, almost 10 times its debts in 2001. A total of P123 billion of such debts was incurred from 2008 to 2010, the last two years of the Arroyo administration.
These are but some of the more serious irregularities committed during the Arroyo administration and uncovered in recent weeks. The sums involved are staggering and the finger of blame is starting to point at Arroyo. No wonder, her loyal camp followers want to keep them hidden. But the next time Rep. Edcel Lagman or Rep. Douglas Cagas cry, “Move on,” President Aquino and his officials should just tell them: “Move back and get out of the way. We are cleaning up the mess. And you are obstructing our search for justice.”
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