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Perils of public service

/ 12:05 AM September 30, 2014

The perils and sorrows of public service were amply demonstrated by former (I suppose the term can be used by now) National Food Authority administrator Arthur Juan.

Juan recently sent in his “irrevocable” resignation to former senator Francis Pangilinan, the presidential adviser on food security and agricultural modernization. Pangilinan had recruited Juan from the private sector and gave him marching orders to “clean up” the troubled agency.

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The NFA is the government’s procurer of rice—both to stabilize prices to protect farmers as well as ensure a steady supply of the country’s staple food to protect poor consumers. The agency had frequently figured in controversies over several matters: unauthorized importation of rice supplies, storing rice in warehouses and withholding it from the market to jack up prices, and now adulterating NFA rice with animal feed, in connivance with private traders. So I suppose Juan and the new team he brought with him knew they were treading on rather big toes when they sought to clean up the NFA.

Juan cited his “health” in his letter, but everybody knows his resignation was triggered by reports of a National Bureau of Investigation “finding” that he and his executive assistant had been negotiating with an accused in the animal feed case in exchange for millions in hush money.

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Of course, with the NBI being still one of the few (if not the last) law enforcement agencies still enjoying credibility with the public, the report was immediately deemed credible.

But Juan vehemently denied the charges, and Pangilinan, for one, says the Department of Justice, which has direct supervisory control over the NBI, denies that any such report exists or was submitted. Pangilinan even brought up the possibility that the “evidence”—an exchange of text messages between Juan, his assistant and the accused warehouse owners in which details of the extortion attempt were spelled out—had been faked with the use of a malicious piece of software.

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I do not know Juan personally, neither have I met him, but my husband, a retired San Miguel Corp. executive, says he met with Juan a number of times. Juan is an SMC retiree himself, so it makes me wonder why he would squander his name and reputation, built over the years in San Miguel Foods, for a few millions in connivance with an assistant he met just a few days earlier.

When the news broke out about the NBI “report,” it sent Juan to the hospital for unknown reasons, though stress and shock probably had a lot to do with it.

I don’t blame Juan a bit if he had thought

“to hell with it” after being accused of the most venal of acts so soon after his appointment.

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Especially when he didn’t need the money or the pressure brought to bear on him.

In these days when almost every other government official is accused of one anomaly or the other, the ease with which the seemingly trumped-up charges against Juan have gained traction can only turn off private citizens—especially the most qualified—from ever heeding the call of public service. And where does that leave us? What kind of government will we end up with when only the unqualified or the unscrupulous are willing to serve the people?

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Still, having said that, I do stand 100 percent behind Sen. Grace Poe when she called for PNP Director General Alan Purisima to take a leave of absence while an investigation is going on to look into charges of graft against the police chief.

Former PNP chief and senator Panfilo Lacson has gone one step further and urged Purisima to quit his post. Purisima is set to retire next year.

The charges against Purisima stem from questions over his statement of assets, liability and net worth, a copy of which was released by the Civil Service Commission. Questions have likewise been raised about the financing of the “White House,” the newly built official residence of the PNP chief in Camp Crame which Purisima’s boss, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, says was built from “donations” of private individuals. News reports also reveal the existence of a lavish rest house in Nueva Ecija which he said was worth only P3.75 million in his SALN.

Earlier, an anticrime watchdog group demanded Purisima’s resignation over the PNP’s failure to stem the tide of criminality. Incidents involving “scalawags” in the police force have been increasing of late.

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Conveniently, Purisima is said to be taking part in a training course abroad, and his spokespeople have been left to handle the flak.

Purisima is said to have pretty strong ties with P-Noy, stemming from his days with the Presidential Security Group during the term of the late President Cory Aquino when P-Noy was but a young man working closely with the PSG to protect his mother.

This may explain Purisima’s and P-Noy’s durable ties, but Poe and Lacson are right. If the PNP chief really does care for the welfare of his friend, and for the verdict of history on the P-Noy administration, he should fall on his sword and sacrifice himself to protect the President. Purisima may truly be the victim of a vilification campaign, but he must remove himself from his powerful post if only to ease suspicions that the investigation into the charges against him was somehow skewed in his favor. After all, what agency or investigator or prosecutor would like to tangle with the country’s top police officer?

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TAGS: Arthur Juan, crime, food security, Francis Pangilinan, nation, National Food Authority, news, PNP Director General Alan Purisima, rice
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