In the context of a presidency that continually sounds the call for a stop to the wangwang of corruption as a primary and most pressing concern, the designation of Lt. Gen. Gaudencio Pangilinan as the new director of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) is, to say the least, off course. And very disappointing because it follows a pattern of controversial appointments – e.g., LTO chief Virginia Torres and Customs Commissioner Angelito Alvarez – that did not measure up to the critical “above suspicion, Caesar’s wife” standard.
Pangilinan is among dozens of ranking military officers and public officials accused of the crime of plunder by former AFP budget officer and retired Lt. Col. George Rabusa, the whistle-blower in the biggest scandal in AFP history, and star witness against the generals who allegedly partook of the booty from the long running “multi-flanked raid” on AFP coffers, that financed the multimillion-peso “traditional pabaon” for outgoing AFP chiefs of staff, and expedited the “conversion” of billions of pesos in intelligence and other funds that ended up in the pockets of military officers, even as frontline foot soldiers battled the enemies of state in worn-out combat shoes and with inadequate supplies and logistics.
Pangilinan’s appointment in effect tears to shreds Rabusa’s testimony, as well as the piles and piles of documentary evidence he submitted in support of his allegations. It is as if the Aquino administration has dumped its star witness, paving the way for the scandal’s consignment to oblivion – to appease the fraternity of military hierarchy, perhaps?
It is intriguing enough that Pangilinan’s appointment was signed on July 19, three days before his retirement date. Which makes everyone wonder why there was such a haste? And then, according to newspaper reports, moments after he took his oath last Thursday, a Department of Justice panel “resumed its preliminary investigation into the plunder case filed against” him. Are we seeing a house divided here? Actions speak louder than words. Malacañang should realize that Pangilinan’s appointment does not build confidence in its war against corruption in government. This is unfortunate especially since it comes at a time when there is a rush of fresh revelations concerning the cheating and the greed of the Arroyo administration. It seems that every time President Aquino’s anti-graft campaign starts to pick up momentum, he does something that throttles it.
If the President is sincere about taking the “tuwid na daan,” he should not have appointed somebody who is facing a serious criminal complaint like plunder, a senior justice department official was quoted as saying. Indeed, the failure or sin of omission, for which Ernesto Diokno (whom Pangilinan replaced), was sacked, was far lighter.
In defending his appointment, Pangilinan claimed that Rabusa’s allegations are mere fabrications. Rabusa, he said, has an axe to grind against him. The newly retired general had at one time led an investigation into financial anomalies in the AFP, and Rabusa was placed under house arrest as a result. True or not, the fact is that until Pangilinan is cleared of the crime Rabusa has charged him with, he will remain, in the eyes of a public that expects the highest degree of integrity from the Aquino presidency, a “vestige of wangwang.”
Malacañang, through Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, cited Pangilinan’s field of specialization in intelligence and operations to justify his appointment. This is what the BuCor needs most at this point in time, Lacierda said. Besides, “constitutionally speaking, a man is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty.” True, but in the din of wangwang, he comes across like an echo from the unlamented past administration. If this is how Malacañang vets appointees to important government positions, no one would be surprised if one day they find the likes of Prospero Pichay, Ephraim Genuino, and Rosario Uriarte back in their old posts. And why not? Up to this point, they are still “presumed to be innocent.”
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.