Keeping Things in Perspective: Political Corruption and the Presidentiables

First of two parts
By: Thinking Pinoy

The killer, the novice, the incompetent, or the thief. The meme-powered and oft-unsubstantiated mudslinging is probably confusing a lot of voters today. And in these times, the best thing to do is to go back to the basic question: who is corrupt?

Corruption can be defined in so many ways. However, in the context of the 2016 Philippine Presidential Elections, we have to be reminded that we are voting for a president, not a saint. That is why it’s important to isolate the type of corruption that’s relevant to the situation.

Political corruption. That’s what we need to focus on.

Regardless of political affiliation, most of you will agree with me that political corruption is the biggest problem Filipinos face today. Hence, let’s ask:

Which among the presidential candidates is politically corrupt?

Before we go any further, let us first be clear about the definition of corruption in the context of politics.

Political corruption means the abuse of political power by the government leaders to extract and accumulate for private enrichment, and to use politically corrupt means to maintain their hold on power.

The definition is a bit circular but the essence is clear, i.e. a politically corrupt official: 1. Abuses political power for private enrichment, or, 2. Abuses political power to gain, maintain, or enhance hold on power

That is, if a presidential candidate falls under one of these two standards, then it’s game over. Now, let’s examine each presidential candidate with these two standards for political corruption in mind.

1.0 Jejomar “Jojo” Binay
Majority of Filipinos may agree that Vice-president Binay is corrupt through-and-through and I don’t want to belabor the point anymore. But to sum up his story:
• Makati Parking Building [Rappler]
• 350-hectare Rosario Batangas Farm [Philstar]
• UMak-STI deal [Inquirer]
• Makati’s overpriced medical supplies, etc.[Manila Bulettin]
Okay, you already get the point, so let’s move on to the next candidate. Let’s not waste our time on what’s already obvious.

• Abuses political power for private enrichment? Yes.
• Abuses political power to maintain hold on power? Maybe but not necessarily.

2.0 Manuel “Mar” Roxas II
In the early months of his campaign, Roxas has been touted as for integrity. Roxas claims to have never been tainted by corruption, and is totally bent on curbing corruption in all ranks of government. Essentially, he is the poster boy for “Daang Matuwid (Straight Path)”, a term that’s the exact opposite of corruption.
For the longest time, I believed his claims. That is, until I did some research and found out that I, much to my dismay, was wrong.

2.1 Dubious Political Alliances
Mar Roxas has allied himself with the following:
• The Romualdos of Camiguin
• The Ortegas of La Union
• The Akbars of Basilan
• The Tans of Sulu
• The Sahalis of Tawi-tawi
• The Mangudadatus of Maguindanao
• The Alonto/Lucmans of Lanao
• The Delosos of Zambales

The list goes on and on. However, among all these dynastic alliances, the most notable, most disturbing, and most recent, is Mar’s alliance with the Pinedas of Pampanga and the Dys of Isabela.

Bye Panlilio, Hello Pineda

The Pinedas of Pampanga are the biggest “alleged” jueteng lords in the country, capable of bankrolling the presidential campaign of former President GMA [Rappler], and providing payolas to former President Estrada [Philstar].

In 2007, ex-priest Ed Panlilio, a staunch anti-jueteng activist, won the governorship, only to be deposed by the COMELEC in 2010, enabling first runner-up Lilia Pineda to take the seat just a few months before the 2010 elections [GMA].Roxas and LP supported Panlilio when he ran again in 2010, with President Aquino even declaring that he wants to end the reign of the Pinedas [Inquirer].

Panlilio lost, Pineda won, and Roxas and LP’s rhetoric has changed since then.

In 2015, Roxas praised Pineda’s leadership, much to the shock and dismay of anti-illegal gambling advocates, Panlilio included [ABSCBN]. Just last week, Roxas and Robredo even went as far as defending Pineda against jueteng-related allegations, only for everyone to find out that Pineda pledged support for Roxas’ and Robredo’s respective candidacies [Rappler].

Now, going back to our two standards, it remains to be seen if Roxas has something to gain financially, but a solid Kapampanganvote through the support of the “Jueteng Pinedas” reinforces his bid to gain power.

Bye Padaca, Hello Dy
In 2010, Roxas and LP originally supported Grace Padaca, a 2008 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Government Service for “empowering Isabela voters to reclaim their democratic right to elect leaders of their own choosing, and to contribute as full partners in their own development.”

However, LP’s stance changed after events demonstrated how powerful the Dys are.

Padaca recently questioned the LP’s way of allying with those who are not presumed to be practicing the reform agenda or the “Tuwid na Daan” anti-corruption slogan of the administration [Inquirer].

“My only question is the ease by which they could ally with people who are not known to be Daang Matuwid. ‘Yun lang ang question ko. Presidential candidate Mar Roxas has been openly naman going quite often to Isabela with the Dys na ang kanyang kasama. Hindi ko alam kung mababago pa ‘yun,” Padaca said.

• Abuses political power for private enrichment? In this issue, not necessarily.
• Abuses political power to maintain hold on power? Yes.

2.2 Criminal Cronies
Roxas actively defends campaign donor Eric Gutierrez, owner of SR Metals Inc, an Agusan del Norte miner that exceeds legal mining quotas, destroys the environment, illegally displaces (and allegedly murders) lumads, among other violations. By the way, LP Spokesman Edgar Erice was SR Metals’ incorporator and president in the late 2000s.

Gutierrez did not just lease planes to Roxas’ 2016 campaign, he is also a known long-time LP ally. He supported PNoy’s candidacy in 2010, hired former cabinet secretary Ricky Carandang as press chief of one of his companies, and he even lent the helicopter used to film VP Binay’s alleged Batangas farm.

To add insult to injury, Pnoy even awarded Gutierrez an environment award just two months ago in Malacanang. In response to all these criticisms, Roxas said “[Eric] is my friend, what’s wrong with that?” [Philstar]

• Abuses political power for private enrichment? Not necessarily.
• Abuses political power to maintain hold on power? Yes.

2.3 Patronage Politics
Political patronage is the dispensation of valued benefits by a patron to a client in exchange for political loyalty. In Mar’s case, I can cite at least two concrete and blood-curdling examples.

First, Korina and DA handouts. Roxas allowed his wife, Korina Sanchez-Roxas, to be the face that gives out publicly-funded Department of Agriculture handouts. This is despite the fact that Sancez-Roxas is not even a government employee, and despite the fact that even Roxas, her own husband, is not even a government employee anymore. Asked about this, Roxas replied, “What’s the issue?” [Philstar]

Second, Roxas and his 4Ps TV commercial. In this ad, Roxas asked, “Paano na…kung hindi natin itutuloy ang Daang Matuwid?” Roxas clearly implies that the government’s conditional cash transfer program will end if LP loses the presidency, despite the fact that all three other major candidates are amenable to its continuation. More than just patronage politics, this is blatant deceit.

Lying for the sake of winning, that’s political corruption. Roxas even supports and trains his own online army of trolls called “Mar Online Warriors” to skew public opinion in his favor by spamming online fora and social media sites with pro-Roxas content.

• Abuses political power for private enrichment? No.
• Abuses political power to maintain hold on power? Yes.

3.0 Grace Poe-Llamanzares
Grace Poe’s resume is razor-thin and it has, at first, proved to be an advantage for her. With just a few years into public service, Grace Poe has fewer opportunities to commit politically corrupt acts. However, as the campaign season moved along, the public discovered that it was in for a surprise.

3.1. FPJ Legacy a.k.a. Personality Politics
A lot of my childhood friends in my Bulacan hometown are crazy about FPJ movies. After all, who wouldn’t be fascinated by a single man who’s able to mow down entire armies with nothing but his bare fist?

He was so popular that he was able to get away with having Sharon Cuneta as a leading lady (with matching kissing scene), despite the latter being 26 years his junior. Despite the fact, the masses liked that movie so much , there was even a sequel! That’s how influential FPJ is among the masses. That can be considered power over the polity, i.e. political power.

And Grace Poe capitalized on it.

In her proclamation rally, she famously said, “Ipagpapatuloy ko ang sinimulan ng aking ama,” even if everyone knows that her father hasn’t done anything politically significant outside the movies, aside from running for president in 2004.

Given this, does Poe hold a belief that just because his father was allegedly cheated in the 2004 Elections, the presidency automatically becomes her birthright?

But I am digressing. It’s pretty obvious that Poe preys on the part of the masses who mistake FPJ’s movie personas as reality. This is all despite his father’s heritage having nothing to do with her qualifications to become president. It’s just sad.

• Abuses political power for private enrichment? No.
• Abuses political power to enhance hold on power? Yes.

3.2 Historical Revisionism on Coco Levy Fund Scam
Grace Poe appears to be vehemently against corrupt public officials. For example, she’s known to be a vocal critic of VP Jejomar Binay, whom she openly castigated on national TV. In the March 2016 Presidential Debates, Poe openly told Binay, “Nanatili ka nga sa bansa pero ikaw naman ay nangulimbat.” [Philstar]

Poe’s anti-corruption rhetoric, however, changes when she talks about her campaign donor Danding Cojuangco.

Danding Cojuangco is widely known as the poster boy for the Coco Levy Scam, the biggest public funds heist in the last 100 years. Cojuangco amassed at least $2.61 billion [in 2016 dollars] in corporate assets through illegal monopolies and massive fraud [LA Times], that’s at least 12 times bigger than Janet Napoles’ Php 10b PDAF Scam.

Poe insists on the belief that the government has already sequestered these assets, but the recovered asset are, at best, worth only P73 billion [BusinessMirror]. Poe’s insistence on this narrative is hard to explain, especially since she’s surrounded by mentors, such as Ateneo Law Dean Tony La Vina, who belongs to the well-read academic elite], and coco farmer group COIR has openly criticized her statements two weeks ago.

What does Poe stand to gain from her selective memory? The Presidency.

• Abuses political power for private enrichment? No.
• Abuses political power to gain, maintain, or enhance hold on power? Yes.

3.3 Political Indebtedness
But it gets worse. In reference to the Coco Levy Fund Scam, Poe said, “Ang importante, hindi napunta sa bulsa ko yan.”

But Danding’s SMC provided her campaign planes [Rappler], Danding’s NPC provided her political machinery [Philstar]. Danding’s SMC provided her legal counsel, Atty. Alex Poblador, in her Supreme Court DQ cases. Col. Ariel Querubin, whom she plans to appoint as “crime czar” is SMC’s internal security consultant. And to top it all off, Danding’s SMC even employs Grace Poe’s husband, Teodoro “Neil” Llamanzares [Rappler].

With Danding’s San Miguel Corporation so deeply embedded into her political and personal life, how can she say that she accepts Danding’s ill-gotten money and, in the same breath, say her loyalty is with the people who Danding f*cked over?

• Abuses political power for private enrichment? Yes, look at Neil, the husband.
• Abuses political power to maintain hold on power? Yes.

4.0 Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte
Duterte has faced several political corruption accusations. Let’s list them one by one. The list is quite long.

4.1 Too Many Contractual Workers
COA cited Duterte’s hiring of 6,000 contractual workers and 5,000 job orders in 2014, worth Php 708 million, with the agency pointing out Davao’s lack of clear policy in hiring people fosters patronage. COA was also concerned that there were no documents to prove that the non-regulars were actually rendering work. Their functions and duties were not specified in their contracts. [Rappler]

In response, Duterte said he would even hire 3 times more contractual employees to keep Davao safe [Inquirer].

“The P708 million (that the COA questioned) is part of the city’s operation expense, I’m spending it on contractual workers from garbage collectors to drivers, to intelligence operatives roaming around the city,” Duterte said.

“You don’t expect plantilla workers to collect garbage, don’t you?” he asked. “And garbage collectors are working in the city on three shifts. The SCAAs (Special Civilian Active Auxiliary), the soldiers roaming around Davao, I’m paying them. They’re part of the intelligence apparatus roaming the city.”

Now, the question remains: is 11,000 a reasonable number? TP did some research.

Quezon City has 5800 contractual employees excluding job orders, roughly equal to Davao City’s. While Quezon City has a population that’s twice of Davao City’s, Davao City’s land area is 14 times that of Quezon City. Add the fact that Davao is surrounded by insurgents, rebels, and terrorists, I think the number is not out-of-this-world.

Moreover, I can see that Duterte – even in his everyday away-from-the-camera life – wears simple clothes, drives a simple car, and lives a simple life. He does not give his children allowances, with his youngest Sebastian claiming that he even has to sell trash (a junk shop, probably) to earn a living [SunStar].

Sebastian’s story is in stark contrast with Jean, Janet Napoles’ daughter, who lives in a swanky L.A. apartment and rides a limousine everywhere [Inquirer]. His story also in stark contrast with Grace Poe’s son, who was seen wearing obscenely expensive Nike Limited Edition Mag 10 “Back-to-the-Future” shoes [Interaksyon], that go for over $10,000 (Php 450,000) a pair [Market Rates at eBay].

Regardless, let’s go back to the quintessential question: Did he use this power for self-enrichment or to maintain hold on power? No, not really.

• Abuses political power for private enrichment? No.
• Abuses political power to maintain hold on power? No.

4.2 The Missing Mansion
Among all presidential candidates, Duterte’s SALN stands out because he declared a measly Php 23 million net worth [MindaNews]. That’s light-years behind Binay’s 60 million, Poe’s 89.5 million, and Roxas’ 202 million [Manila Bulletin].

For someone who has served as Davao City’s de facto royalty for the past three decades, Php 23 million is a disturbingly small amount. This is why a few camps, including Thinking Pinoy, investigated his background to look for undeclared assets, similar to what people did to impeached SC Chief Justice Renato Corona.

These investigations led to a certain mansion in Margarita Village, Davao City. Duterte was asked about this hidden wealth on his weekly TV show “Gikan sa Masa, Para sa Masa” aired on ABS-CBN Davao [Durian Post].

Duterte said the house has been donated to the government-owned Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC) and is now being used as temporary home of the stricken children and family members caring for them. The house is administered by the non-profit House of Hope

In 2011, Vice Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and friends converted a three room home at Margarita Village to house two survivors who are now High School scholars of the Vice Mayor. One of the rooms is used by teenage patients who are on active cancer treatment. This Margarita Village property is now called House of Hope Davao. []

• Abuses political power for private enrichment? No.
• Abuses political power to maintain hold on power? No.

4.3 The P46 million Special Education Fund
VP Binay’s camp accused Duterte of “technical malversation” after Duterte allegedly misused the Php 46 million Special Education Fund for Davao City. Instead of using the SEF for “improving school facilities, printing and acquiring books and other school materials, paying salaries of public school teachers, granting scholarships, and promoting physical education.”

Duterte used the SEF for funding student-atheletes and their coaches: fuel for various vehicles, insurance premiums for vehicles, accident insurance for coaches and students, grocery items, medical supplies, and payment for electricity, water, and telephone bills.

ll the money basically went to promoting students’ physical education.

• Abuses political power for private enrichment? No.
• Abuses political power to maintain hold on power? No.

Now, let’s go to the more prominent issues.

4.4 The Cursing and the Womanizing
Duterte has a penchant for cursing [Philstar], and he openly admits to womanizing [Rappler]. If I had a foul-mouthed, philandering father, I would be pissed.

However, keeping things in perspective, let’s ask the following questions:
• Does the cursing or the womanizing make him rich? No. Quite the opposite, actually.
• Does it help him maintain or gain political power? No. Quite the opposite, actually.

That is, in the context of the two-fold standards for political corruption, the cursing and the womanizing are irrelevant.

I hate to sound redundant but excuse me for inserting the next part…

• Abuses political power for private enrichment? No.
• Abuses political power to maintain hold on power? No.

4.5 Extra-judicial Killings
Alleged extra-judicial killings is probably the biggest criticism of Duterte’s style of governance. While Duterte argued that he merely discards the “maximum tolerance” policy when negotiating with criminals, Duterte’s critics insist that he just flat out kills criminals the first moment he lays eyes on them.

Now, I will not go into the nuances of this issue. Instead, for the sake of argument, let us assume that he indeed kills criminals without letting them go through the snail-paced judicial system.

Let us, again, ask this question:
• Does Duterte-style extrajudicial killing make Duterte rich? No.
• Does Duterte-style extrajudicial killing help Duterte gain public office? No.

It’s worthy to note that historically, the only serious Davao-based political camp against Duterte is that of former House Speaker Prospero Nograles, a staunch PGMA ally accused of gaining ill-gotten wealth [PCIJ]. If Duterte actually murdered Nograles, then that would be political corruption. But he did not. In fact, Nograles even supports Duterte in his presidential bid [Inquirer].

Again, let’s evaluate the situation.

• Abuses political power for private enrichment? No.
• Abuses political power to maintain hold on power? No.

The following table shows the issues hurled against each candidate, along with the corresponding verdicts:

Political integrity is like putok sa kili-kili: either you have it, or you don’t. There is no middle ground.

Of course, there are many other variables to be considered when choosing a presidential bet.

However, at this point, it’s time for TP to ask:

Are you okay with voting for a politically corrupt president?

It’s time to evaluate our priorities. Think about it. We still have a month to go.


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