By Perry Diaz
With the Senate impeachment trial’s conviction of Renato Corona, the public jubilation over his removal as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court reached fever pitch. It was a total victory for President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III and the public’s sentiment was demonstrated when P-Noy was given his highest rating of “very good” in a survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations (SWS). Indeed, it was an acknowledgment of his adroit political acumen in a landscape full of “landmines” where one misstep could be disastrous to his reform agenda.
But how long could he keep the people in a state of bliss? But with bliss comes high expectations. And this is what P-Noy is faced with: a multitude of post-Corona challenges. In other words, the people are expecting him to deliver on his promises now that the despised Corona is gone. The people are expecting him to make good of his “Walang korap, walang mahirap” (No corruption, no poverty) election slogan. But this is not easy to achieve. The sound bite was excellent during the campaign, but to deliver that promise seems very hard. But P-Noy cannot tell the people that. He has to show progress. And if he cannot, then he has to distract them with something that would excite — or incite – them.
And this is where P-Noy can learn from Mao Zedong.
In the 1960s, when Mao was faced with a sluggish economy and couldn’t deliver the promises of the communist revolution – he started another revolution, the “cultural revolution.” By keeping the people – particularly the young people – in a state of revolutionary fervor, Mao distracted them from the economic failures of his communist regime. And by putting the country in a perpetual revolutionary state, the people forgot their problems or blamed them on somebody else – like the older generation of communist revolutionaries. Indeed, what Mao did was wag the dog in a grand scale. And it worked!
“Wag the dog” is and idiomatic expression, which means: “To purposely divert attention from what would otherwise be of greater importance, to something else of lesser significance.” And this was where Corona came into play.
Last August 31, it was reported in the news: “Even before knowing the finer details of the P158-million tax evasion charges filed against former Chief Justice Renato Corona and members of his family, Malacañang had shut the door on the possibility of the Coronas striking a compromise deal with the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) on the case.”
A few days later, Minority Leader Danilo Suarez issued a statement saying: “We all know that when he was impeached, he already lost everything. He is by all means professionally dead,” and referring to him as a “zombie.” “We reiterate that there is no need to hit a man when he is already down on the ground. The administration should be magnanimous in victory, hence, we appeal for a little bit of compassion in this case,” Suarez stated.
It didn’t take long before some self-righteous anti-Corona zealots hit back. One of them, a prominent Filipino-American doctor sent out an op-ed titled, “Must we forgive Corona?” He said, “For the magnitude of his crime, made worse because he was the highest magistrate of the nation, he deserves the severest punishment in the books.”
I watched the televised 44-day impeachment trial of Corona and I wrote 22 op-eds critical of him between November 30, 2011 (“Decrowning Corona”) and June 7, 2012 (“The SALN Revolution”). Corona was convicted for culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust after he admitted on the last day of the trial that he had $2.4 million in a Foreign Currency Deposit account, which he failed to disclose in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN). Although, I personally wished that the prosecution had done a better job of building the case against Corona, the crime for which he was convicted for and removed from office was not uncommon among public officials as revealed in testimonies by several witnesses. Some senator-judges even said that it was not an impeachable offense. But Corona’s admission – or confession — was all it took to convict him.
The doctor further said, “If we do not send criminals to jail, they will rule our society… and that is what is happening now. Let’s not be naïve!” And to drive his point, he said, “Only criminals and those with perverted sense of propriety and justice could be against President Noynoy Aquino’s ‘daang matuwid.’ ” That reminds me of the time of the Grand Inquisition when heresy was punishable by severe punishment or even death.
Now, let’s get this straight. The doctor suggested that Corona deserves the “severest punishment in the books” for the “magnitude of his crime.” What was he talking about? Isn’t removal from office the severest punishment that can be meted out in an impeachment trial? Heck, the senator-judges could have slapped him on the wrist with a reprimand as Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago had suggested midway through the trial. Bear in mind that the prosecution dropped five of the original eight articles of impeachment and voted only on the SALN issue in Article Two. Charges of corruption and ill-gotten wealth were dropped.
And in his heightened state of self-righteousness, the doctor concluded: “It’s time for us Filipinos to wise up and protect our personal and national dignity, integrity, honor, and justice itself. Otherwise the whole world will think we are a bunch of stupid and masochistic idiots.”
Well, it looks like it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy because in just the past few weeks, the government is rocking with scandals and anomalies: overpriced arms deal; jueteng payola; questionable P14-billion reclamation project; P30-billion anomalies in the Bureau of Customs (BOC) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DWSD); allegations of ghost employees in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM); and large-scale rice smuggling. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
With all this ponfication by the doctor, the question is: what does he suggest that P-Noy do so Filipinos don’t end up looking like – in the doctor’s own words – “a bunch of stupid and masochistic idiots”? It’s time for P-Noy to stop wagging the dog and start the fight – the real fight! — against corruption.
In my article, “FOI: P-Noy’s foible” (August 29, 2012), I wrote: “P-Noy should – nay, must! – realize that his anti-corruption drive is not going to succeed without dismantling the patronage system that is protecting the corrupt. Only the passage of an FOI law could end corruption in government. Indeed, FOI is the key to winning the war on corruption.”
But sad to say, P-Noy did not include the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill in his legislative priority agenda these past three years, although he promised to prioritize it when he was campaigning for the presidency in 2010.
Another non-priority of P-Noy is the eradication of jueteng. When the late Jesse Robredo took over as the new Secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) in September 2010, P-Noy gave him “marching orders” to stop jueteng. But the following day, P-Noy changed his mind and announced that jueteng was no longer a priority in his administration.
During the Corona impeachment trial, P-Noy promised that he would include in his legislative priority agenda the revision of the Foreign Currency Deposit Act (FCDA) to modify its “absolute confidentiality” clause to allow government agencies to look into the FCDA accounts of those under investigation. P-Noy has yet to do this.
It was revealed during the recent Senate hearing on jueteng payola and the questionable arms deal that jueteng lords use PAGCOR casinos to launder their profits from jueteng. When asked by Sen. Defensor-Santiago, PNP Chief Nicanor Bartolome revealed that casinos were not required to report gamblers’ substantial winnings to the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC). The Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) needs to be revised to make it more effective in combating money laundering.
Follow the money
If P-Noy wants to fight corruption, he needs more than just slogans to do it. He should – nay, must — have the ability to track where the dirty or ill-gotten money goes. And to do that, he needs tools like FOI, FCDA, AMLA, and AMLC to catch the culprits. And only then can he claim that he is really serious about fighting corruption.
In my article, “Beyond ‘wang-wang’ politics” (September 6, 2010), I said, “Corruption is like weed: if you don’t kill it, it will grow and spread rapidly until the entire landscape is full of weed.” Well, it seems like weed has taken over a good portion of the landscape.
Mr. President, you’ve got your work cut out for you.