Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Looking bad

As if allegations of being the mentor to the pork barrel queen are not enough to make him look bad, news of Budget Secretary Florencio Abad’s total number of 11 family members in government can’t even budge him from his enviable position of the President’s closest and most trusted ally. Now, if you’re counting, that’s about four times the sound of bad resonated in one full sentence.
Janet Napoles, the alleged pork barrel queen, has accused Mr. Abad as the one who taught her how to divert funds from the pork barrel allocated to members of Congress. Benhur Luy, the other whistleblower, also implicated Mr. Abad although the latter’s name was erased from his list.
But no matter how loud the protestations are, President Aquino appears impervious and obdurate in his belief that there is no probable cause his most trusted cabinet secretary had committed a crime. Even if the whistleblowers Janet Napoles and Benhur Luy also pointed to Mr. Abad’s direct involvement in the 10-billion-peso pork barrel scandal, similar to the allegations that form the basis of the charges against Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr. The Philippine system of justice looks not just laughable but just as bad and as duplicitous as the moral standards that dictate the President’s convenient set of values.
Three's not a crowd. Senator Bong Revilla hugs Minority Leader Juan Ponce
Enrile and Senator Jinggoy Estrada, his co-respondents in the plunder case
filed by the government. SENATE PHOTO.
“There seems to be a selective justice. We are all aware there are many people involved and yet only three are charged,” according to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, the official organization of all Philippine lawyers, as it questioned the government’s selective indictment of people linked to the pork barrel scam.
If we are to use the allegations of both Napoles and Luy to indict and eventually convict the three senators, shouldn’t Mr. Abad be judged on the same accusation? Why prosecute the three senators but show mercy to Mr. Abad? After all, the allegations have yet to be proved in court and it should be the same principle of presumption of innocence that must be applied to all, including Mr. Abad and all the President’s allies implicated in the scandal. Not presuming Mr. Abad’s innocence and pronouncing the guilt of the others accused because they happen to be outside the President’s circle.
Convict the three senators if you will, but don’t spare Mr. Abad because he is the President’s most trusted ally.
In shielding Mr. Abad from prosecution, President Aquino is showing he has no “delicadeza” and shame. The President is fiddling with the detrimental side of politics and favouritism. The same can be said about Mr. Abad’s proliferation of his kin in government.
According to news reports, there are 11 relatives of Mr. Abad currently holding positions in the government, which include his wife Henedina, currently a representative in Congress for the province of Batanes and vice chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee; daughter Julia, head of the Presidential Management Staff; son Luis, chief of staff of Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, as well as four nephews, one niece, and two first cousins occupying various government posts. By all appearances, this is nepotism on a grand scale. It is as if the Abad family now owns a large portion of the government, like it is their own plantation or fiefdom.  
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and President Benigno Aquino III.
This type of nepotism in public service, however, is not really unusual. The alignment of politics in all levels of government in the Philippines, whether for elective or appointive officials, depends on kinship and family ties. Hence, why we will always have political dynasties that dominate the political landscape. The same favouritism or influence is also wielded by CEOs or top executives in the private sector in the appointments of their children in high positions in the corporate structure.
A social science research conducted in the United States, which was published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, revealed that rich people exhibit narcissistic tendencies and higher levels of entitlement among those of the higher income and social class. The study found a sense of entitlement for children of the rich that they could go through life without feeling guilty about having rich parents and being born with certain environmental advantages.
When the respondents were asked to depict themselves as circles, with size indicating relative importance, richer people chose larger circles for themselves and smaller ones for others. Another experiment found that they also looked in the mirror more frequently. The study suggested that wealth may breed narcissistic tendencies—and wealthy people justify their excess by convincing themselves that they are more deserving of it.
According to the study, the rich get jobs through family connections. After going to whatever elite university their parents attended, getting a job at whatever firm their parents worked at seems only natural. The culture of hiring in Wall Street, for example, confirms this observation that direct nepotism in the hiring process is prevalent in the hiring of children of rich people by giant financial firms.
Nepotism to some extent is probably tolerable in privately-owned corporations since the owners would rather put their trust on their children and close relatives. However, it is generally frowned upon in the public service for it shows an appearance of unfairness when it comes to hiring or appointing relatives in government.
Who’s to blame if Mr. Abad has 11 relatives in government? Perhaps, he is more than qualified to be the Budget Secretary, a position that demands the President’s unflinching loyalty and trust. His wife cannot also be pigeon-holed in a group who succeeds in politics because of family connections because she was elected by her constituents. She succeeded Mr. Abad in Congress. Of course, marriage to Mr. Abad also helps her secure the powerful position of vice-chair of the House Appropriations Committee. Their children, Julia and Luis, both occupy high and significant positions in the government’s bureaucracy because of their familial links to Mr. Abad which are their strongest assets, notwithstanding their professional wherewithal to perform the rigorous demands of their jobs.
But having so many relatives in government can perpetuate a deeply unjust social order. We have seen in the past how the cronies of Ferdinand Marcos had strengthened a repressive political regime. Mere appearance of nepotism is bad. The Abad family makes it look worse than bad. If our system is one of aristocracy, then Mr. Abad could be excused for ensuring the appointment of his family members to King Benigno’s court.
Yet, President Aquino keeps harping on his “matuwid na daan” as his government’s mantra, that if there is no corrupt, none will be poor. That’s fine if the President will apply the same standard to members of his own cabinet. But it is not fine when he spares one or two in his cabinet on one hand, while he prosecutes three or more who happen to be his political enemies, on the other.  
Indignation rally. Protesters massed outside the Supreme Court while the
justices were deliberating on the legality of the Disbursement Acceleration
Program. Photo by Danny Pata.
Filipinos as a whole are tired and fed up with this government’s hypocritical and phony attitude to the prosecution of corrupt officials in government. Except for the impeachment of the former Supreme Court Chief Justice, and he was not even charged of corruption, President Aquino’s government does not have a track record of success in prosecuting corrupt officials. Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo remains in detention for the crime of plunder even if not one single charge brought against her has been proved before the Sandiganbayan. The question this time is whether the government prosecution would be able to prove the guilt of the three senators? Sandiganbayan has already allowed them bail so it does not augur well for the prosecution at this early stage.
In my previous blog, Presumed guilty, I wrote about the current President’s distorted understanding of the presumption of innocence afforded all those accused of committing crimes. To him, only his allies and friends should enjoy the presumption of innocence unless proven guilty by a competent court. Those on the other side of the fence, his political enemies, are meant to be prosecuted and presumed guilty as charged. This is plain double standard in applying the law. That’s why the President is so relentless and persistent in sheltering Mr. Abad and others in the cabinet who have also been implicated in the pork barrel scandal. His hands are not clean and he doesn’t want the people to see them.
But the people will not be fooled this time, not even by the yellow media that promotes this government as immaculately clean and beyond refute. There is growing consciousness among the people that corruption and nepotism in government mirror the unjust and unfair concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a few elite families.
The more this President defends his own allies, the more he looks bad. And the more his vision of a straight path looks crooked. Plus ├ža change….

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