Not since Ramon Magsaysay

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Greg B. Macabenta

Posted on October 09, 2013

JINGGOY ESTRADA has apparently succeeded in diverting the attention of both mainstream and social media, from the P10-billion pork scandal to alleged anomalies involving Noynoy Aquino’s Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) and the Malampaya fund.

As I write this, the lead stories in the Manila dailies (excluding BusinessWorld, which focuses on business and economic news) are no longer about Napoles, Tanda, Kuya, Sexy and Pogi. Instead, they tend to point an accusing finger at Malacañang:

“Aquino may face raps after term ends -- Recto” (Philippine Daily Inquirer), “Recto: P130B ‘missing’ from Malampaya fund” (Manila Times), “SC hears pork issue today; Recto asks how P130B from Malampaya was used” (Malaya), “Palace refutes Joker on ‘budget dictatorship’” (Philippine Star), “Palace tags critics of DAP as ‘DOMs’” (Manila Standard Today), and “Legality of Noy’s DAP queried anew before SC” (The Daily Tribune).

Where the opinion pieces used to be about the “Pork Barrel Queen,” meaning, Napoles, some columnists are now calling Aquino, the “Pork Barrel King.”

Even the online news sites of the two leading TV networks echo the dailies: “Palace exec to DAP critics: Focus on fund misuse, not legal questions” (GMA News), and “Palace hits Joker’s ‘silence’ during Arroyo admin (ABS-CBN News). Note that in both instances, Malacañang is on the defensive.

Aided by the showbiz gossip-style reportage of the media, Estrada was obviously hoping that he could sway public opinion with his “bombshell.” Failing that, he was apparently determined to sink his tormentors along with him.

In this regard, he may have succeeded in raising questions about the integrity of the Aquino administration. We are a very impressionable people, even those among us who are supposed to be “more enlightened.” Some of us can easily get caught up in the frenzy of the mob. There’s a Tagalog term for it: madaling sindihan (easy to fire up). That makes us putty in the hands of master manipulators.

What exacerbates this is the tendency of media to treat the news like movie studio tsismis. In the eagerness of some reporters and their editors to “find a new angle” or to “spice up” the news, they sometimes take liberties with the facts.

Consider the lead or opening paragraph of the Inquirer news item with the headline, “Aquino may face raps after term ends -- Recto”:

“President Aquino faces possible criminal charges at the end of his term unless Malacañang accounts for billions of pesos in the government’s share of revenues from the operation of oil and gas wells in Malampaya off Palawan province, Sen. Ralph Recto said on Monday.”

If you don’t have the time to read the rest of the story, guess what your impression will be.

At any rate, for the benefit of those with time on their hands, Inquirer added on the side of Malacañang, with a reassurance from Secretary Butch Abad of the Department of Budget and Management and Deputy Treasurer Christine Sanchez that the funds are intact.

That’s more than can be said about the way Manila Times massaged the story: “The Malampaya gas drilling project has generated a total of P170 billion in revenues for the government since it started in 2000, but the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) is clueless as to where a P130-billion chunk of it went, according to Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto.”

Did the reporter or editor ask for the side of the Department of Budget and Management? If they did, it’s not in the story.

The last “Million People March,” held in Makati and attended by considerably less than a million, was characterized by a proliferation of demands, from the original “abolish the pork” to calls for Aquino to resign or be impeached. Additionally, certain quarters, identified with the Left, hitchhiked on it (hijacked was the term that the original protest organizers used) to promote their own agenda.

The Oct. 4 gathering wasn’t exactly the Tower of Babel, but the lack of focus on the original reason for the protest confused many and turned off a lot, prompting them to leave.

Will this affect participation in future mass protests and demonstrations? That is possible, unless the leaders of this largely informal “movement” can do a reality check, agree on what it is they really want to achieve, and focus on those objectives.

Meanwhile, let us all hope that a distraction is the most that the alleged plunderers will achieve with their diversionary tactics. Once the Ombudsman determines that there are sufficient grounds to file criminal charges against them before the Sandiganbayan and the latter issues a warrant for their arrest, they’ll have to resort to other means to avoid detention.

Of course, considering the selective application of justice in our country, they could wangle leniency by way of “hospital arrest’ or “rest-house arrest,” as in the case of Erap Estrada.

Let us all hope, further, that the Department of Justice, the NBI, the Commission on Audit and the Bureau of Internal Revenue, as well as Noynoy Aquino himself, will not lose their focus, in the face of the slings and arrows of outrageous accusations that they are being -- and will be -- subjected to.

Let us hope that they will not allow themselves to be put on the defensive, as they apparently are tending to be, and will proceed single-mindedly to pinning down the plunderers, whoever they are, whatever their party affiliations -- not just those in the initial line-up but those whose skeletons are still being unearthed.

Indeed, what the Aquino government is doing, for all of its seeming flaws, is something we have been hoping for all these years. Even in the aftermath of the People Power Revolt, we couldn’t get satisfaction. The Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) turned out to be as questionable as those it was mandated to pursue.

Noynoy Aquino is now doing something that our country hasn’t seen since the presidency of Ramon Magsaysay. There was a cleansing of government then and important heads actually rolled. But urban legend tells us that it took the CIA to get that done.

Is it possible to do it on our own this time?