To Take A Stand

I have cited in past columns the most laughable statements in 2016 and 2017 of high profile public officials of the Rodrigo Duterte Administration. Many of the regular jesters in the Court of DU30 stayed on in 2018 to provide again much comic relief with their absurd, vacuous, or incredible utterances. While two of them have left the court, their replacements proved to be as capable as they drew much laughter with their ludicrous pronouncements. Here are what I consider the most laughable statements of high-ranking officials in 2018.
Resigned or relieved Secretary of Justice Vitaliano Aguirre II said: “In our own humble way, we have delivered on our promise to make the DOJ better than when we found it. As I leave the Department of Justice, I find comfort in the thought that, by our collective efforts, we have improved the DOJ in key areas. We have achieved this by hard work and indomitable faith in the protection, providence and guidance of the Almighty.” That statement is ludicrous as he was relieved by Pres. Duterte because Department of Justice prosecutors dismissed criminal charges against alleged drug lords Peter Lim, Kerwin Espinosa, and Peter Co.
His replacement proved he could be as ludicrous at times. In response to Sen. Antonio Trillanes’ appeal not to allow the Department of Justice to be used for political persecution, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said, “Since the time I assumed office as Secretary of Justice, I have always made it a point for the department to observe the rule of law and base all of its actions on available evidence and nothing else. We assure the senator that the DOJ will live up to its name of being the administrator of justice to everyone.”
But when Senator Trillanes presented incontrovertible evidence of his application for amnesty and admission of guilt of the offense for which he was charged, Secretary Guevarra dismissed them.
That makes as ludicrous the assertion of former chief justice Artemio Panganiban about Secretary Guevarra. Said he: “I have publicly said it before, and I will say it again: In my humble opinion, Secretary Guevarra has the nonpartisan gravitas, the proven competence, integrity, probity and independence to be a member of the Supreme Court.” The endorsement would not be laughable if the former chief justice meant the Supreme Court at the time of President Gloria Arroyo, when justices were submissive to the wishes of the president, or to the present Supreme Court which is made up of the remnants of the Arroyo Court and the appointees of President Duterte. Secretary Guevarra fits well in either court.
In his farewell message to the Philippine National Police, Director-General Ronald de la Rosa cried as he said, “I did everything I could.” This is the same PNP chief who went to Las Vegas to watch Manny Pacquiao fight, leaving his post as ground commander in the war against the proliferation of illegal drugs, and who attended the concert of Canadian rock singer Bryan Adams while the kidnapping and killing of South Korean businessman Jee Ick police officers inside the PNP headquarters, a short walk away from De la Rosa’s official residence, was under investigation….
His successor turned out to be as ridiculous. For not arresting former First Lady Imelda Marcos immediately after the Sandiganbayan found her guilty of seven counts of graft and ordered her arrest, PNP Chief Director-General Oscar Albayalde explained: “In any arrest or anybody for that matter, that has to be taken into consideration, the health and age.” Yet, just weeks later, in the early morning of December 7, the police arrested 72 year old Peace advocate Patricia Cora Casambre for alleged illegal possession of explosives. The prosecutor found the allegation “preposterous” that he ordered her release from detention a few days later.
A regular DU30 court jester, Benjamin Diokno didn’t let 2018 pass without his own ridiculous statement. Denying links to the sole unqualified contractor who bagged billions in government projects, the Budget Secretary declared, “I’m known for my integrity.” Not after he said in 2017, “The budget is a political tool to reward administration allies and punish political enemies. If you’re with us, then you get something. If you’re not with us, then you don’t get something.”
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez was not to be upstaged by his fellow economic manager. He lectured: “Those guys who bribe people to look the other way, who give them nice contracts, who give them concessions for many, many years, who let them make money for no risk. That’s a big, big corruption crime. But you have to be really be very smart, you have to be smarter than them to catch them because it’s white-collar crime.”
Anti-corruption agencies need not be smarter than the bribe givers and bribe takers to catch them. The bribe givers are easily identifiable by the number of big-ticket contracts they get and the bribe takers by their unexplained wealth like huge bank deposits without any legitimate source. There is just no political will to arrest them. No one has gone to jail for the smuggling of P6.4 billion worth of shabu in 2017 and the P11 billion worth in 2018.
Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea joined the DU30 court jesters in 2018. He denied giving Stephen David, lawyer of Janet Napoles, advice on what he should do with regard to the transfer of Napoles from the Bicutan detention center to a Witness Protection Program safe house. “Why would I give legal advice for his client? If I were his client I will fire him. I gave him an opinion,” Sec. Medialdea said.
That is laughable of the Executive Secretary to try to avoid accusation of acting as legal counsel to a person charged with plunder. There is no substantive difference between advice and opinion. Advice is what the sage thinks one should do, opinion is what he thinks.
DU30 Court resident jesters constantly draw laughter with their unabashed denials. When he was still the presidential spokesman, Harry Roque said in reference to the election of Gloria Arroyo as Speaker, “The President did not interfere, this was purely a decision of the House of Representatives.” If so, why did the President’s daughter, who is not a member of the House, call congressmen, who assumed she was speaking for her father, to replace Alvarez?
Mr. Roque’s successor, Mr. Salvador Panelo, is as good in drawing loud and long laughter with his brazen statements. In rebuttal to Australian nun Patricia Fox’s criticism of the government and its “reign of tyranny,” Mr. Panelo said, “Perhaps what she refers to is reign of fear on the part of those who violate the law. They know for a fact that there is a reign of strict enforcement of the law against violators of the law.” Oh yeah?
But the most laughable quote of 2018 has to be President Duterte’s reaction to Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle’s homily on bullying. “When did I ever scare or bully people?”
Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a member of Manindigan! a cause-oriented group of businessmen, professionals, and academics.