Senator Richard Gordon and Former Customs commissioner Nicanor Faeldon engaged in power play during the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing on alleged corruption in the Bureau of Customs.
Committee Chairman Gordon opened the hearing with a long enumeration of the privileges accorded Faeldon during his detention in the Senate, among them Faeldon being allowed to hold parties attended by his father and relatives. When Gordon asked if Faeldon agreed with what he said, Faeldon said: “I do not agree with the rest.” Faeldon said his father has long been dead and that what he had was not a party but Christmas dinner with his family.
“You are exaggerating,” said Faeldon. The arrogance with which Faeldon said it riled Gordon, setting off a heated exchange between the two. When Senator Bam Aquino, the only other senator in attendance, asked Gordon for permission to address Faeldon, Gordon waved him off and said, “No, you may not.”
When the former Customs chief said that he had told Gordon back in September that he was ready to answer questions from the senators through an affidavit but had gotten no response from them, Gordon tried to cut him off. But Faeldon continued to outtalk Gordon and told him, “You’ve been monologuing and lecturing,” prompting Gordon to turn off the microphone.
At one point, Faeldon held up a piece of paper on which was written “CR”, stood up, and left the session hall without Gordon’s permission.
Gordon said hours after the hearing and after he had met with senators that they “unanimously” decided to continue to hold Faeldon “charged with contempt” and decided to send him to jail.
Arrogant and defiant indeed was Faeldon but overbearing, moralizing, and unreasonable was Gordon. On the whole it was a display of power by both men. Not power of their own as each has very little power, if any, but power derived from their common patron — President Rodrigo Duterte.
Gordon may be the political kingpin in Olongapo City, but beyond the boundaries of that small city, he wields very little influence. While Gordon had been prominent (in the sense of being high profile rather than being eminent and illustrious) in the Senate from 2004 to 2010, he got only a little over 500,000 votes or 1.39% of the voting population when he ran for president in 2010.
He ran again for the Senate in 2016, placing No. 5 among the winners, the son of an evangelist, Joel Villanueva, and that Iskul Bukol character Tito Sotto garnering more votes than him. As he ran as an independent, he was not given a place in the Senate hierarchy by the new majority party. But when Senate Justice Committee chair Leila de Lima’s assiduous investigation of the alleged extrajudicial killings in Davao City during Mr. Duterte’s terms as mayor drew the ire of President Duterte, De Lima was ousted as chair and Gordon named as the new chair.
After attacking the credibility of Edgar Matobato’s testimony against Mr. Duterte and dismissing Arthur Lascañas’ corroboration of Matobato’s testimony, Gordon abruptly terminated the investigation of the Davao killings. During the Senate investigation on the ₱6.4-billion drug smuggling case, Senator Antonio Trillanes accused Gordon of lawyering for President Duterte’s son Paolo and son-in-law Manases Carpio, calling the investigation panel that Gordon heads as “Committee de Absuelto.”
Political pundits now refer to Gordon as the Papa Bear in the Senate because he seems to get whatever he wants.
As regards Marine Captain Faeldon, he joined the military service as a 3rd Class Trainee of the Naval Combat Engineering Brigade in 1989. He was commissioned an officer of the Philippine Marine Corps in 1992. As he is not a “mistah” or a Philippine Military Academy graduate, he does not enjoy the sympathy, much less the support, of high ranking officers in the Armed Forces unlike former rebel officers Gregorio Honasan and Antonio Trillanes, both “mistahs,” did and still do.
While his gallantry in military campaigns in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao earned him many medals, Faeldon drew national attention only on July 27, 2003, when he, Trillanes, and other commissioned officers led a group of 321 men of various branches of the Armed Forces to lay siege to the Oakwood serviced apartments in Makati City as an expression of their indignation at the corruption and politicization in the military.
When the rebel soldiers failed to get the support of the public and other units of the Armed Forces, they surrendered peacefully. All participants, including Faeldon, were charged in a general court martial.
Faeldon escaped in December 2005, but was recaptured the following month. He escaped again in November 2007 when the detained Oakwood mutineers walked out of their trial and seized the second floor of the Manila Peninsula Hotel.
On May 31, 2016, it was announced, to the bafflement of the Filipino people, that Faeldon would be joining the administration of president-elect Duterte as commissioner of the Bureau of Customs. He was sworn into office on June 30, 2016, the first day of Mr. Duterte as president. Among his subordinates in the Bureau were retired military officers who were senior in rank in the military establishment.
Whatever reasons the President had, and only he knows what they are, for appointing a fugitive as the chief of the very vital but controversial Bureau, they must be strong.
In May last year Faeldon was implicated in the P6.4-billion shabu shipment that slipped past Customs, causing him to resign but President Duterte rejected his resignation. He had tendered his resignation three times before Duterte accepted it. The President said of Faeldon, “I really believe he is an honest man.”
In August last year Senator Panfilo Lacson accused Faeldon of receiving P100 million as welcome gift when he was appointed as Customs chief.
The PDEA filed a violation of importation of illegal drugs complaint against Faeldon and several other Customs officials over the multibillion-peso shabu case. However, the National Prosecution Service dismissed the complaint. Subsequently, the President, in a show of trust and confidence in Faeldon, appointed him deputy administrator of the Office of Civil Defense. It is that faith the President in Faeldon that gives the former Marine captain the audacity to exchange harsh words with the imperious Gordon.
How the contempt charge against Faeldon is treated — whether Faeldon is released from jail or is detained indefinitely — will determine who is more “malakas” with the President — Richard Gordon or Nicanor Faeldon. We should know soon enough.
Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a member of Manindigan! a cause-oriented group of businessmen, professionals, and academics.