Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Anti Corruption crusade, political witch hunt or business as usual?

Although there are political parties in the Philippines they are subservient to the “Political Dynasties” created by a few notable families who exercise control of the political power in the country. The current president Benigno Aquino III is a case in point.

President Aquino is the 4th generation of his family’s political adventure. His mother Corazon Aquino was the 11th President of the Philippines, his father Benigno Aquino, Jr. was a Senator during the Marcos years. His assassination on his return from self imposed exile has made him somewhat of a national hero. President Aquino’s grandfather was Speaker of the House of Representatives during World War II and his great grandfather was a delegate to the Malolos Congress pre independence.

Drafted into running for president after the death of his mother he ran on an anti-corruption platform entitled daang matuwid (The straight path). It has not been empty rhetoric although some claim it to be selective; it has increased the country’s international standing. 

In May of this year Standard & Poor’s increased the Philippines’ credit rating to “BBB”, the highest in the country’s history. The corruption watch dog Transparency International has improved the Philippines corruption ranking from 134 in 2010 to 94 in 2013.

This improvement in the country’s international fortunes has come about through government action that shows it means business. The former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is in custody at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center awaiting trial for electoral sabotage and the misuse of state lottery funds.

In 2011 the then head of The Office of the Ombudsman, Merceditas Gutierrez, resigned rather than face impeachment for protecting former President Arroyo and her allies from prosecution. Later the same year saw the impeachment of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona for failing to include all his assets in this Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net worth which all public officials must submit annually.

This year has seen the removal of Associate Justice Gregory Ong for gross misconduct, dishonesty and impropriety through his links to alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles. Pork barrel is the popular name of The Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), an allocation of discretionary funds to members of Congress for priority development projects, mostly at the local level. It is alleged that Napoles in collaboration with numerous members of the Congress had for 10 years been diverting PDAF funds to herself, members of the Congress and select government officials. She and three members of the senate chamber of the Congress, Ramon (Bong) Revilla, Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada are all in jail awaiting trial on the charge of Plunder and malversation of public funds.

Although not connected to the PDAF scandal, Vice President Jejomar Binay has been under intense public scrutiny for the past couple of months. The former Mayor of Makati, who reigned supreme in the Philippine’s premiere city for 28 years, has made no secret of his intention to run for the presidency of the country in 2016.

Throughout his Vice Presidency Binay has enjoyed a high approval rating according to public opinion polls and is the undisputed front runner amongst the 2016 presidential hopefuls. So much so that changes to the constitution to allow President Aquino to run for second term were canvassed. It was short lived with wide spread public opposition and reminders about the Marcos years flooding newspaper opinion pages.

However a Senate Blue Ribbon sub-committee is looking into allegations that Vice President Binay was corrupt whilst Mayor of Makati and has unexplained wealth. His chief accuser is his Vice Mayor at the time, Ernesto Mercado. Mercado claimed before the committee that he was receiving kick backs from the construction of the allegedly overpriced Makati City Hall Building 2 so the Mayor must also have been on the gravy train.  “If the vice mayor benefited, how much more the mayor?” He opined before the committee.

The Vice President claims the corruption allegations against him are recycled by his foes every time elections draw near. “An example is the hectares of land they say I own. During elections in Makati, they would say I own 5 hectares. It became 10 until it reached 350 hectares,” he said. Binay has also refused to attend the committee hearings referring to it as a “kangaroo court”. A claim substantiated by former presidential press secretary and Aquino critic Hector R. Villanueva, who wrote in the Manila Bulletinthe Senate hearings are an unadulterated inquisitorial exercise by ambitious, vicious, envious, and biased senators”.

Meanwhile Vice President Binay continues to promote his cause reiterating his rags to riches (orphan to Vice President) story-line to anyone who will listen along with his references to the “Makati Miracle” to describe his time as the Makati Mayor.

And as a good Filipino politician he continues to grow his family’s dynasty: his son Jejomar Binay Jr. is the current Mayor of Makati; his daughter Abigail is a Congresswoman; and another daughter, Nancy, has recently become a Senator.
Whatever the outcome of Vice President Binay’s tilt for the presidency, with his dynasty entering its second generation, he has definitely laid the ground work for its continuation. Given time it may even rival President Aquino’s pedigree.

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