Pampanga Gov. Ed Panlilio holds up a bundle of cashhe says Malacanang Palace gave him. (Reuters)
SEVERAL governors and congressmen have already confirmed that they received bundles of cash ranging from P200,000 to P500,000 after attending meetings at Malacanang Palace last week. No official receipts were given for those payments, and presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye denies that any government funds were involved.
Pampanga Gov. Ed Panlilio, the priest turned politician who was elected this year on a clean government platform, was the first to go public with the news that cash was being doled out at the palace as sweets to buy future loyalty from politicians in Congress and local governments. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo knows that she still faces a possible impeachment threat from the opposition, and that is why a fake impeachment case was filed against her in early October by lawyer and administration supporter Roberto Rafael ‘Roel’ Pulido. No one is buying the case filed against her. All of us know it is just a diversionary tactic, one that hopes to get the impeachment rap looked at by a subcommittee in the House of Representatives, so that the pro-Gloria majority can trash it and the president will be “safe” for yet another year, since Congress is only allowed to vote on one impeachment case a year.
Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya was quick to say that he never authorized such disbursement of cash gifts, while Environment Secretary and Natural Resources Secretary Lito Atienza admitted that such cash gifts had also been handed out by previous presidents to their political allies.
The Inquirer newspaper estimates that P95 million (SR8.08 million) was handed out by the Palace in two days for congressmen, while provincial governors got P24 million (SR2.04 million). That’s a total of P119 million (SR10.11 million), which is believable if the president allegedly has access to P9 billion (SR764 million) in discretionary funds that she can tap into.
Now President Arroyo has ordered a “discreet” investigation into the payouts by the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission, which many say will be ineffective since it operates under the Office of the President, and as such will never have the guts needed to expose the truth. This happened after the Senate declined to open an investigation into the payouts, saying that it could not probe a co-equal branch of Congress.
The timing of this flood of presidential largesse is what makes the whole thing stink of bribery. Just a few weeks ago President Arroyo was forced to cancel the kickback-bloated National Broadband Network deal with China’s ZTE Corporation after a Senate inquiry found that former Commission on Elections chief Benjamin Abalos acted improperly as a facilitator of the deal and had threatened Joey de Venecia III, the son of House Speaker Jose de Venecia II, to back off from offering the government a cheaper deal to build the same network.
Speaker De Venecia says that President Arroyo has grown numb to all the corruption surrounding her, and in an interview with the Philippine Star said that he was launching a “moral revolution” campaign that he hoped the president would join. I doubt very much that Arroyo will join him as the corruption that surrounds her has grown to such proportions that the only way to cleanse the government of it would be for her to step down along with all of her supporters. Yet De Venecia is unwilling to give up on her just yet, saying in an interview with ABS-CBN television on Thursday that it was not time yet to abandon the president.
The president should openly admit to having handed out the cash gifts to her supporters if she wants to retain any credibility that she has left. Denying it is idiotic, as everyone knows that this money didn’t just pop up out of nowhere and certainly was not provided by private sources.
We should be thankful that there are still some politicians, such as Gov. Panlilio, who have a conscience that prods them into publicly admitting that they received such big cash amounts from Malacanang Palace. The Philippine public is not stupid, and trying to pacify it with unbelievable denials and half-hearted investigations is an insult to their intelligence.