Barring a major turnaround in voter sentiment as reported by the opinion survey organizations, Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte appears headed for victory in the race for the presidency of the Philippines. Arguably the most regrettable fact in the entire electoral exercise is the failure of Antonio Trillanes IV’s expose against the mayor to achieve general publicity.
During the last week of the campaign period, Senator Trillanes informed a shocked nation that he had received documents purportedly attesting to Rodrigo Duterte being the owner, together with his daughter Sara, of accounts with a Pasig City branch of BPI (Bank of the Philippine Islands) that have given rise to P2.4 billion of transactions. These accounts were not reported in the mayor’s 2014 and 2015 SAL-N (statement of assets, liabilities and net worth), the senator charged. The failure made Rodrigo Duterte open to criminal and administrative sanctions, Trillanes said.
Did the 55 million voters get to hear or read about Senator Trillanes’s shocking allegations before yesterday morning, when they trooped to the polling stations to cast their all-important votes for presidency? The nation will not know until the votes are counted and tabulated. I’d like to think that after several days of discussion in the traditional media – the press, TV and radio – and the social media, most of the voters would have become aware of the Duterte bank accounts issue. But that might be excessive optimism on my part. We will know for certain in the next few days.
The weightier question to ask is, would it have made a difference to the voters’ sentiment if they got to hear early enough that Duterte is, as alleged, not the honest, living-simply public official he has claimed to be and that he is, instead, a deceitful and corrupt CEO of a major Philippine city. Would it? I strongly believe so. I believe that the voters would have reacted adversely to the Trillanes expose and switched their vote to someone of proven probity and discernible morality.
Duterte’s entire campaign had been premised on his being a relentless pursuer of criminals, a merciless “punisher” of people guilty of criminal activity. Now – if the BPI accounts are found to be existent – he would be just another criminal garbed in local executive’s robes. The Duterte mystique would have been the game-changer. But the game-changer may not have come in to play.
Even if the BPI accounts are found to involve amounts that are nowhere near the figures that Senator Trillanes has mentioned – P241 million worth of deposits and P2.2 billion worth of transactions – Rodrigo Duterte apparently is already in violation of the SALN law. He had admitted to having peso accounts with low five figures’ worth of deposits and a dollar account with $5,000 (around P240,000) in it. The Sandiganbayan will convict public officials for SALN-law violations involving lesser amounts.
Despite Trillanes’ threats and offers to resign Davao City’s mayor has refused to fully and unequivocally waive his right to the privacy of his banking transactions. The so-called waiver that Duterte’s lawyer has been bandying about has been so worded that BPI has not been allowed to make public the entire history of its client’s deposit accounts. The presentation of an ending balance inexorably raises the question, how was the ending balance arrived at? What transactions caused the ending balance to settle at a certain figure? The mayor and his counsel won’t let the nation have answers to these questions.
Will the eventual disclosure of the history of his bank accounts make a difference to Rodrigo Duterte’s public standing during the period between Congress’s proclamation of the new president and the new national leader’s taking of his oath of office? Of course it will, for it will mean that the new president was elected on the basis of false pretenses and undisclosed criminal behavior.
If Duterte is able to take his oath of office, a new ballgame will open up. That’s the ballgame of impeachment, given that the period of non-prosecutability will have set in. Senator Trillanes can be counted on to throw the first pitch in that ballgame.