MS 30th Anniversary XXX

A cancer called Abad

Novaliches Bishop Emeritus Teodoro Bacani has joined the growing chorus of voices calling for the resignation of embattled Budget Secretary Florencio Abad. “Abad must resign if he is not involved in the scam to clear his name,” Bacani said.

I’ve always liked Bacani, who I consider that cleric in the manner of retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz—unafraid to speak out and possessed of a highly-developed sense of civic duty. However, I must disagree with Bacani on Abad, who I believe should resign whether or not he is actually involved with his self-confessed student, Janet Lim Napoles.

As I’ve written previously, the sense of righteousness that forced Abad to resign as Gloria Arroyo’s education secretary in 2005 in the wake of the “Hello, Garci” scandal —in which he was not involved —should now compel him to quit because of his reported involvement in the pork barrel scam, where he has been identified by no less than Napoles herself as her mentor. (The reasoning which Bacani made to call for Abad to resign is ironically the same one used by Abad’s supporters, who cannot believe that someone as supposedly righteous as Abad will get involved with Napoles; presumably, these people have concluded that this is why Abad should remain in his post.)

However, if Abad is truly involved with Napoles, then he must resign even more quickly than if he isn’t involved. If Abad is dirty and remains in his position as overseer of the nation’s treasury, that is an unmitigated disaster.

Meanwhile, I see that the person snarkily described by fellow columnist Bobi Tiglao as the other half of President Noynoy Aquino’s brain (the other half being Abad himself), Senate President Franklin Drilon, has said that the growing clamor for Abad to quit is motivated by “politics.” The palace spokesman whose job it is increasingly to defend the indefensible, Edwin Lacierda, has gone Drilon one better by saying that Abad is being pressured to resign because Aquino himself is “incorruptible.”

These are intriguing positions to take. While it may be true that no evidence has been found to directly link Aquino to Napoles expect for his inordinate interest in Ma’am Jenny’s plight, it is certainly foolish to conclude that the link does not exist at all; even a President as clueless as Aquino will take pains to “layer” his dealings with people like Napoles.

To conclude that Aquino is incorruptible simply because there is no evidence currently to prove otherwise is simply wrong. For instance, if both Drilon and Lacierda are correct, then Gloria Arroyo, who has been in jail almost as long as Aquino has been in office despite the failure of both the Ombudsman and the Sandiganbayan to find evidence linking her to corruption all these years, is truly being persecuted instead of being prosecuted, as Winnie Monsod recently said.

What Aquino has (and what, to a lesser degree, Abad had before Napoles called him “sensei” and before it was exposed that practically his entire family was in government’s employ) is the perception of incorruptibility. It is a perception that Arroyo never enjoyed, much to her misfortune.

Of course, perception, unlike hard, judicially acceptable evidence, has been known to change quickly. This is why I think Malacañang has decided that defending Abad is its current top priority—so that the stink of pork doesn’t reach Aquino and even land him in a jail cell when his time is up.

So the palace game plan, as far as I can tell, is to defend Abad at all costs—unless he quits on his own. But I have serious doubts that Abad will leave on his own accord, not only because all of his relatives might lose their jobs, but also because he must still remember how hard it was for him to be unemployed for three straight years and to still pay a little over P8,000 in income taxes.

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Ultimately, Abad, like Drilon and Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, is simply too close to Aquino to be sacrificed. But because Aquino has chosen to “hold on together” with his closest associates, as Dinky Soliman once crooned, the President may go down in flames with them all.

Aquino’s “we’re all in this together” attitude apparently cannot grasp the concept that Abad has become a liability, a cancerous limb that will infect the whole body of his presidency and which must be surgically removed to preserve the uninfected whole. If it is at all true that Aquino himself is not corrupt, then he could be corrupted by his continued association with Abad.

If Aquino never received a centavo in campaign contributions from Napoles but Ochoa did, or if he never bribed a member of Congress with pork but Abad did, or if he never went further that having pictures taken with Ma’am Jenny but Drilon and his wife did, then the President is as corrupt as any name in any of the Napolists. They’re all in this together, after all.

If you don’t like Aquino and Abad stays on, you should be happy because that could lead to the ultimate unmasking of Aquino as just another corrupt politician, only with a better funded, longer lasting and more painstakingly crafted image of incorruptibility. But think of the high cost to the country, too.

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