ONE of the worst aspects of the previous administration was the lack of accountability, due largely to the refusal of President Benigno Aquino III to punish erring officials who were his friends or allies. This manifest itself early in the administration, during the Luneta hostage crisis, which set a pattern that would be carried out through Mr. Aquino’s six years in office, during which he spared those responsible for the “Yolanda” relief fiasco, the Mamasapano massacre, the breakdown in public transportation services, and the disastrous decline in the country’s agricultural output.
Now there are disturbing signs that President Rodrigo Duterte, who campaigned on a vow to change all that, is following in Mr. Aquino’s footsteps.
When Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa was shot dead in his cell at the Baybay City provincial jail by a police raiding team that said that he opened fire on them while they were serving a search warrant at 4 a.m., Mr. Duterte immediately took their side, ignoring the suspicious, telltale signs of a rubout—and the commonsense question: Why would a person already in jail a) have a gun; and b) choose to shoot at a raiding team of 20 fully armed police officers?
Then on Monday, Mr. Duterte came to the defense of his national police chief, Ronald dela Rosa, who is being investigated by the Ombudsman for accepting an all-expense paid trip to Las Vegas for himself and his family from Senator Manny Pacquiao to watch his championship bout with Jesse Vargas.
When Pacquiao paid a courtesy call on the President, Mr. Duterte said the boxer-turned-senator was correct in defending Dela Rosa.
“You can afford the trip anyway. It is commensurate to your wealth. There is no criminal liability,” Duterte, a former city prosecutor, said.
The Ombudsman recently said Dela Rosa’s all-expense paid trip to Las Vegas may be a violation of Presidential Decree 46, which makes it punishable for public officials and employees to receive gifts on any occasion; and Republic Act No. 6713, or the “Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.”
The PNP chief admitted in an interview in Las Vegas that Pacquiao, who was then fighting for the World Boxing Organization welterweight title, invited him to watch his boxing match along with members of his family.
Dela Rosa maintained that there was nothing wrong with having the senator pay for his and his family’s trip because no public funds were used.
Sounding defiant, he told the Ombudsman to go ahead and investigate him. “Will I be jailed just because of an invitation?” he asked in Filipino.
Pacquiao has also defended footing the bill for Dela Rosa and his family.
“You know how it is with those of us from the South,” he said in Filipino. “It’s better to give something for free than engage in shenanigans.”
President Duterte, a lawyer and former prosecutor, should know better.
PD 46 and Republic Act 6713 make it very clear that public officials and employees must not accept directly or indirectly gifts, gratuity, favors, entertainment or loans or anything of monetary value in the course of their official duties.
How do you parse that to make Dela Rosa’s junket legal or even ethically acceptable?
Moreover, Senator Pacquiao should be reminded that the law applies to all; there are no separate rules for “Bisaya” or people from the South. There is only one law.
Given the current political climate, we expect the President will try to brazen his way through this one.
But it is dismaying to see him follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, whose knee-jerk reaction was always to defend his friends, no matter what wrongs they committed.
It is difficult to reconcile this behavior with what Mr. Duterte once said: “My loyalty to my friend ends where my loyalty to my country begins.”