The difference, in my view, is like day and night.
No big-time or high-profile grafter was ever prosecuted during the nine-year term of former president Gloria Arroyo. Hardly surprising. Documentary evidence has now started to emerge how she and her accomplices pillaged taxpayers’ money in a large-scale manner during her term.
In sharp contrast, President Benigno Aquino’s government has now hauled before the Ombudsman, an anti-graft body, dozens of very senior former and incumbent officials, lawmakers and their cohorts in the private sector.
It is said that actions speak louder than words. The Aquino administration’s pursuit of suspected crooks speaks volumes. Filipinos in general, including those at work and living overseas, certainly welcome this kind of move by their government.
Plunder charges were filed yesterday against Arroyo, three of her former cabinet, businesswoman Janet Napoles and even incumbent officials for alleged misuse of at least P900 million from the Malampaya fund. The fund, which amounts to tens of billions of pesos, represents the government share of royalties for oil production in Philippine waters.
On Sept. 16, three prominent senators — Juan Ponce Enrile, Bong Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada — and 34 others were also charged with plunder for their alleged involvement in the P10-billion PDAF or pork barrel scam, allegedly masterminded by Napoles.
Aquino’s vow to nail down more grafters is unrelenting. Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said her department and other relevant anti-graft agencies are far from finished in filing charges against other grafters over the pork barrel scam.
Arroyo had nothing significant to show in the fight against graft even after spending nine years as president, the second longest serving head of state in the Philippines after 18 years of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
On the contrary, large-scale corruption cases were suppressed and died a natural death when she was president. These included the ZTE NBN computerization project which she was forced to cancel after revelations of her husband’s alleged involvement in a huge overprice. The disclosure of photos which showed her and husband, Mike, playing golf in Shenzhen, courtesy of ZTE officials, put Arroyo in a very embarassing light and inevitably gave credence to allegations that the Arroyo couple stood to gain from the project in the form of kickbacks — had the project proceeded.
Arroyo’s government also opted not to take action in the P800 million fertilizer scam involving former agriculture officials who were close to her despite whistleblowers’ testimonies in high-profile Senate public hearings. The amount was allegedly used in Arroyo’s re-election bid as president. Her administration was also forced to scrap the US$400 million north railway project after corruption allegations.
Arroyo’s decision not to prosecute anyone in all three major corruption cases is a clear demonstration that she merely paid lip service to fighting graft and she wasn’t really interested in curbing this problem — because she was very much a big part of one of the country’s most serious curse.
What’s most tragic for Filipinos is Arroyo never saw fit to provide any explanation why her government never bothered chasing after those involved in major corruption scandals. Clearly, she was never embarassed or shamed sufficiently by those scandals. Clearly, she displayed a high-handed and callous insensitivity to people’s sentiments during her term.
It’s true that many people are angry today at Aquino’s administration for apparently continuing the graft-ridden PDAF or pork barrel scheme which it inherited from Arroyo’s regime and which results in multi-billion peso losses of taxpayers’ money.
But Filipinos should not lose sight of the undisputed fact that the campaign against thieves who pillage the public’s coffers is moving firmly and vigorously. It is also worth noting the notable absence of credible corruption allegations that Aquino and his top officials are personally involved in major corruption scandals unlike their predecessors.
I would rather have an Aquino administration, with its occasional lapses and weaknesses, but never, never a notoriously corrupt Arroyo regime again.