PRESIDENT AQUINO’S DILEMMA – KIN OR COUNTRY?

President Aquino's 3 uncles. PDI photo

President Aquino’s 3 uncles. PDI photo

Pinoys, including about 10 million OFWs, may be in potentially big trouble come the 2016 presidential elections and beyond.

President Benigno Aquino’s three sisters and three uncles are reportedly supporting the presidential candidacy of Vice President Jejomar Binay because of the long-standing friendship between the two families.

However, Binay now faces plunder charges with the Sandiganbayan and more may be filed against him and other members of his family depending on the outcome of a Senate public hearing, which began on Aug. 26, into overpriced multi-billion peso building projects undertaken in Makati when the vice president was still mayor of the city.

In particular, the Senate blue ribbon committee wanted to find out why an 11-storey carpark building in Makati cost P2.2 billion to build and if there was an overprice in its price – which might indicate graft and corruption. Construction of the carpark started in 2007 when Jojo Binay was then Makati mayor and it was completed during the term of incumbent mayor, Junjun Binay, the vice president’s son.

Revelations at the Senate hearing that the much taller 46-storey Shang Grand Tower luxury residential/commercial condominium, also in Makati, cost a lower price tag of P2 billion has apparently alarmed members of the Senate blue ribbon committee, especially because the younger Binay failed miserably to provide an adequate explanation why an 11-storey carpark is even more expensive than a 46-storey luxury condominium project, both in Makati.

Now, this Senate body wants to scrutinize other large-scale building projects undertaken under the administration of the Binays. This exercise is primarily aimed at finding out if there is an overprice, just like what is indicated in the controversial carpark – now dubbed as the most expensive of its kind throughout the Philippines.

Father and son, as well as Senator Nancy Binay, have branded the Senate probe as merely politicking, aimed mainly at discrediting the vice president who has declared his intention to run for president in 2016. But the great disparity between an 11-storey carpark which cost P2.2 billion and a 46-storey luxury condo project which cost only P2 billion has now sharply focused the spotlight on how the Binays are spending taxpayers’ money. Beyond the overprice, Senate blue ribbon senators are expected to dig deeper where the overprice or “corruption money” went and most probably, if spending huge sums on a carpark is more important than spending to create livelihood projects and putting up shelter for Makati’s poorest of the poor.

Jojo Binay has repeatedly expressed his strong desire to become the Philippines’ next president.

But a frontrunner presidential candidate who now faces plunder charges and who may face more in the coming weeks or months raises serious questions on the quality of leadership and governance that the Filipino people will have – in the event Binay wins the 2016 presidential elections, ironically with help from the president’s kin.

Will the Filipino people have another president like Gloria Arroyo who brazenly dipped personally into anomalous large-scale projects, like the aborted ZTE NBN project, and other questionable transactions via her husband and colleagues?

Don’t Filipinos deserve much better presidential aspirants who are “whiter than white”, so to speak, whose integrity and public service record or credentials are not tainted at all by very serious allegations of graft and corruption?

Aquino is apparently torn now between his commitment to good governance or “tuwid na daan” (straight path) and his kin, including his sisters, who are rooting for Binay. To his credit, he apparently remains firmly committed to good governance, reducing rampant corruption and living up to the legacy of his heroic parents, specifically their sterling-quality service to the Filipino people.

Aquino’s sisters, including Kris, and his three uncles — Former Makati City Representative Butz Aquino, PNOC director Paul Aquino and Tarlac Representative Peping Cojuangco — clearly have a questionable sense of history and patriotism. Why? Because they clearly and conveniently gloss over what Ninoy and Cory Aquino stood for as they endorse Binay whose integrity and public service record are now under a serious cloud of doubt. Clearly, the president’s kin, including his sisters, are giving a higher premium to the Aquino-Binay family friendship more than the welfare of the Filipino people which will likely be prejudiced if the next president has questionable integrity and public service record like Binay whom they are supporting. In this regard, their support for Binay is most regrettable, questionable and even deplorable.

But since Aquino is close to his sisters, not necessarily his uncles, will he eventually go with the tide, so to speak, and support the choice of his kin? Or will he defy his kin in favor of his love of country?

I’d like to think Aquino will think of the country’s interests first and his kin’s unsolicited advice, second. But you never know in the end.

But as of the moment, Filipinos are lucky to have a bull-headed and mentally-tough president, like his illustrious father, who doesn’t fear standing up to China, working for the ouster of a corrupt former chief justice, Renato Corona, and whose administration has incarcerated a former president, Gloria Arroyo, and several senior senators, Juan Ponce Enrile, Bong Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada, while undertaking reforms, good governance and revitalizing the economy.

Aquino is also committed to leaving a lasting positive legacy like his parents, both of whom have been declared national heroes. It is his reputation and legacy as a leader that are at stake, not that of his sisters or uncles, and this will likely make him anchor his judgments on his own views and beliefs – not necessarily on the advice of his kin.

And this is all very well for all Filipinos, including OFWs, that we have a president who has never been accused of having a personal interest in any anomalous government project, unlike former presidents including Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada and the notoriously corrupt Gloria Arroyo.

PNoy certainly has his weaknesses as a leader. For instance, he lacked firm and timely decisiveness in sacking officials in his government who allegedly got involved in shady transactions, such as Virginia Torres and Al Vitangcol. The entire country, not only Mindanao, faces potentially crippling brownouts or power shortages starting 2015 because of his administration’s failure to build new power projects that will keep in step with rising power demand as the economy continues to expand. This lack of foresight and his failure to appoint competent energy officials are lamentable and deserves to be criticized severely.

In spite of the Aquino administration’s failings and weaknesses, Filipinos, including OFWs, should be thankful to have a government which has greatly reduced theft of taxpayers’ money and which has now more funds to finance projects that benefit the poorest of the poor.

And his desire perhaps to sustain, expand and bolster the fruitful reforms that he has started may be the principal driving force in his seeming interest to extend his term as president.    

Between having a new president with questionable credentials, like Binay, and initiating a controversial and divisive controversy in the term extension issue, Aquino seems to be favoring the latter. As Binay stands accused of corruption in large-scale projects in Makati, it is understandable for Aquino to have serious doubts if his vice president is the best person to continue the reforms and good governance that he has started.

In this regard, Aquino’s sisters and uncles are naïve and pathetic. If a person is accused of serious corruption and he seems unable to explain very well that he didn’t do any wrong, how can that person be possibly entrusted with the leadership of the entire country?

Even a not-so-in-depth analysis of the public service record of PNoy and Binay as president and vice president, respectively, as well as the critical and vital issue of who has been accused or implicated in large-scale suspected graft, will easily provide a clear answer. Anyone, even those who are closely monitoring political developments in the country, can easily make a clear and unmistakable distinction between PNoy and Binay. And the difference between the two is like comparing night and day.

Between Binay and other presidential aspirants, I’ll go for PNoy – because of what he has shown so far, especifically his selfless and dedicated service to the Filipino people while being free of any accusation that he personally amassed wealth by being president. And if constitutional amendments are made and he runs again for president, he won’t be forcing himself to Pinoys anyway. Unlike former dictator Ferdinand Marcos as Aquino will fight it out anyway with other presidential aspirants in automated and largely fraud-free elections.

So, is it kin or country for Aquino?

Pinoys should be thankful today — for having a president who will likely put a higher premium to love of country than kin and friends. But there’s always room for vigilance for everyone.

 

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