Loyalty to party ideals no substitute for victory?

Former senator Antonio Trillanes IV warned Vice-President Leni Robredo and the Liberal Party that no support can be expected from his Magdalo group if she gives way to Senator Panfilo Lacson in the 2022 presidential race. Trillanes said: “VP Leni, I hope this is not true. But if it is true, I am sorry but the Magdalo Group would not join you and the LP if you would give way for Senator Lacson. May I remind you also that Senator Lacson is one of those who pushed for the unjust imprisonment of your partymate, Senator (Leila) de Lima.”

Trillanes plans to run for president in the 2022 general elections. However, he has said he will withdraw and throw the support of his Magdalo group behind Vice-President Robredo if she decides to run for president. In an interview with an ABS-CBN reporter, Trillanes accused Senator Lacson and Senator Richard Gordon as being complicit in the cover up of the alleged extrajudicial killings in Davao City when President Duterte was the city’s mayor.

It will be recalled that in 2016, newly elected senator Leila de Lima, in her capacity as chairperson of the Senate Justice Committee, initiated an inquiry into the alleged extrajudicial killings (popularly known as EJKs) in Davao City when President Rodrigo Duterte was mayor of the city. Actually, Senator De Lima was just resuming her investigation of the alleged EJKs. She initiated their investigation when she was chairperson of the Human Rights Commission, before she was elected senator.

Self-acclaimed Davao Death Squad hitman Edgar Matobato confessed before the Senate Justice Committee that he was responsible for the killing of several unsavory characters. At the height of the Senate investigation, President Duterte, obviously extremely perturbed by the deepening probe, was provoked to utter in public, “If I were De Lima, I will hang myself.” Soon after, Senator Manny Pacquiao moved to declare all committee chairs vacant and to elect new chairpersons. Pacquiao’s motion was approved overwhelmingly by the senators. Senator Gordon was elected chairman of the Justice Committee.

After a few hearings, including that of SPO3 Arturo Lascanas’ testimony denying the existence of a Davao Death Squad and belying the confession of Matobato, Gordon closed the investigation declaring there was “no evidence of state-sponsored killings.” Months later, Senator Trillanes brought back Lascanas, this time before Senator Lacson’s Public Order Committee. Lascanas recanted his testimony before Gordon’s Justice Committee and corroborated in great detail Matobato’s confession before the Justice Committee when De Lima was its chairperson. But Lacson dismissed Lascanas’ testimony arguing that a recantation has no probative value. That spelled the end of all inquiries into the Davao extrajudicial hearings.

Vice-President Robredo met in the week of July 19 with Lacson. Former senator Bam Aquino, who accompanied VP Robredo in the meeting with Lacson, said they talked about the situation of the country and the leadership the country needs through the crises it is facing.

Senator Richard Gordon said last week he had met with VP Robredo on July 28 for a partnership in next year’s elections. However, he did not give any details as to what the meeting was all about.

The Vice-President, the leaders of the Liberal Party, and other personalities in the political opposition have been talking openly about forming a coalition and fielding a single candidate for president in the 2022 general elections to boost the chance of defeating whoever President Duterte anoints as his successor. They know the opposition will be facing a hard uphill battle against the President’s choice as the administration’s resources are expected to be used to support the President’s anointed.

Other than Trillanes and his Magdalo group, many other groups will be turned off by either a Robredo-Lacson tandem or a Robredo-Gordon partnership for the presidential race in 2022. Such a combination goes against the avowal of the convenors of the alliance for good government — to prevent the extension of the Duterte administration and to remove all vestiges of it by repudiating his anointed successor and his allies in next year’s general elections. This avowal is born of the opposition’s firm affirmation that the Duterte administration is grossly corrupt, awfully inept, and exceedingly abusive.

Lacson and Gordon were alternately Duterte allies and Duterte detractors. But both are prominent vestiges of a previous totally corrupt and extremely abusive administration — the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship.

After his graduation from the Philippine Military Academy, in 1971 Lacson chose to join the Philippine Constabulary, then a service branch of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. He was assigned to the PC Metropolitan Command (Metrocom), Intelligence and Security Group (MISG), commanded by the Colonel Rolando Abadilla. He was involved mainly in intelligence-gathering, which meant monitoring closely detractors of the Marcos Dictatorship.

Many labor and student activists were arrested on the basis of the reports of the MISG. A large number of those arrested were never seen or heard from again. It is those crimes against humanity that moved the post-EDSA Revolution Senate to join the Rome Statute that governs the International Criminal Court. I tend to think if the Philippines were a signatory to the Rome Statute before Marcos became president, Lacson would have been investigated by the ICC.

In fairness to Lacson, he was never accused of graft and corruption while serving in the MISG. In fact, he solved kidnap-for-ransom incidents. In 1981, he led a team that rescued Robina Gokongwei, daughter of businessman John Gokongwei, from a kidnap-for-ransom gang. Robina’s family offered Lacson and his team a reward, but Lacson declined it.

In 1998, newly elected President Joseph Estrada appointed Lacson the Philippine National Police chief. As chief of the PNP, he eliminated the “kotong culture” (bribe-extortion) among the police officers. Under Lacson’s leadership, the PNP achieved a 58% public approval rating, while Lacson got a 78% rating. Still, a partnership with Lacson would cast doubt on the opposition’s sincerity to restore democratic principles in government.

Richard Gordon had demonstrated during his stint in various government positions that he is the kind of politician spawned during the martial rule of Marcos, to whom he remained loyal up to the end. He was one of the rah-rah boys of the 1973 constitution dictated by Marcos, but he campaigned all over the country against the 1987 Constitution drafted by men and women of probity and independence. He governed Olongapo City the way Imelda Marcos governed Metro Manila, highlighting only the good and the beautiful, hiding the bad and the ugly. When Father Shay Cullen, a Columban missionary, exposed the presence in Olongapo City of a child prostitution syndicate that offered children to US Navy personnel, Mayor Gordon dismissed the exposure as a mere publicity stunt of the priest.

If there is an expert on publicity stunts, it is Gordon. He was not an Ateneo cheerleader and Procter & Gamble brand manager for nothing. “Ngayon lang! Napa WOW Philippines ang buong mundo” (Only now! The Philippines got to world to say WOW), crowed the Department of Tourism ad when Gordon was the Secretary. Among those cited in the ad as having wowed the whole world were the placement of the WOW Philippines advertisements in CNN and BBC; the installation of a system that facilitates identification and apprehension of taxi drivers guilty of crime against tourists; the awards the country won in a Tourism fair in Berlin such as “Best Booth,” “Best Marketing Effort,” and “Best TV/Video Advertising Campaign;” and Gordon’s election as chair of PATA and chair of the Commission for East Asia of the World Tourism Organization.

In 2009, Gordon, who was a director of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) that oversaw the project at the time, was named as one of the people behind the bribery and protectionism in the construction of a $120-million casino and hotel in Subic. In 2013, Gordon was implicated in a P200-million fund anomaly in the Red Cross where the Red Cross chief accountant stated that funds were allegedly misused for Gordon’s baller IDs.

In 2010, when he was Blue Ribbon Committee chairperson, he released the committee’s final report on the Fertilizer Scam only after it became known he was not Lakas-KAMPI’s presidential candidate. That smacked of Machiavellian politics.

During the Senate investigation on the P6.4-billion drugs smuggling case, Senator Trillanes accused Gordon of lawyering for President Duterte’s son Paolo and son-in-law Manases Carpio, calling the investigation panel that Gordon headed as “Committee de Absuelto.” Political pundits refer to Gordon as the Papa Bear in the Senate because he seemed to have gotten whatever he wanted.

In February 2019, Senator Richard Gordon, as Senate Ribbon Committee chairman, released his draft report that states former president “Benigno Aquino III is guilty of “malfeasance, misfeasance, and nonfeasance” in connection with his administration’s mass immunization program using Dengvaxia.

But in September 2019, the Philippine Medical Association urged the government to allow the use of Dengvaxia on willing patients and on those who have been exposed to dengue, as cases soared to more than 208,000. Since the World Health Organization recognized the use of the vaccine as a preventive measure, the organization of physicians recommended that Dengvaxia be given to “individuals who are interested, willing, and aware of the benefits and possible risks of the vaccine.”

In October 2020, President Duterte announced that the government secured the source of funds for the acquisition of vaccines for the COVID-19 mass vaccination. Subsequently, he announced that the Philippines would enter into advance market commitments (AMCs) with private manufacturers of anti-COVID-19 vaccines after approving the conduct of negotiations and the signing of AMCs, including authorizing advanced payments for negotiated terms.

According to the procurement law’s implementing rules and regulations, advance payments should only be made after the President has approved them and cannot reach 15% of the contract value, unless otherwise ordered by the President. In addition to acquiring vaccines supplied by private companies, advance payments are still expected to procure vaccinations from the COVAX Global Alliance for Vaccination and Immunization, which is intended to guarantee adequate doses for 20% of the population of the participating countries.

The silence of Senator Gordon, who found anomalous the purchase of Dengvaxia, on this planned advance payment for the massive purchase of anti-COVID vaccines was deafening. What matters to him is the political color of the powers that be, not the health of the people. Yes, trapo is an apt description of Gordon. A Robredo deal with him for the presidential election in 2022 would disenchant millions of Robredo believers.

Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a retired corporate executive, business consultant, and management professor. He has been a politicized citizen since his college days in the late 1950s.