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Manila Bulletin - In Philippine politics, chaos is a ladder

News & Interviews
25 August 2017

By Getsy Tiglao | Manila Bulletin 

Reading the news in the past week with all the unending chaos, why do I feel that there’s a “Littlefinger” character somewhere in the shadows who is sowing all these political intrigues in order to create power-grabbing opportunities.

“Littlefinger” is Lord Petyr Baelish, the master schemer in the popular HBO television show Game of Thrones, now on its penultimate season. Many of the major plot points in the TV series, including the murders of key personages, were due to the machinations of Lord Baelish.

There are just too many controversies and scandals happening in the past weeks that I’ve allowed myself to indulge in a bit of conspiracy-thinking. The perceived chaos in the country gives wide berth to political opportunism, even as it highlights the sharp divide between the pro-Duterte groups and those against him, derisively called by netizens as the “Yellows.”

Dominating the news cycle was the death of 17-year-old Kian Loyd de los Santos in a botched drug raid by Caloocan City policemen. They alleged that Kian was a drug courier who fired back at the police with a .45 caliber gun, but his family disputes this, saying the Grade 11 student was not involved at all in any criminal activities.

Initial investigations show that the police shot Kian at close range, a victim of the government’s new “one-time, big-time” drug operations. The public outrage was incited by the release of a CCTV footage showing two cops dragging away Kian, and the unclear answer to the question of whether or not the minor was armed.

Even President Duterte scaled back on his usual statement supporting policemen and instead said they should “calibrate” their response to a threat. “Should the investigation point to liabilities by one, two, or all, there will be a prosecution and they have to go to jail if convicted,” the President said.

While emotionally charged, this case is unlikely to stop the war on drugs. A number of senators have said they were still supportive of Duterte’s anti-drugs campaign although they sought systemic changes in the police organization. Opposition senators, meanwhile, were milking the Kian story for every possible drop of drama and media mileage.

Another controversy that has been the talk of the town is the P6.4 billion worth of shabu that passed unchallenged through the Bureau of Customs express lane. The BOC has been known as a venal agency since time immemorial. Its former commissioner Nicanor Faeldon probably thought that idealism was enough to clean up the bureau of its corrupt employees and officials. After a tearful testimony at the Senate with a brief heart scare, the former soldier’s resignation was finally accepted by Duterte.

That should have been the end of it but Senator Panfilo Lacson in a privilege speech claimed that it was Faeldon himself and his other top officials who received bribe money from brokers and importers. Lacson also alleged that Faeldon got P100 million in “welcome” money upon his appointment as BOC chief last year.

In a retaliatory press conference, Faeldon charged Lacson’s son, Pampi (Panfilo Jr.), with smuggling cement worth billions of pesos through his company Bonjourno. He claimed the company undervalued the cement’s freight costs by 50 percent in order to reduce its value, so its value added tax would be smaller.

“They want me out of the (BOC) because they don’t want this to come out,” Faeldon said. Even as Lacson Sr. denied the charges against his son, his fellow senators stood by him and questioned why Faeldon didn’t raise this supposed anomaly when he testified earlier before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee.

Almost forgotten by media is the case of Commission on Elections Chairman Andres Bautista whose own wife accused him of having hidden wealth to the tune of P1 billion. His wife also alleged that Bautista received commissions from the law firm of Smartmatic, the controversial provider of the counting machines used in the last elections.

It seems that lawmakers are finally listening to the various charges against Bautista. An impeachment complaint was filed in Congress last Wednesday against the Comelec chief for betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constition. The impeachment complaint was endorsed by several congressmen.

Even Bautista’s fellow commissioners have turned around and are now asking him to resign as he “could no longer effectively lead the Commission… The time for him to let go has come.” Another blow to Bautista is the plan of his former office, the Presidential Commission on Good Government, to investigate allegations that he received kickbacks while he was head of this other state agency.

Is it just a coincidence that all these controversies are happening at the same time? I hope it is just happenstance and that I’m just letting my imagination run wild. But I can’t stop thinking of Lord Baelish as he defended the gaping pit of lies in Westeros: “Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder.”