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Manila Standard Today - Probing the probes

News & Interviews
16 August 2017

By Jojo Robles | Manila Standard Today 

You know what’s truly amazing? That Congress is relying too much on hearsay in its investigation of the Customs controversy, while not even beginning to look into the evidence of the bank accounts and other documents that are in the name of Commission on Elections Chairman Andres Bautista.

This is not in any way an endorsement of Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon, under whose watch P6.4 billion worth of shabu was spirited out of the waterfront before it was finally, with the help of Chinese authorities, traced to a warehouse in Valenzuela City. Faeldon and his officials need to properly explain how the country’s single biggest shipment of confiscated drugs went through Customs, and how corruption continues to rob the government of revenues and kill local industries and jobs.

But yesterday’s investigation in the Senate on the Customs scandal took on a decidedly political hue when Senator Antonio Trillanes tried to pin down the so-called “Davao Group” to the smuggling racket at Manila’s port. Trillanes repeatedly tried to make broker Mark Taguba, who was involved in bringing in the shabu, link Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte, the President’s son, to the drug shipment.

But Taguba was only able to testify that he had heard some people talk about the supposed Davao connection, people who had also heard from others that the younger Duterte was its leader. How this bit of second- and third-hand information is supposed to stand up in any venue outside of Trillanes’ warped mind is a mystery to me.

Of course, you can say that the corruption that has gone unabated at the waterfront probably since Chinese junks started arriving with goods to trade in Manila before the Spanish colonial period is going to be based largely on witnesses’ accounts, since no one really keeps ledgers of such off-the-books payoffs. (A prominent exception to this rule is Ozamiz Vice Mayor Nova Princess Parojinog, who, when police tried to arrest her, remembered a list of drug deals she had made on a piece of paper and tried to eat the evidence.)

In fact, prior to the entry of Trillanes in the bicameral investigations into the Customs mess, I was perfectly willing to assume that Faeldon and his men could be culpable for incompetence or corruption, whichever the testimonies and the eventual committee investigation reports would point to. I felt that Congress had it own interests to protect and pursue in the probes, but it still had legitimate basis to continue investigating to the very end.

The entry of Trillanes, with his full one-note orchestra of political monotony, changed all that for me. And if the Senate is not careful, a heretofore legit investigation could be hijacked by one member who is only in it to smear Duterte—and then where will all of its good intentions end up?

* * *

On the other hand, neither chamber will still look into the charges leveled by Patricia Bautista against her husband, the deservedly embattled Comelec chairman. This, even if the allegations that Bautista amassed humongous amounts of money while serving in the government as the chief overseer of the 2016 elections are ultimately based on bank passbooks and other documents that are so eminently verifiable.

No one in either chamber seems to have the courage to start an investigation into Bautista’s vast hoard of money and how, in the process of compiling it, the Comelec chairman may have influenced the elections one way or the other. And how difficult is it to use the template of the impeachment and conviction of the late Chief Justice Renato Corona, who was tried and removed on the basis of not properly declaring his assets as required by law of all government officials, in the case of the also-impeachable Bautista?

Here I must declare that yesterday, I interviewed Kabayan party-list Rep. Harry Roque, who has filed a resolution calling for a House probe of Bautista, a call that has not been heeded by any of his 300 or so colleagues. Roque told me that his fellow lawmakers are apparently waiting for a signal from Duterte on whether or not to impeach Bautista; and since they have not gotten it, are taking their sweet time acting on his resolution.

But I’m afraid that I have to debunk Roque’s theory, citing the Customs investigation as evidence. Why would both Houses of Congress, after all, consent to Trillanes’ dragging of Pulong Duterte’s name in the probe of Faeldon and his men but require signs from Malacañang if they can proceed with a similar action against Bautista?

Why would Duterte’s directive in the matter of proceeding with the impeachment of Bautista, when Congress doesn’t care if the president’s son is accused of involvement in shipping illegal drugs through Customs? Is Congress Duterte’s lapdog when it comes to Bautista but free to do whatever it likes when investigating Customs anomalies?

I don’t think so. In fact, I’m starting to believe that Congress simply doesn’t want Bautista to take a deep dive into what really happened in the May 2016 elections, because what he may come up with could really hurt them.

I may be wrong, of course. But I simply cannot explain why hearsay will prevail in the investigation of Customs but hard documentary evidence against Bautista counts for nothing with our probe-happy lawmakers.