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‘Shooting buddy’ under fire

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No sooner had Virginia Torres returned to her post than she started getting all the flak from critics as well as allies of President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III.  As one of P-Noy’s “shooting buddies,” Torres has become the lightning rod for all the things that could go wrong in P-Noy’s administration.

In an arrogant display of defiance on her first day upon her return to her job as Administrator of the Land Transportation Office (LTO) after a 60-day leave of absence, she vowed to stay in her post and would vacate it only with a court order or if P-Noy fired her.  “If I have committed a mistake, I would be the one to initiate telling the President to remove me,” she said. 

And in an apparent show of support from P-Noy, Malacañang officials said that they have no intention of stopping her from assuming her post.  Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang said that Malacañang has decided to wait for the result of the ongoing investigation on her case. “Let's see what the evidence is, what the results of the report are before we take any actions,” he said.  “It's easy to say take action now based on what you see on the news but I think we should evaluate what really happened.”

During a press conference the day she returned to work, Torres said that she considered resigning from her post but changed her mind because to do so “would be an ‘insult’ to the government.” Huh? But did she consider that with all the “excess baggage” she carries, to remain in her post would constitute an “insult” to the people?

“Shooting buddy”

Indeed, being a “shooting buddy” of P-Noy has many advantages and privileges.  It didn’t matter that the Department of Justice had recommended Torres’ suspension and filing of charges against her for gross neglect of duty and incompetence.  It didn’t matter that then-Secretary of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) Jose “Ping” de Jesus recommended the dismissal of Torres and filing of charges against her for gross neglect of duty and gross insubordination.  It didn’t matter that opposition members as well as political allies of P-Noy recommended her removal. And it didn’t matter that Stradcom Corp. filed corruption, conspiracy, and disobedience charges against her.

Stradcom is the owner and operator of the LTO IT Facility, which operates LTO’s nationwide database. A few days ago, Stradcom filed its second graft and corruption case against Torres with the Office of the Ombudsman. Stradcom alleged that Torres participated in the illegal takeover of the LTO IT Facility last December 9, 2010, when intruders forced their way inside the Stradcom Compound and took over operations of the facility.

“Untouchables”

But what seems to matter is that Torres is part of an elite group of “untouchable” government officials closely linked to P-Noy.  Known as “KKK,” the acronym for “Kabarilan, Kaklase, and Kaibigan” (Shooting buddies, Classmates, and Friends), their number one – and most important, and perhaps the only -- qualification for the job is their long association with P-Noy.

Take the case of P-Noy’s other “shooting buddy,” Undersecretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Rico E. Puno.  No sooner had he warmed up to his job than allegations of corruption smacked him on the face.  He was alleged to be receiving payola -- or protection money -- from jueteng lords. And like Torres, Puno refused to resign from his post when he was under fire.  When calls for his resignation flooded the airwaves, Puno boasted “he was among the few people who could ‘tame’ Mr. Aquino whenever he becomes overly engaged as Chief Executive.”

For all that, P-Noy gave his friend a slap on the wrist.  Puno then went “underground,” virtually invisible from the public eye.  As the old adage says, “Out of sight, out if mind.”  After about eight months of hermitage, he emerged and was back in the saddle in his DILG post as if nothing had happened. 

Torres should have taken a cue from Puno: vanish… and take it one step further, resign.  And that would have been the end of it.  Instead, she dared to return to her post, knowing that she’d be under heavy fire from all sides.  She must be a glutton for punishment or the kind of person who thrives hovering over the edge of uncertainty, defying fall.

Nobody knows how long she’d keep on fighting for her job, but in the end she’d most likely do a Merci Gutierrez act; that is, resign when she’s clinging to the edge with just a finger keeping her from falling.  But Merci had an honorable way out; Torres might not have any but a freefall into legal limbo.

Torres should call it quits. P-Noy has stood by her loyally; she should reciprocate by resigning gracefully to spare P-Noy from further embarrassment… and ridicule.   

Plummeting performance rating

It did not then come as a surprise when the latest Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey conducted last June 3-6, 2011 showed P-Noy’s net satisfaction rating plummeting from “very good” (+51) last March to “good” (+46) in June.  The survey shows that 64% of the 1,200 respondents said they were satisfied with P-Noy’s performance while 18% said they were dissatisfied.

While the numbers were not alarming, the trend is disquieting.  P-Noy started his presidency with a net satisfaction rating of +60 in September 2010.  It increased to +64 in November 2010.  In March 2011, it took an 11-point dive to +51.  The 5-point drop shown in the recent survey is the first time that P-Noy’s ratings dropped from “very good” to “good.”  If the trend continues in the next survey in September, it could drop to “moderate” and further slide down to “neutral” by early 2012.  And if P-Noy’s performance does not improve, it would end up in the negative or “poor” midway through his six-year term.

Quo vadis, P-Noy?

It’s now evident that P-Noy’s performance ratings were influenced by the malfeasance – and incompetence -- of his KKK cronies.  It is very sad that while many believe P-Noy to be honest and incorruptible, his cronies have become the albatross around his neck.

Does it have to happen that way?  It will if P-Noy does not do something about it.

By Perry Diaz




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