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‘Wang-wang’ politics as usual

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Barely three days after delivering his second State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Beningo “P-Noy” Aquino III appointed retired Lt. Gen. Gaudencio Pangilinan as the new Director of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor).  A member of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1979, Pangilinan retired last July 25, 2011 when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 56 -- the same day P-Noy delivered his SONA.  On July 28, Pangilinan took his oath of office before his news boss, Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Leila de Lima.   

Pangilinan seems like the ideal “poster boy” for P-Noy’s campaign against corruption and fighting “utak wang-wang” (“wang-wang” mentality) -- or abuse of power -- in the government. Why not?  After all, he was a recipient of the Philippine Legion of Honor and holds a masters degree in Strategic Studies at the United States Army War College.  His credentials are impressive: he previously led the Counter Intelligence Group of the AFP; and as the first commander of the Task Force Davao, he developed the module for counter-terrorism campaigns in urban areas.  He earned his third star when P-Noy appointed him commander of Northern Luzon Command.  

*Plunder complaint

Pangilinan may have been the best choice for the job except for one major, major issue: there is a pending plunder case against him before the Department of Justice, which must have placed his new boss, De Lima, in a very awkward position of investigating her new subordinate for a plunder complaint.  

Some DOJ officials doubt Pangilinan’s ability to institute reforms at BuCor while he is facing a plunder charge.  One DOJ official said, “Personally, I think Malacañang should have been more circumspect and discriminating in appointing people to sensitive positions like the BuCor.”  But Pangilinan downplayed the plunder case, saying that it was just a “fabrication” of retired AFP Comptroller Lt. Col. George Rabusa, the complainant.  

When Rabusa heard about Pangilinan’s appointment and his claim that it was just a “fabrication,” he said: “I know him so well. I know him from head to toe. I’ve been with him since our days in the PMA and when I was a young lieutenant.”  He calls Pangilinan a “bad boy.”

In April 2011, Rabusa filed the plunder complaint against 17 generals and senior officers for alleged corrupt activities in the AFP including the misuse and conversion of some P2.3 billion in military funds from 2000 to 2005.  Two months later, he added Pangilinan and four others to the plunder complaint.  He claimed that Pangilinan was the “bagman” for the late AFP Chief of Staff Arturo Enrile whom he served as executive assistant in 1995.  Rabusa claimed that Pangilinan received P88.2 million in the alleged conversion of AFP funds. 

But Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda was quick to defend Pangilinan’s appointment.  At first he said that Rabusa’s lawyers made a mistake in filing a plunder case against Pangilinan because plunder was not yet a crime when Pangilinan served under Enrile in1995; therefore, Pangilinan did not commit the crime of plunder.  But when he was told that plunder was already a crime in 1991, Lacierda said that under the constitution Pangilinan is “presumed innocent until proven guilty.”  He said that P-Noy appointed Pangilinan because of his “expertise in counter-intelligence and his ability to reform the system,” which makes one wonder if he was the only person who could do the job?  Lacierda, however, conceded that Pangilinan’s appointment could be rescinded if there was evidence against him in the plunder case.

*“Midnight” promotion?

A year ago, last July 8, 2010, Pangilinan made the news when P-Noy promoted him as commander of Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom).  Since the position requires a three-star general, then-Maj. Gen. Pangilinan would get his third star. Nothing seemed to be wrong with that.  However, the problem was that Pangilinan turned 55 on July 25, 2010.  Since the mandatory retirement age in the AFP is 56, under the law, an officer – except for one who is promoted to AFP Chief of Staff – with less than a year left in service cannot be promoted. 

To go around the law, P-Noy -- who signed his promotion in September 2010 -- made his appointment retroactive to the day he assumed command of Nolcom.  In effect, P-Noy circumvented the one-year ban on promotions in the military by backdating his appointment papers. In a way, it’s a “midnight” promotion that is likened to Gloria circumventing the ban on “midnight” appointments by backdating appointment papers.

*Game of the generals

It’s interesting to note that during the 2010 presidential campaign, Aquino met with several generals who reportedly told him that Gloria was not giving up power and was preparing plans for three possible scenarios to stay in power. The generals pledged their loyalty to Aquino and assured him that they would resist any attempt by Gloria to stay in power and would install him president if no winner were proclaimed within a week after the election.  Pangilinan was one of these generals.

However, there was no evidence – or signs – of the existence of a military group who would support Arroyo to stay in power, not even then Chief of Staff Delfin Bangit who was a known Arroyo loyalist.  But Pangilinan’s group convinced Aquino -- and Voltaire Gazmin -- that Gloria was dead serious about staying in power.

*Aquino loyalist 

Gazmin’s relationship with the Aquinos goes back to the presidency of Cory Aquino -- P-Noy’s mother -- when he commanded her Praetorian Guard, the Presidential Security Group.  He gained prominence when he defended Cory’s government from seven coup attempts.  He was later promoted to Lieutenant General as commander of the Philippine Army.  It was during this time that Pangilinan served under him as intelligence officer and comptroller.  Gazmin retired from military service in 2000.  When P-Noy ascended to the presidency, he picked Gazmin from retirement to serve as Secretary of National Defense.    

Evidently, Pangilinan’s past association with Gazmin and his involvement with a group of generals who supported P-Noy during the 2010 campaign helped him get promoted to Lieutenant General and also secured the BuCor top post after his mandatory retirement age notwithstanding the plunder case against him. 

*Shadow of doubt

Pangilinan’s appointment cast a shadow of doubt on P-Noy’s integrity when he vowed during his SONA to fight corruption and stop those who abuse power, which he called “utak wang-wang” (“wang-wang” mentality).  But how can he convince his “bosses” – the people – that he is serious about stamping out corruption when he just appointed someone charged with plunder?  How does he expect his subordinates to walk a straight and narrow path (“matuwid na daan) ” when he appointed his “KKK” cronies (shooting buddies, classmates, and friends) who are more interested in securing their jobs and pursuing their personal interests than to serve the people? How can he govern effectively when his subordinates are divided into the warring “Samar” and “Balay” factions? And how can he institute reforms when he surrounds himself with people who are more committed to keeping the status quo than making change?

He promised change but it seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Indeed, it appears that it's still “wang-wang” politics as usual. 

Quo vadis, P-Noy?




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