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Brouhaha over pirated DVDs

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From the time President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III appointed Ronald Llamas as presidential adviser on political affairs, Llamas has become the lightning rod for criticism against P-Noy’s administration.  But P-Noy doesn’t seem to be bothered with the attacks directed at Llamas.  Indeed, nobody could touch Llamas…  unless his critics could produce incontrovertible evidence of malfeasance.

The latest “torpedo” launched at Llamas was an allegation that he purchased pirated DVDs.  As a result of this controversy involving one of P-Noy’s despised – and envied – shooting buddies, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. issued a memorandum instructing Llamas to explain within five days – by February 1 -- why no administrative disciplinary case should be filed against him for buying pirated DVDs.

In his memo, Ochoa said that Llamas was “seen buying a stack of pirated DVDs worth P2,000.”  Llamas responded to the memo immediately to which Ochoa’s office said that it would make a recommendation.  According to deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte, the recommendation could be administrative sanctions or dismissal.

When P-Noy heard the story, he pooh-poohed it saying that Llamas “might just have been passing by.”  But according to a first-hand account by Dona Policar, the associate editor of Bandera, she saw -- and photographed -- Llamas going over the pirated DVDs on display at the Circle C mall in Quezon City.  According to the DVD retailer, Llamas bought P2,000 worth of pirated DVDs.  He also said that Llamas was a regular customer.

Poor Llamas, he never realized that in one of his rare personal and private moments, a paparazzo was lurking behind a stack of DVDs while he was browsing over the merchandise displayed.  But Llamas should have known better that as an alter ego of the President, he is public property, 24/7.

*Admission of “guilt”

Last January 30, Llamas issued a statement saying that he had apologized to P-Noy for the “impropriety and lack of discretion as well as the unintended embarrassment” caused by his actions.  He promised to “exercise more care and prudence in his actions in the future.”

Meanwhile, a number of columnists – some of whom are veterans from a bygone era of “yellow journalism” -- jumped on Llamas and demanded his resignation or termination from his job.  Yes, the Llamas incident was like throwing red meat at them.  They’d devour Llamas, flesh and bones.

*Previous controversy

Before this latest incident, Llamas was caught in another controversy.  Last October 2011 while he was abroad, his sports utility vehicle driven by one of his security men had a road accident near his home in Quezon City.  Some people saw three assault rifles in the vehicle but his security men removed them before the police arrived at the scene.

That was red meat for the media!  Poor Llamas had to cut his trip short and come home to explain to P-Noy why he owns an arsenal of assault rifles.  Claiming that he had been receiving death threats, his acquisition of high-caliber firearms was justified.  P-Noy slapped Llamas – one of his “shooting buddies” -- on the wrist for that incident.  However, Llamas had to fire his security men.

*Who committed a crime?

In an opinion made by the Optical Media Board (OMB), buyers of pirated DVDs are “not criminally liable” under the Optical Media Act of 1993.  Lawyer Coco Padilla, chief of the OMB legal division, was reported to have said: “The purchase of DVDs (that are not original and) not used for commercial activities does not entail liability based on the law on Optical Media. Those in the possession of the same, but who do not sell them, are not penalized.”  So, unless it could be proven that Llamas was reselling the pirated DVDs and profiting from it, then he did not commit a crime.

Presidential spokesman, Edwin Lacierda echoed the OMB position, saying: “Technically, Llamas did not violate any laws as there was no punishment for buying pirated materials in the Optical Media Act of 2003.”

Okay, so what is all this brouhaha about pirated DVDs then?

One can argue that Llamas violated the government’s campaign against “film pirates” to get the country removed from the international “piracy watch list.”

Now if the government is really serious in its war against “film pirates,” why isn’t the government going after the real culprits?  What about the retailer who sold Llamas the pirated DVDs?  Why was he not arrested for illegally peddling pirated DVDs?  And how about the importers and wholesalers of pirated DVDs?  How did their illicit products get past Customs?  And they have to crucify an innocent end-user of pirated DVDs for all the sins of illegal traders?  Poor Llamas!

*Political liability?

The question is: Now, that Llamas is in trouble again, would P-Noy consider him as a political liability and let go of him?

Before we answer this question, let’s look at why P-Noy appointed Llamas as presidential adviser on political affairs and a cabinet-ranked secretary as well.  Llamas is the President of the leftist Akbayan party-list group.  He is perceived to be the “point man” of P-Noy’s moves in the House of Representatives to remove high-ranking government officials associated with the previous Arroyo government, which include former Ombudsman Merceditas “Merci” Gutierrez and Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona.  The fact that the House had impeached both of them by large numbers is a testament to Llamas’ ability as an astute and effective political operative.  That makes him an asset in P-Noy’s “political” Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (Pol-SALN).

Now that Merci is gone and Corona is facing a Senate impeachment court, Llamas’ political stock value is not as strong as it was before Merci and Corona were impeached in the House – when he was badly needed -- while his political liability is accruing each time he makes a boo-boo.  Has Llamas finally reached the tipping point where his political liabilities are piling up and his political assets diminishing?  Is he now a liability in P-Noy’s Pol-SALN?

As someone once said before, “There are no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, only permanent interests.”  This mantra has been proven time and time again.

Let’s see what P-Noy would do if Ochoa recommends for his removal from office.  Would P-Noy do for Llamas what he did for his other two shooting buddies, Rico Puno and Virginia Torres, that is -- keep them?

In my opinion, Llamas is still a valuable asset to P-Noy and therefore he’d keep him.

By Perry Diaz




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