Rehabilitating Lacson

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FORMER SENATOR Panfilo Lacson says he’s having a hard time doing his job as the Aquino administration’s “rehabilitation czar,” complaining only a week ago that two members of the Aquino Cabinet have been deliberately thwarting his efforts to rehabilitate the areas in the Visayas razed by super typhoon Yolanda.

Lacson claimed that the two Cabinet secretaries, whom he refused to name, have been ignoring his calls, text messages, and even official correspondence. In an indirect indictment of the administration that appointed him, the head of the Office of the Presidential Adviser for Rehabilitation and Recovery (OPARR) said things either move slowly or not at all. He also claimed he has not received any response from the two officials.

Thanks to the pork barrel scandal, however, things seem to be moving speedily in his rehabilitation and reinvention into the epitome of what a public official should be—from, among other damaging perceptions, that he was a Marcos era torturer and killer, a corrupt former police chief who keeps dollar accounts abroad, and the number one suspect in the brutal 2001 Dacer-Corbito double murders.

Because Lacson never used his pork barrel fund allocations when he was a senator, in one of those paradoxes on which this country seems to have exclusive franchise, he has claimed the moral high ground amid the Yolanda-like devastation unleashed by the Napoles pork barrel scandal.

The political fallout has been particularly damaging to the Senate, which had once been regarded as the exclusive academy where future presidents and statesmen are schooled, but is nowadays seen by many as a den of scoundrels and morons with the IQ of doorknobs.

Revealing the names of the senators in the supposed Janet Lim-Napoles list of government officials involved in the diversion of pork barrel funds to ghost NGOs could hardly ruin that body as Lacson claims. Like practically the entire government and most of its officials, the Senate has fallen so low in the esteem of the citizenry that naming the individuals involved in the pork barrel conspiracy would hardly make a difference in the way it is perceived.

A Social Weather Stations survey in January this year, for example, found that fifty-six percent of businessmen and women—among the most influential sectors in this country in the shaping of public opinion—said they saw “a lot” of corruption in the public sector. That figure (56 percent) was 20 percent above the 46 percent recorded in 2012. That perception was very likely generated by the prominence of certain senators’ involvement in the pork barrel scandal.

No matter. Lacson issued the warning on the potential of the list that he has to “ruin” the Senate—and added that the impact on that body would be destructive enough to make it a matter of national security—right after he confirmed that seven incumbent senators were in the list that Mrs. Napoles’ husband had given him.

If the list was neither padded nor shortened by Napoles’ husband, or even by Lacson himself—and on the presumption, probably naïve, that Lacson has no reason to do either—among those who illegally benefited from Napoles’ operations in addition to Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jose Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr., said Lacson in a TV interview, were Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Francisco Escudero, Alan Peter Cayetano, and Gregorio Honasan. Lacson also mentioned Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, and in another interview said three Aquino Cabinet secretaries, 16 senators and a number of congressmen were also in the list,

If the whole thing looks and smells like another conspiracy to defraud the taxpayers, a conspiracy among many other conspiracies is what the misuse of pork barrel funds really is. It’s evident from the way the stain is spreading from the House of Representatives and the Senate to the Aquino cabinet, sweeping into its lethal embrace the professional staffs of senators and, through a corps of private sector operators, giving NGOs a bad name.

In one more demonstration of how expert the country’s crooks are in the arts of transforming the best into the worst, the latter was no mean achievement. During the suspension of the Bill of rights in the martial law period, it was after all through the country’s NGOs that various groups managed to defend citizen rights and to call attention to such issues as environmental degradation.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has also been swept into the scandal, with allegations that she’s either “sanitizing” a list that Napoles supposedly provided her—or even drafted the list herself to put down the oppositionists (so-called) in Congress and to build herself up in preparation for her candidacy for the Senate in 2016. Lacson had something to say about that too: he declared that if the names in the DOJ list were added to the names in his, there would be enough for a quorum in the Senate.

Given its implications on their political fortunes specially since 2016 is fast approaching, the senators and other officials allegedly in the lists of Lacson and the DOJ are desperately trying to deny and attribute political motives to their inclusion, or to downplay it. The very bottom line, however, is that not only has the existence of several lists—the whistleblowers have their own— once again made getting at the truth problematic if not impossible. It’s also left Lacson unscathed and made him into an unlikely hero.

Captured by television cameras as grinning from ear to ear like a Cheshire cat on the sidelines of the pork barrel scandal, and looking more and more like a candidate for a post higher than senator in 2016, Lacson’s been particularly blessed this year. To begin with, the post of “rehabilitation czar” is a potentially high profile one that can keep him prominently in the public eye for the next 24 months, while his unique distinction as only one of a handful of senators who never used their pork barrel funds and who’re consequently above the turmoil has made him the most credible source of information on the pork barrel scandal among former and current senators and other officials.

Things couldn’t have been more propitious if Lacson had planned it all along. The former chief of the Philippine National Police is now shaping up as both symptom and beneficiary of the short memories and even shorter attention spans of the electorate that’s at least partly responsible for what this country has become, with 2016 likely to be just another election year during which the changes elections always promise will once more mean that things will remain the same.

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