In the business of death, self-confessed hitman Arturo Lascañas had reaped a ghastly reward: He…
On September 16, 2018, Rodrigo Duterte and his cabinet paid a visit to Laoag city, supposedly to check on the devastation wreaked by Typhoon Ompong. Ilocos Norte was one of the provinces in the north under a state of calamity.
Imee Marcos, then the governor of Ilocos Norte, complained to the president about prohibitions the Commission on Audit had imposed on her.
She had used the occasion instead to make “sumbong” (charge a complaint). Among others, she complained to Duterte how COA had limited the amount of cash advances her office could make in times of calamities.
Duterte’s response should make ordinary right-thinking individuals shudder at the violence: "Sino'ng taga-COA dito? Ihulog mo na sa hagdan para 'di mag-report (Who's from COA? Push him down the stairs so he won't be able to file a report anymore)."
Imee, recorded by cameras, responded with delightful glee, clapped her hands, and was heard to have said, “Yes, yes!”
Malacañang, of course, trivialized it by saying it was a mere joke. The DDS troll army world could have erupted in laughter at that outlandish prodding. But here was the truth behind it: COA had flagged Imee several times in the past.
In 2018, Imee’s provincial government awarded five construction projects during a bidding where one private contractor named Remy Cadiente was also allowed as an observer. Cadiente’s Remar Construction was awarded two contracts. COA warned Imee’s provincial government it was against the rules to have a bidder sit as observer.
The year before, Imee was the subject of a House investigation on the misuse of her province’s tobacco funds to her “pet projects.” The House issued a subpoena for her to appear. Her brother Bongbong advised her against testifying. Again, COA reports were used as evidence.
In January 2019, Duterte went beyond pushing COA personnel down the stairs. This time, he advised kidnapping and torturing them. Before barangay officials in Pasay City, he said: “Let us kidnap and torture these COA auditors.” On cue, Malacañang downplayed it as another joke.
The Commission on Human Rights was jolted. "As crimes, these are grave human rights violations that should not be taken lightly or be used as a joke, especially if used to challenge the mandate of a constitutionally mandated body, such as the Commission on Audit."
Duterte getting flagged by COA is nothing new. In 2015, COA questioned then-mayor Duterte’s city hall for hiring 11,246 contractual workers that cost the city 708 million pesos. Of that number, 4,754 were classified as “job orders” under the office of the city mayor. It was an incredible number (N.B. “Job orders” are “intermittent jobs of short duration not exceeding six months and the pay is on a daily basis.”)
In his weekly television show, Duterte retorted: “So what! It is none of your business.” Yet, he also denied having ghost employees, and instead passed the buck to his political nemesis Benjamin de Guzman. But de Guzman was mayor for more than fifteen years before the COA red flag (1998-2001). In truth, Duterte’s immediate predecessor was his own daughter Sara (2010-2013). Under Davao city’s dizzying (“nakakalipong,” to use his current Binisaya lingo) merry-go-round, father preceded daughter from 2001-2010. So when did the ghost employees begin? Definitely under a Duterte reign.
The ghost employees had no job descriptions, only names. COA warned: “These conditions cast doubt that entries in the daily time record of these employees … are manipulated.”
In 2018, when daughter Sara had been mayor again, the ghost employees were observed to continue to exist.
We don’t need a stern warning. COA’s red flags, and Duterte’s angry disposition towards the COA, simply tell us he is not the anti-corruption maverick he always says he is. He is not angry at corruption. But he is angry with those who tell him he may have committed corruption in his public office. That’s the bigger red flag. Because it means he wants to continue with what he’s doing. That should be true as well for any member of his family.
The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.