It was five years ago when Noynoy Aquino, his Congress sycophants and his well-larded senator-cronies removed Chief Justice Renato Corona. After harnessing the full powers of his office and using billions in taxpayers’ funds as grease money through his newfangled money-collection scheme called the Disbursement Acceleration Program, Aquino succeeded in ousting Corona on the flimsiest of charges, that of not properly declaring his assets.
It was a shameful display of political vendetta that started because Aquino believed that Corona convinced his colleagues in the Supreme Court to allow the distribution of his family’s Hacienda Luisita to the farmer-tenants tilling the estate and because his court shot down as unconstitutional Aquino’s very first order creating a Truth Commission. Now, the current Aquino-appointed chief justice, Maria Lourdes Sereno, is facing a similar impeachment complaint in the House of Representatives.
The complaint lodged by lawyer Lorenzo Gadon makes charges against Sereno that are at least as serious—but are in all likelihood more so—that those hurled by Aquino’s minions against Corona. And the Yellow minority in Congress, in social media and elsewhere is accusing President Rodrigo Duterte of undermining democratic institutions and bullying the weakest of the three co-equal branches of government.
This is rich. The same people who never listened to the same arguments when they were used by Aquino’s critics are now employing them in defense of the “litany of lapses” of Sereno as alleged in Gadon’s complaint.
Of course, the Yellows believe that they are more credible when they accuse Duterte of creeping dictatorship because it is in sync with his tough-guy rep. The foremost exponent of this selective view of impeachment is Liberal Party remnant Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, who made this statement with no trace of irony whatsoever:
“The impeachment complaint filed against Chief Justice Sereno isn’t simply directed at the Chief Justice [but] can very well be directed at the entire High Court: ‘Submit or else’,” Pangilinan, LP president, said. “Unless we act and defend our democracy and freedoms, we are well on our way to dictatorship.”
Pangilinan is dead wrong because he attributes the impeachment of Sereno to Duterte, when he should really be referencing Corona and what got him removed. Of course, if he did that, he would no longer be LP or Pangilinan.
He’d be a right-thinking person. Something that he’s not been accused of.
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I remember the late Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago railing in 2009 against the road users’ tax and the Road Board, the government agency that dispenses the fund that collects the imposition. Santiago was widely believed at the time to be exacting payback from Road Board executive director Rodolfo “Dodie” Puno, a brother of her political nemesis former Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno—but this in no way detracted from her allegations of massive corruption at the agency.
But Santiago attacked Puno and his board, which collects billions in annuales tax intended to build and maintain roads independently of agencies like the Departments of Public Works and Transportation, to no avail. Now, the current House leadership and a group of senators also want to look into the Road Board’s finances; I’m hoping that their exertions will not end up like Miriam’s, collecting dust in the archives of Congress.
When Santiago delivered a privilege speech in November 2009 detailing the alleged plunder of the Road Board, she claimed that the agency (created by law in 2000 and which started collecting the Motor Vehicle User’s Charge or MVUC the year after) had already taken in P60 billion in taxes mostly from the registration fees paid by vehicle owners to the Land Transportation Office. These funds, she said, were used by the officials of the “terminally corrupt” board as they alone saw fit, without passing through congressional appropriation or oversight.
Fast forward to the present, because nothing really happened since Miriam’s exposé eight years ago. According to House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, the Road Board has already collected more than P90.72 billion in MVUC taxes up to 2012, confirming its status as the third-biggest source of government revenue after the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Bureau of Customs; but the Road Board apparently remains as unaccountable as when Miriam attacked it in a privilege speech.
Alvarez called for the abolition of the board and the distribution of its collected funds to DPWH and DoTr, which shall directly use the funds in the regular, Congress-appropriated manner for the building and maintenance of roads, drainage systems and other transport-related infrastructure, as Santiago once demanded. Alvarez and a bunch of senators, led by JV Ejercito, Grace Poe and Manny Pacquiao are calling for an investigation of the mysterious, fund-rich board, which they described as “just another layer of bureaucracy” and a longtime opportunity for corruption in government.
Alvarez last week went to the extent of filing a bill calling for the abolition of the Road Board, citing reports from the Commission on Audit alleging misuse of the MVUC and the failure of the agency to build roads and to keep them safe for motorists. Alvarez also accused the board’s officials of frittering away the taxes it collects on huge salaries, allowances and other benefits for its own executives and employees, while not fulfilling its mandate to keep the roads safe and in good condition.
Maybe Alvarez and the senators can succeed where Miriam failed.