POSTSCRIPT / November 24, 2019 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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China, be reminded that trust is earned

DAYS ago, Malacañang reminded Vice President Leni Robredo that trust is earned, in what looked like an attempt to embarrass her into quitting as co-chair of the Inter-agency Committee on Anti-illegal Drugs (ICAD) after President Duterte said he did not trust her.

The distrust is apparently mutual between the two top Executive officials, but that is not the reason why we are bringing up the matter of trust.

It is because the latest Social Weather Stations survey shows that China is the least trusted country by Filipinos with a “bad” net trust rating of minus-33, a drop of 9 points from minus-24 in June, the lowest it has fallen since June last year.

This time, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo did not remind China, as he did Robredo, that trust must be earned.

Instead, he saw through his dark glasses a rosy picture of Filipinos eventually understanding the many things that China has been doing for (to?) them. Duterte’s mouthpiece is outdoing the Chinese ambassador in his PR work in Manila.

The perception problem, however, is that the more President Duterte avows trust in China, the more skeptics tend to believe he is in cahoots with or in the pocket of his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.

Filipinos are witness to China’s brazenly occupying and militarizing strategic features in the Philippine exclusive economic zone, dangling loan-traps to greedy Filipino leaders, then sending hordes of mainlanders to grab jobs and control traditional fishing grounds.

How can we grant China good faith when, as reported by Duterte himself, Xi warned of a warlike reprisal if the Philippines invoked its sovereign rights over its EEZ as affirmed by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague?

Panelo belittled the SWS report, saying: “The results of the survey conducted Sept. 27 to 30 are foreseeable and understandable given the conflicting positions of China and our country relative to the West Philippine Sea.”

Saying the maritime dispute is not the “sum total” of Manila’s dealings with Beijing, he predicted: “China will be eventually appreciated by Filipinos by reason of the President’s independent foreign policy which has resulted in significant benefits to the Philippines.”

What “independent foreign policy” and “significant benefits” is he talking about? Duterte has unilaterally adopted a pro-China, not an independent, policy — still suffering from his delusion that the neighborhood bully actually means well and deserves to be trusted.

With his rich experience in changing partners in the middle of a relationship, we thought Duterte is now an expert in managing a political ménage à trois. But his three years of dalliance with Xi failed to convince us he could optimize the benefits derived from their affair.

We are appalled by the Philippines losing bits and pieces of its territory, aggravated by the Duterte administration’s hocking patrimonial assets to obtain onerous loans.

His announcing in his first visit to Beijing in 2016 that the Philippines was breaking away from long-time ally and friend, the United States, was rewarded with a windfall of promised Chinese aid, loans and investments — many of which, alas, are still stuck in the pipeline.

With only over two years to go, Duterte must do a quick rethinking of his love affair with China. Time is running out on the ailing 74-year-old politician in search of mutual trust in his relationships.

 Bello faces junket, corruption raps

WE thought Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello is one of the two Cabinet officials that President Duterte mentions as being investigated and considered for firing for corruption and grave misconduct.

Bello, a former college bunkmate of Duterte, is not one of them — but might just join the duo on the carpet with the filing Monday by public advocate Ado Paglinawan with the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission of a complaint against him for multiple administrative offenses.

Separate criminal complaints for alleged graft and corruption, robbery/extortion and malfeasance have also been filed with the Ombudsman by Paglinawan.

The complaint filed with the PACC against Bello alleges too frequent junkets in the company of favored female subordinates and his usurping the authority of another agency to approve licenses of labor recruiters, said to be a rich source of illegal wealth.

The foreign trips with pretty subordinates were also mentioned in Paglinawan’s complaint with the Ombudsman where he alleged:

“From the records of the Bureau of Immigration, Bello made at least 40 trips abroad from January 2017 to October 2019, costing the government and the Filipino people precious funds of at least P4,000,000.” (The BI records of his and his traveling companions’ trips were submitted.)

The places visited included the Netherlands, where Bello allegedly met with his former comrades led by Jose Maria Sison, founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines, despite the President’s order stopping all negotiations with the rebel leaders.

Paglinawan alleged that on many trips, Bello brought along “young, beautiful and innocent women employees” of his department, spending public funds, and billeting them in the same expensive hotels where he stayed.

The President said the unnamed Cabinet officials under investigation will be accorded due process: “Wala pa akong nalaman, actually. I do not know of any … if you are corrupt… ipapatawag kita dito sa opisina and we will have a one-on-one talk.”

Commissioner Greco Belgica of the PACC said his office has submitted to the President its findings and recommendations on the two Cabinet members. The findings on Bello will also be sent to the President, who will decide his fate.

Other junketing officials had been dismissed for fewer than Bello’s 40 trips, so his detractors expect his firing, aside from the possible filing of criminal charges with the Sandiganbayan.

Bello had pointed out that his trips were approved by the Office the President, but Paglinawan said his travel papers were processed only by the staff of the Executive Secretary.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 24, 2019)

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