POSTSCRIPT / June 25, 2020 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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‘Millionaires [insert comma] don’t steal!’

WHY is President Duterte covering with his left hand the orders that his right hand gave state investigators to clean up the dirt dulling the shine of the campaign against the coronavirus contagion that has infected almost 32,000 Filipinos so far?

After sending the National Bureau of Investigation to trace those responsible for the reported overpricing of equipment and supplies ordered by the Department of Health, the President turned around and said that the DoH secretary is incorruptible.

Aside from the NBI, Ombudsman Samuel Martires has started his own independent inquiry although he was almost left in the lurch when Duterte suddenly vouched for the integrity of the health official already marked for investigation.

We hope Martires and NBI officer-in-charge Eric Bitoon Distor don’t break their spine leaning backward to spare Duque of corruption charges. They would have been psychologically unhampered had the DoH chief not been cleared in advance by the President.

We are not saying that Duque and the head of the Department of Budget and Management were/are involved in some anomaly, but a credible investigation should have been allowed to proceed without undue influence from the top.

Presiding over the last televised meeting of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) managing the government response to the Covid-19 menace, Duterte addressed the national audience and said in connection with the questioned DoH transactions:

Ang pera wala, wala, sigurado ako. I am very sure, and I place my reputation kay Secretary Duque na walang pagnanakaw na nangyari. Hindi niya kayang (gawin). Hindi niya magagawa ‘yan kasi mayaman siya. Itaya ko ang reputasyon ko as President. Walang kalokohan na nangyari.”

Loosely translated: Duterte was vouching for the honesty of Duque, and backing his conclusion that the secretary could not have stolen anything because he is wealthy.

A lawyer and former prosecutor, Duterte must know the implications and effect of his statement on the ongoing investigations. Even if he believed Duque to be innocent, however, he could have kept to himself his prejudgment and not influenced the probe.

He has made similar advance absolutions about people close to him. In the last senatorial election campaign, for instance, he would point to his favorite bet as a billionaire coming from a wealthy clan, like he was laying the basis for his defense against a future problem.

In his own case, however, Duterte seems not quite decided yet if he comes from a rich or an ordinary family. Depending on what group he is addressing, he would sometimes say they were not well-off while at other times he would insinuate the opposite idea of his being from a rich family.

But whether rich or poor, or somewhere in-between, the President who is sworn to uphold the law can help clear the air by disclosing his Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth, as required by law and the demands of accountability under the Constitution.

We are disturbed by his penchant for easily concluding that a government official is incapable of corruption on the mere claim that he is wealthy, as in this case of Duque.

This disposition of his reminds us of our Postscript of Dec. 18, 2008, where we wrote:

“In the Sixties, a wealthy lady (“lady” meaning female) senator defending herself against corruption charges declared on the floor of the Senate that ‘Millionaires don’t steal!’

“A male colleague, I think it was the venerable Claro M. Recto, said in interpellation that a conspicuous comma must be inserted to make her statement read correctly –  ‘Millionaires, don’t steal.’

“That admonition, claro y recto as it is, should reverberate from the past to remind our lawmakers and other high officials that just because they are now wallowing in wealth does not mean that they are incapable of stealing.”

Before dropping the subject, we repeat that we are not implying that Duque or any health or DBM official is corrupt. The secretary’s name came to focus only because he was cited by the President.

 74% of US adults for legalizing Dreamers

A PEW Research Center survey conducted June 4-10 in the United States showed that three out of every four American adults (74 percent) favor granting permanent legal status to immigrants who came to the US illegally as children, with the strongest support coming from Democrats and Hispanics.

The survey report came ahead of the US Supreme Court ruling on Thursday against the Trump administration’s effort to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which shields some young undocumented immigrants from deportation.

In a 5-4 vote, the high court blocked current attempts to end the popular program that allows nearly 650,000 young, undocumented immigrants, an undetermined number of them Filipinos, to continue living and working in the US.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the majority opinion, called the Department of Homeland Security’s move to expel them “arbitrary and capricious,” therefore unlawful. The ruling saw four liberal justices agreeing and four conservative justices dissenting.

The next day, President Trump said his administration would resubmit to the court a memorandum to end DACA, a program started under the previous Obama administration. He said, “nothing was lost or won” in the Supreme Court decision.

An immigration fact sheet says that DACA beneficiaries, sometimes called “Dreamers”, came to the US as children and often have known only the US as home and identify as Americans.

They represent almost 150 different birth countries, but around 80 percent of them were born in Mexico. The states with the largest DACA populations are California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Illinois.

The average DACA recipient arrived in the US at age 7 and has lived there for more than 20 years. Because DACA required children to have arrived five years before its 2012 implementation, younger Dreamers are not eligible. A growing number have become parents to more than 250,000 US citizen children.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 25, 2020)

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