Friday, September 25, 2009

Reactions to Lacson's expose

Published last September 16, 2009 at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today.

The gamut of reactions to Senator Panfilo Lacson’s recent exposé on the shenanigans of Joseph Ejercito Estrada during his short-lived stint as President of the Republic ranged from curiosity, to open-mouth incredulity, to disdain, to resignation, and of course, condemnation.

The problem with senatorial public confessions that come under the guise of a privilege speech delivered at the floor of the Senate is that they do not seem to serve any other purpose other than to attract media and public attention. The senator who is making the exposé cannot be held accountable for what he says during a privilege speech because of parliamentary immunity. As a result, quite a number of people think that privilege speeches often constitute unbridled abuse of parliamentary privilege. Thus, a lot of people can be forgiven for taking the content of privilege speeches with not just a grain, but perhaps bushels of salt.

There are those who wonder what Lacson’s motives for attacking—I mean exposing—Estrada now. There are those who think that Lacson’s exposé is an act of survival. The metaphor that some people are using to support this theory is that of a drowning man who is splashing around, clutching at anything and anyone around him, in the process dragging them down with him.

But someone who is familiar with how things work among people in the military offers a different theory. He thinks that Lacson’s recent exposé is a carefully calculated strategy that is part of larger scheme. The metaphor being used to illustrate this theory is that of a game of chess. Presumably, Lacson’s exposé is a gambit; either a subtle message or a clear threat being sent to certain powerful people who may have the means to pry Lacson out of the treacherous waters he is immersed in at the moment. If we are to believe the scuttlebutt, there are many other powerful people—businessmen, politicians, government officials—who are now sleepless in Metro Manila.

There are those who were honestly and sincerely shocked by Lacson’s revelations particularly of its damaging portrayal of Manuel V. Pangilinan as a devious, manipulative businessman guilty of unethical practices. Prior to Lacson’s exposé , Pangilinan has been largely seen as a knight in shining armor. In fact, there is a movement that is operating covertly and its mission is to convince Pangilinan to run for president in 2010.

Lacson’s exposé unleashed once again speculative drivel regarding the real reason behind the Yuchengcos’ decision to let go of their business interest in the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. Given that PLDT is blue-chip company and given further that the Yuchengcos have never really been strapped for cash, the decision to sell to Pangilinan has been an enigma in the business community for many years now. There has also been a lot of speculation on the real cause of the family intramurals that led to the unceremonious exit of Alfonso Yuchengco III from the family’s main business enterprises around the time of the sale of the PLDT shares.

Lacson’s motives for the exposé are not the only ones certain quarters find questionable. The senator is also being put to task for the timing of his revelations—almost a decade since the alleged shenanigans happened! Why only now? Why didn’t he speak up during the Estrada impeachment trial, or during the Estrada’s trial at the Sandiganbayan? Lacson’s justification that Estrada was still his boss at the time does not really count in his favor and only serves to reinforce the notion that he was involved in and benefited from the tomfoolery. As can be expected, there are a lot of people out there who scorn Lacson’s attempt to fashion himself as a hero.

But the more prevalent reaction to Lacson’s exposé was one of resignation. Put another way, most people think we’ve been there before. The details in terms of how these were done, who were involved, and how much was the booty remain unclear but as far as many people are concerned, there is no mistaking the fact that the Estrada presidency was guilty of widespread corruption. There are those who argue that it really wasn’t the corruption per se that was unforgivable—it was really the brazenness in which people around Estrada did it. Of course Estrada’s famed profligacy, his sanctimoniousness, and his legendary absence of work ethics were just as contemptible and were major factors that fueled the movement that eventually ousted him out of office.

The general drift of opinions is that the actual booty may not be comparable to the large-scale larceny of the Arroyo cronies but only because the Estrada administration did not stay in office longer than the Arroyos.

To be fair, there are of course those who continue to think that Estrada didn’t do anything wrong while he was in power and that if there was ever a weakness on his part it was simply that he was generous to his friends to a fault. These are the people who think Lacson is simply using the former president, victimizing him all over again for the sole purpose of boosting his own political stock. One has to be a real Estrada fanatic to be able to pursue this kind of logical acrobatics but then again, we do have people in this country who believe that Jose Rizal is God or that the remains of Noah’s Ark are located at Mt. Banahaw.

Of course it is possible that Lacson’s exposé is precisely what he says it is: A courageous patriotic act. Perhaps Lacson truly has had an attack of conscience and is now intent on setting things right. His assertion that Estrada should not be allowed to become president again strikes a chord in many people’s hearts although truth to tell, an Estrada presidency has about a strong a chance as there being snow in Metro Manila in May 2010; definitely not with Noynoy Aquino and Manny Villar already in the running.

Why is it difficult to believe Lacson’s sincerity? It’s as much a reflection of our own level of cynicism as it is about Lacson’s track record as public servant.

We’re a people that has been witness to a lot of controversies and strings of exposé—none of which resulted in a conviction or in major reforms. Also, we do have a surfeit of this exposé business —it’s almost like a cottage industry in this country. Our media networks thrive on these things and they churn out all kinds of dirt about practically everyone on their shows. Small wonder really that most of us have gotten numb to these things since our level of tolerance has already been stretched so wide to accommodate all possible kinds of betrayal of public trust.

And of course, Lacson is hardly the epitome of moral righteousness. Because he has distinguished himself for his penchant for using privilege speeches in attacking his adversaries, many among us can be forgiven for doubting his sincerity this time around.


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