Editorial & Opinion

What needs to be done

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It’s a fair, if irrelevant, question: How will the filing of plunder charges against key Aquino administration officials involved in the systematic destruction of the MRT-3 improve the efficiency and reliability of the distressed commuter train line?

Of course it won’t. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.

It should be perfectly clear to everyone that the Duterte administration is unlike its predecessor in that it has not made a policy out of filing charges against high officials of the previous government. Thus, the plunder charges against nine former Aquino Cabinet secretaries, three undersecretaries and various other persons for the awarding of the P60-billion MRT maintenance contract to a shady Korean-led consortium yesterday represents a landmark of sorts.

In fact, the only prominent Aquino-era official who has been prosecuted by the government so far is Senator Leila de Lima, once the all-powerful secretary of justice. But De Lima is being tried in connection with her alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade, specifically through her use of her power to convert the national penitentiary into the undisputed capital of “shabu” distribution; the charges she is facing have to do with actual dangerous crimes, the sort of which President Rodrigo Duterte has been militating against since his days as mayor of Davao City.

The white-collar plunder that is widely believed to have been committed at the MRT is just the kind of official skulduggery that Duterte has been loath to go after. Until yesterday, that is.

It may be true, as some have alleged, that the suing of the Noynoy-era officials converted them into convenient scapegoats for the current crop of transportation officials, who have inherited the troubles created by Joseph Emilio Abaya and his cohort. But the blame-tossing and buck-passing that have been elevated to an art form by the Aquino administration will only offer temporary relief for those now in charge of the train line.

The all-important question is this: Are there sufficient grounds to charge Abaya and the rest for what they did to a train system that was running perfectly well, before they came in and wrecked everything?

And the plunder charges filed yesterday, I’ve been told, have been prepared for many months. The fact that the government itself, through the Department of Transportation, brought the suit before the Ombudsman against Abaya and his colleagues shows that the suit is part of a well-planned strategy to make those who brought the MRT to its knees pay for what they did.

And what Abaya and his co-respondents did is clear: they kicked out the well-respected maintenance contractor who provided a reliable, efficient system, broke up what was once a single contract into many to spread the wealth to all sorts of unscrupulous characters and threw the 500,000 commuters who use the line daily under a slow-moving, dangerously decoupling but still life-threatening train.

* * *

The Aquino administration, during its blindly vengeful six years in office, filed all sorts of charges against perceived enemies of the Chief Executive, charges that are only now being exposed as unfounded and unsubstantiated. These made them so easy to dismiss using the once unheard-of strategy of employing only the evidence provided by the prosecution itself.

The pursuit of those responsible for the plunder of the MRT, judging from the painstaking manner in which so many damning documents were collected by Duterte’s men, is way different. And while it is true that a lot needs to be done to bring the train line back to working, reliable order without having to go after those responsible for the present sorry situation, the process of dispensing justice is independent of that huge task and must be allowed to run its course.

Otherwise, Abaya and his co-conspirators may actually start to believe that they’re already out of the woods. And the rest of us may actually end up convinced that the plunderers hiding under the skirt of those who claim to have a monopoly on righteousness and good governance will never be made to pay for their high crimes.

The Aquino administration loved to throw around the word “closure” to justify the then president’s thirst for personal political vendetta. In this case, the people are crying out for closure, as well—the closure of jail cell doors after Abaya and his fellow plunderers have been thrown behind them is what the people need to see.

This is not, after all, the administration of Noynoy, who could not seem to do what needs to be done because of his absolute, unwavering focus on securing the innumerable pounds of flesh that he sought from people who had displeased or slighted him. And I cannot believe that Duterte, the former prosecutor and work-obsessed longtime mayor, is in the business of filing charges that cannot be made to stick, only because he needs to blame other people for the situation he finds himself in.

And the MRT will still be fixed and made to run hitch-free once again. Because both tasks, believe it or not, can be done simultaneously. 

 

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