COMMENTARY: Whiff of Corruption Sniffs through a Ghost

The ghost of the 76 Rossenbauer fire trucks from Austria resurfaced, and it cost Ismael Sueno’s job as DILG Secretary.

The purchase of these Rossenbauer fire trucks was cooked up during Gloria Arroyo’s time, perfected by the PNoy administration under Mar Roxas and a holdover on Sueno’s term.

Sueno dipped his finger into it, now the ghost has haunted him.  He exited from his helm in disgrace.

When Duterte asked Sueno, “if he had read the legal opinion of his own department about the suspicious government contract, and answering – he was not informed of his department’s legal opinion – tightly sealed his fate. Duterte blew his top during the full cabinet meeting. Sueno was fired.

Duterte felt insulted of his response and he knew Sueno was lying through his teeth.

Although the purchase of the fire trucks has a pending case in the Supreme Court, Malacanang nevertheless, gave Sueno a go signal to visit Austria to fulfill the other aspect of the contract.

The ghost of the fire trucks served as a wick that gave way to the whole deal of Sueno’s fate. Foremost of which is the loss of trust and confidence. Another would be the accusation of questionable wealth, abuse of power, and corruption.

During the Go Negosyo Event last March 30 at the Palace, Duterte warned his audience: “The first whiff of corruption, it need not be true, I am sorry, you have to go”

Sueno was the first sacrificial lamb in the cabinet level, the highest so far. Peter Lavinia, the National Irrigation Chief, was another one, but it didn’t make such a big fuss.

The impact of Sueno’s firing in the presence of the other cabinet members was heavy, sent a strong signal, and rendered a chilling effect. It was an indirect way of saying to the members of his cabinet: “Don’t dare to get corrupt on me.” Or, an admonition for them to do their job above board on how they run their respective departments.

The “the first whiff of corruption” is already a big deterrent.  How much more —  if it is followed up with “it need not be true.” It felt like the sword of Damocles hovers over one’s head, to keep Duterte’s men on their toes. Otherwise, their heads will get chopped off.

In another light, the “first whiff of corruption” is a hyperbole. An exaggeration to emphasize and impress Duterte’s seriousness curtailing corruption.

The truth is, with the 2.5 Billion budget allotted to the office of the President for 2017, a 400% increase from the 2016 budget, and 2.1 Billion of these go to his personal services compared to just 78 Million in 2016, he can have assembled lawyers and intelligence apparatus to check the veracity of whatever “whiff of corruption” landed in his office. So, it cannot be said that the President did not exercise due diligence before firing people.

For all we know, those three undersecretaries who reported Sueno’s indiscretion, they too, could be under watch, because as Sueno claimed, they pitch and push personal agenda, too. This can be a safe valve mechanism to prevent abuse of “the first whiff of corruption.”