By ElCid Benedicto
THE “recruitment” of former Senator Panfilo Lacson into the Cabinet of President Benigno Aquino III in the middle of his term has raised not a few eyebrows, especially after he was given the daunting task of rebuilding from the rubble the typhoon-devastated provinces in the Visayas, carrying the credentials of, besides that of a two-term upper chamber member, a former decorated military and police general. His re-entry into government service is proving to be a controversial one as issue of alleged overpricing of bunkhouses as temporary shelter for typhoon Yolanda victims in Tacloban City, he was supposedly tipped off, is being debunked by Palace officials.
Could the new rehabilitation czar be on his way of stirring a third faction in the already tension-filled Cabinet of Pres. Aquino?
On Tuesday, two of Aquino’s known strong allies in the Senate, appear to be on the side of Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Sec. Rogelio Singson on the issue on alleged anomalies surrounding the construction of temporary shelters of Yolanda survivors in Tacloban City. Senate President Franklin Drilon even vouched for the credibility of Singson, who vowed to quit his post if the charges will be proven to be true.
“I know for a fact that Sec. Singson would not stand for any shenanigans. He has shown zero tolerance for corruption since day one in office. His integrity and competence is unassailable,” Sen. Drilon said in a statement where he also described the DPWH chief as the “most honest, efficient and decisive Public Works secretary” he has seen throughout the last few administrations.
Another administration ally, Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero, seemed to be inclined towards Singson than Lacson on the issue although he was quick in pointing out that he’s not in a position to assert whether there’s even a tinge of truth to the allegations that has reached Lacson.
Sen. Escudero and Sen. Drilon, incidentally, happen to be identified with the known “opposing” blocs in Malacañang.
The Senate president is highly-associated with the “Balay” group of Interior Sec. Manuel “Mar” Roxas II while Sen. Escudero is known to be associated with the “Samar” bloc of Executive Sec. Paquito “Jojo” Ochoa Jr.
The rehabilitation czar neither within the inner circle of the said blocs, reported to be engaged in endless bickering and power struggle and has not been a member of the ruling Liberal Party (LP), only that he has been identified as “pro-administration” of Pres. Aquino while he was still in the Senate. Based on recent developments so far, the former senator neither have the backings of any of the two Palace blocs, based on the pronouncements of the two senators, his erstwhile colleagues in the Senate.
But given the track record of former Sen. Lacson as a lawmaker, he has established a reputation of not only a “crimebuster” but also that of being strongly against corrupt practices.
Access to Information
Probably unknown to many was the story about the former senator, who was still some few weeks into his office, firing two of his staff members immediately after learning that they were already entertaining some “under the table deals.”
He had, under his name, a string of exposes in the Senate of alleged irregularities of the Arroyo administration and these were coupled with documents to back up his claims. One thing that probably sets former Sen. Lacson apart from his former colleagues, was the fact that he continue to enjoy access over some classified information, probably owing to his deep connections with the intelligence community while he was still in the military and the Philippine National Police (PNP).
However, on the issue of alleged overpricing, some Singson supporters in the Senate have voiced misgivings on the allegations of overpricing saying that the usual 15% “mobilization expenses”, in which the 30% to 35% supposed commissions would come from, in such projects were managed to have been “waived” by the DPWH chief.
“If at all, the contractors might be cutting corners to earn about one or two (percent), but that’s not likely to happen under Singson. That’s why he’s confident in saying that it’s impossible that there’s overpricing in these projects,” sources explained.
But for former Sen. Lacson to go to the extent of having the issue investigated by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) by the PNP, it’s likely that he’s holding on some information from reliable and trusted sources.
As to how this latest saga on corruption under the Aquino administration would end up later on, the public would have to wait and see, at least until the issue is taken up and investigated in the Senate.
Neophyte Sen. JV Ejercito already announced plans of filing a resolution to effect the probe when Congress resumes sessions beginning Jan. 20.
Sen. Escudero himself admitted that the matter of the Senate engaging in a new inquiry is inevitable once a member of the upper chamber introduces a resolution to effect the conduct of the proceedings or even ask his finance committee to exercise its oversight functions to ascertain any possible misuse of government funds.