Rogue state

FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - October 12, 2015 - 10:00am

We are beginning to behave like one, a state gone rogue, defying the parameters of good behavior articulated by established international agencies.

Last week, unprecedented, a UN panel opined that our government violated the human rights of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo by keeping her under detention on the flimsiest of charges. International human rights lawyer Amal Clooney brought the petition before the international panel.

The ruling and its significance were perceptively underplayed in the mainstream media. It ought to have occasioned a serious debate on how the letter of the law has been used as a blunt instrument to bludgeon political rivals. The former president’s case is not an isolated one. Since it assumed power five years ago, the Aquino administration used court cases as instruments of political persecution.

Palace spokespersons reflected the rudely dismissive attitude of the administration. The UN panel’s opinion was not even given the benefit of an elaborated defense of how Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has been treated. The Palace simply washed its hands, like Pontius Pilate did, and said this was a matter entirely for the courts to decide on. Furthermore, as if to underscore the dismissiveness, they emphasized the UN ruling had no bearing on our legal process.

Earlier, also on a petition filed by human rights groups, the UN High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) offered to send a rapporteur to look into the situation of displaced indigenous people in Mindanao after reports of violence committed against them. Manila curtly refused to accredit the UN-appointed rapporteur. 

A few days ago, the Manila office of the UNHCR issued a statement observing that indigenous peoples in the Philippines did not enjoy protection from the state. That is a damning observation – yet no official Philippine agency even bothered to respond to it.

This administration’s attitude towards the opinions of UN agencies smacks of impunity towards international bodies that set ethical and moral standards on the behavior of governments.

This attitude of impunity characterized the Aquino administration from the start.

Recall how Justice Secretary de Lima dared to defy the Supreme Court when this co-equal branch of government ruled the former president could leave the country for medical treatment abroad. Recall how this administration, very early in its tenure, chased then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez from her post for no particular reason. After this, the administration continued its assault on judicial independence by having Chief Justice Renato Corona impeached – it turns out, by bribing both houses of Congress wholesale to achieve that goal.

The impunity simply goes on and on.

Last Friday, the last working day before the filing of certificates of candidacy, the Aquino-appointed Ombudsman summarily dismissed Makati mayor Junjun Binay and meted him perpetual disqualification even as his petitions are being heard at both the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court – and even as the COA has yet to complete its review of the deals for which misdemeanor is attributed.

If it is true the Ombudsman is now rushing to file cases that will lead to the arrest of presidential candidate Jejomar Binay, then that simply underscores the extent to which legal instruments have been prostituted for partisan ends.

Impediment

The dubious use of court cases to achieve goals other than justice proliferates.

One reason often cited for the slow execution of direly needed infra projects is that losing bidders often file cases against winning bidders simply for the sake of creating impediments to the finalization of contracts.

 As a case in point, the DPWH recently awarded a five-year contract for the rehabilitation and maintenance of a 123.5-kilometer road running from Surigao to Agusan del Norte. The vital road project is financed through a soft loan extended by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

The bidding process, according to the DPWH, strictly observed the guidelines set by the JICA. As evidence, the DPWH produced a letter from the Japanese aid agency dated April 16, 2015 expressing satisfaction with the bid evaluation. In another letter, dated Sept. 21, 2015, JICA concurred with the award of the project to the joint venture between Equi-Parco Construction Co. and the Heibei Road and Bridge Group Co.

All seemed well for the project to commence when former DPWH contractor and currently Butuan City councilor Sergio Pascual emerged from the woodwork to denounce the bidding as having been rigged. Using the previous approved budget for the contract (ABC), Pascual claims the awarded contract was priced 20% higher than budgeted.

The DPWH, however, clarifies that the ABC for the project had already been adjusted previous to the bidding process. On the basis of the adjusted ABC, the winning bid was actually 2.95% lower than budget. Therefore, says the DPWH, Reyes’ objection was “baseless and incorrect.”

Unreasonable and unfounded as Reyes’ allegations might be, the objections he poses could delay project execution and cast a shadow of doubt on the integrity of the agency supervising award of the contract. A nuisance suit could be filed simply to tie up the award of the contract and delay the project. That will be bad news, especially since the road project serves one of the poorest areas in the country.

It is not clear if Pascual is acting on behalf of the losing bidders, although the purpose of his objections might be to force a rebid. That might be futile. DPWH Assistant Secretary Gilberto Reyes points out that the deficiencies found in the pre-qualification documents of the rival bidder are substantial and constitute clear grounds for disqualification based on the strict JICA guidelines.

 

ACIRC AMAL CLOONEY AQUINO ASSISTANT SECRETARY GILBERTO REYES BUTUAN CITY CHIEF JUSTICE RENATO CORONA COURT OF APPEALS AND THE SUPREME COURT DPWH EQUI-PARCO CONSTRUCTION CO GLORIA MACAPAGAL ARROYO HEIBEI ROAD AND BRIDGE GROUP CO
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