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Opinion

The lesser evil

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

Boys just wanna have fun… Fidel Ramos was an avid golfer. Joseph Estrada is said to be fond of Petrus red wine (from P42,900 to P389,000 per bottle as of yesterday).

Rodrigo Duterte enjoys tooling around on big bikes, even if he has taken dangerous spills on expensive Harley-Davidsons.

Noynoy Aquino liked guns and fast cars, drawing flak for buying a 2007 Porsche – said to be third-hand – in January 2011.

The Porsche, which replaced the P4.5-million BMW that Aquino drove when he was a senator, was supposedly sold just five months later. The public never found out who purportedly sold it to Aquino and who bought it later.

Aquino apparently shared not just a love for fast cars with the current president, but also a penchant for getting away from it all, without informing the nation.

In the case of PNoy, however, he only got as far as driving a sports car – said to be a borrowed Nissan GTR coupe (the 2022 model is priced at up to P8.9 million) – to Baguio on Dec. 31, 2015 to greet the new year in his final six months as president.

Ferdinand Marcos Jr., a member of the country’s rarefied billionaires’ club, boarded a Gulfstream jet with his wife, son, cousin and presumably bodyguards and gofers, and watched the Formula One Grand Prix in Singapore.

No government caretaker was publicly named in the weekend that the President of the Republic was having fun in another country. In fact, for the entire weekend, Malacañang kept the trip hush-hush. Mum’s the word for the press secretary (now resigned), even when video and photos of the presidential entourage watching the F1 inevitably found their way into social media and went viral.

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This administration probably sees no need to explain anything to the 31 million who voted for Marcos Junior. But what about the 22 million who didn’t? A number of them lamented BBM’s taking off surreptitiously for a leisure trip when the floodwaters spawned by Super Typhoon Karding have not yet even fully subsided, and with all the crises faced by the nation.

Others questioned the expenses for a private family outing that used the Philippine Air Force’s Gulfstream G280 jet, at a time when the peso is grazing 60 to the US dollar. Flight tracker website Flightaware reported that the presidential jet left Manila at 1:03 p.m. on Oct. 1 and arrived at Singapore’s Changi International Airport at 4:16 p.m. It left Singapore early Monday and arrived in Manila at 3:26 a.m.

If it wasn’t Juan dela Cruz footing the bill, was there a private entity involved, and what’s the quid pro quo? Under the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, it’s a criminal offense for government officials to accept pricey junkets paid for by the private sector.

And so, even if the 31 million might not give a whit, Malacañang had to do damage control, especially with BBM’s 100-day mark just around the corner.

Malacañang was finally forced to acknowledge BBM’s presence at the F1 only when the Singaporeans themselves – big sticklers for transparency and accountability – announced it, with photos posted on Facebook by no less than their prime minister himself, Lee Hsien Loong, and the minister for manpower, Tan See Leng.

It was only at 8 p.m. on Monday that BBM posted on FB the supposed advantage of F1 over golf in drumming up business, as he raved about his “productive weekend.”

“It was fulfilling to have been invited alongside several dignitaries and to have met new business friends who showed that they are ready and willing to invest in the Philippines,” BBM posted.

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This issue could have been handled better, mainly by leveling with the public. OK, it could come down to choosing which is the lesser evil: hiding the trip, or risking accusations of insensitivity to public suffering by announcing that Formula One enthusiast Ferdinand Marcos Junior wanted to spend two days in Singapore to indulge a pastime of the uber rich.

Transparency is clearly the lesser evil. Any member of the Marcos/Romualdez clan can surely afford to spend two nights in Singapore and watch Formula One from the VIP box. And presidents do deserve some rest and bonding time with their families.

If it’s true that the Singapore government invited BBM, what’s wrong with informing Filipinos about it?

By keeping mum about the trip for two days, the optics that emerged (pre-damage controlling Palace spin) was that the leader of 110 million Filipinos (not just the 31 million who voted for him) sneaked out of the country on a government jet to indulge a guilty pleasure.

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The hosanna chorus is saying that the usual carping, critical losers are making a mountain out of a molehill. But if it was just a molehill, why not be forthcoming about a president’s need for some downtime?

Public trust is a critical component of good governance. As early as Thursday, Malacañang reporters were already pressing Trixie Cruz-Angeles for confirmation of rumors about BBM’s upcoming private trip to Singapore. The consistent answer of the now resigned press secretary – the de facto Malacañang spokesperson in the absence of an official one – boiled down to ma at pa.

Whether Angeles was deliberately kept out of the loop, being considered a defender of ousted executive secretary Vic Rodriguez, or was instructed to keep the public in the dark, the situation raises concern about transparency in the time of Marcos 2.0.

It has also inevitably drawn snide remarks about the new administration hiding the truth: he’s a Marcos; why is anyone surprised?

BBM’s belated explanation on FB will be bought only by the loyalist minions.

Now, competing with his accomplishment report in his first 100 days is the question: what else are you hiding from the public?

It’s still early days; the new administration has time to learn its lessons.

FIDEL RAMOS

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