MANILA, Philippines—President Benigno Aquino III has no issue with an angry public demanding sweeping reforms from government, saying he has stressed upon the Department of Justice (DOJ) that the “measure of success” for his administration’s anticorruption policy should be the conviction of wrongdoers.
But when his efforts appear to fall short of the people’s expectations, the President said he felt dejected.
“There are days when you feel it is a lonely battle,” Mr. Aquino told Inquirer editors and reporters in an interview on Thursday when asked for his reaction to the backlash against his announcement that he would abolish the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and set up in its place a different type of mechanism.
“The Chinese have a saying, ‘Don’t mess with the rice bowl’ and I have messed around with a lot of rice bowls,” the President said.
He added that it was fine by him if he would gain 1,000, or 5,000, or even just 10 more people supporting him for his efforts.
“There are those who have already been brainwashed into saying, ‘Stop talking about the sins of the past, raise the issues today,’” Mr. Aquino said, referring to his repeated denunciations of the alleged corrupt practices of his predecessor, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who is now a Pampanga representative.
He said he kept on reminding Justice Secretary Leila de Lima that it was not about filing cases. “It is securing the conviction that is the measure of success,” he said.
Mr. Aquino told the Inquirer that there were still a number of suspicious government transactions that he ordered investigated. He said that in one of them, trillions of pesos may actually be unaccounted for. He even asked his staff to hand him a calculator they keep handy in a briefcase to compute how much money had been lost annually. The Inquirer editors and reporters watched him do the math.
The controversial PDAF came to light after whistle-blowers recounted how P10 billion worth of state funds had been pocketed by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles through nongovernment organizations (NGOs) in connivance with some senators and congressmen.
Mr. Aquino has not been spared from criticisms for insisting on keeping the President’s Social Fund, widely regarded as the Chief Executive’s pork barrel.
When the people marched to Manila’s Rizal Park on Aug. 26 to demand the abolition of the pork barrel, Mr. Aquino said he viewed the protest was “right.”
“If they are angry at us now, then they are angry in simple terms. But the point is, given that situation, why shouldn’t you really be angry? And I agree with you,” the President said.
Mr. Aquino said he didn’t even have any issue against Brig. Gen. Alexander Balutan of the Marines railing against the PDAF on his Facebook account because “all those were true.”
“I told General Balutan that I am with you,” Mr. Aquino said, except that he also told the military official to be more circumspect because he was a “serving general” commanding a Marine brigade at that. “But if you look at it, he never said anything about my administration.”
No special treatment
Mr. Aquino said that the Inquirer series of stories on the pork barrel scam impressed upon him that “from the get go, they (lawmakers) had no intention to help even just a bit of those they promised to serve.”
He recounted how as a neophyte congressman of Tarlac, he learned from the village chiefs the importance of the PDAF in funding the needs of communities that were not immediately addressed by the national government.
“But what I really didn’t understand was the question and answer you had with Napoles,” the President chuckled, echoing the comments of many other readers, referring to published transcript of the meeting in the Inquirer office between the businesswoman and the newspaper’s editorial staff last month.
But when Napoles surrendered to him in Malacañang and he escorted her to Camp Crame late Wednesday night, the President received perhaps the worst adverse reaction from the public since he took office in June 2010.
The Chief Executive continues to be accused of giving Napoles the special treatment.
President Aquino denied all the allegations and stressed what he did was impress upon “everybody” that he wanted Napoles alive so that she could lead the government to the truth about the alleged misuse of the PDAF.