Corruption - Rudolph Philip Jurado
Image courtesy of SunStar Bacolod

Listen to what President Duterte had to say when he fired recently Government Corporate Counsel Rudolph Philip Jurado for allegedly granting a gambling franchise to the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport (Apeco):

“May I call the government corporate counsel are you in this, andito ka (are you here)? Kasi kung andito ka lumabas ka p********. You are fired, I do not need you and maybe you do not need me,” Duterte said. “Kung ‘di ka ba naman gago (What a fool.) So you are just like a Pagcor operating an independent entity with the same powers you grant anything. Kung di ba naman tarantado (What a fool).”

The feisty President uttered these otherwise unprintable words during the ceremonial signing of two laws in the presence of Cabinet and congressional officials in Malacanang.

Jurado had written a legal opinion saying Apeco was allowed to operate outside of the Aurora Economic Zone as long as it does so in areas controlled by the Philippine Economic Zone Authority. He did not grant the franchise as alleged by the President and merely said that in his opinion, there was no illegal impediment to the granting of the franchise to Apeco. No allegation was made, much less an evidence presented to show that Jurado gained financial benefit out of the transaction or that he had actually intervened to have the franchise granted.

The President did not say anything if he was also going to fire officials of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) who actually granted the casino franchise.

Jurado, who was a lawyer for the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption before he was appointed to head the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel last year, was fired, humiliated and verbally abused in public for rendering a legal opinion that was made a basis for granting a gaming franchise.

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In contrast, Duterte silently accepted the resignation of Tourism Secretary Wanda Tulfo-Teo and did not make any comment on the report of the Commission on Audit (COA) questioning the payment of P60 million by the Department of Tourism to a production outfit owned by her brothers Ben and Erwin Tulfo for ad placements made to a TV program produced by Ben and hosted by Erwin on the government station GTV-4.

The sincerity and credibility of the Duterte administration’s much ballyhooed campaign against corruption suffered an even worse blow when the President defended and refused to fire Solicitor General Jose Calida despite accusations that there was conflict of interest in his family-owned security firm bagging P150-million worth of contracts with various government agencies

Calida’s family owned Vigilant Investigative and Security Agency Inc. (VISAI), which bagged contracts totaling P150 million with the National Parks Development Committee (NPDC), the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC), National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) and Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor).

Calida said that he did not violate Republic Act No. 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees because he resigned from his post as president and chairman of VISAI prior to his appointment as solicitor general in 2016. He admitted, however, that he has not divested his 60-percent shares in the family business.

Lawmakers demanded his ouster or resignation, saying Duterte should prove he was serious about his anti-corruption rhetoric and dismiss Calida because of serious violation of the law against conflict of interests.

Administration officials, who were quick to denounce and take action against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno for allegedly failing to file her Statement of Assets and Liabilities during the time she was teaching law at the University of the Philippines many years ago, did the reverse, this time defending and even lawyering for Calida.

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Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. said there was “no conflict of interest” on Calida’s part, since the top government lawyer resigned as VISAI chairman and president of before he assumed office as solicitor general in 2016.

Roque said the accusations against Calida were nothing but retaliation from critics, who were obviously “hurt” by the Supreme Court’s decision to grant the quo warranto plea filed by the Solicitor General against Sereno.

Roque could have said the same about the prosecution and persecution of Sen. Leila De Lima, who remains in jail, and Sereno, who was removed from office through questionable means, because the President was obviously “hurt” by the criticisms hurled by the two ladies against him.

Newly appointed Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, on the other hand, said the Department of Justice wouldn’t investigate conflict of interest allegations against Calida and said there was nothing anomalous about the VISAI contracts.

Duterte himself lawyered for Calida, the President’s loyal ally, fraternity brother and fellow Davaoeño.

“Calida, his security firm has been around for a long time. Why should I fire him? He is good, he is also from Davao but he is an Ilocano,” the President said.  “Why? Don’t we have the right to own a business?”

We cheered when the newly elected President vowed to fire government officials even at the slightest hint of corruption. But please be consistent, Mr. President, in your anti-corruption drive. If you must prosecute non-allies and small fries like Jurado, please do so with even more vigor against people who earned your trust but betrayed you and the people you promised to serve and protect.