It’s been 80 years since the Filipinos headed their own government under the Commonwealth of the Philippines. Through those decades, corruption and abuse of privileges were endemic in many high places in government.
Commonwealth President Manuel Luis Quezon spent public funds to favor his political allies. He hosted lavish parties either at Malacañang, or at the plush Manila Hotel, or on board the presidential yacht.
For the record, Quezon City was created by the national legislature during Quezon’s incumbency as president. Quezon himself signed the law creating the city named in his honor.
The last time something like that happened was about four years ago when the University of the Philippines College of Business Administration was renamed the Cesar E. A. Virata School of Business. Virata, who is still alive today, was both Prime Minister and Finance Minister of President Ferdinand Marcos. A clause in an existing law allows the renaming.
President Elpidio Quirino’s administration was haunted by charges of corruption, including the acquisition of a costly P5,000 four-poster bed and a golden chamber pot. Quirino’s critics estimated kickbacks in government contracts at 10 percent.
Diosdado Macapagal, the fifth president of the Republic, had his share of accusations. His term was stalked by the controversy created by the infamous Harry Stonehill, an American businessman who dominated the news stories of that period.
Stonehill controlled many industries in the Philippines. When it was suspected that Stonehill had many high-ranking government officials in his private payroll, Macapagal ordered his Justice secretary to investigate Stonehill.
In 1963, after the investigation threatened to link Macapagal to the Stonehill payroll, Macapagal ordered the deportation of Stonehill. Macapagal’s Justice secretary resigned in protest and joined the opposition Nacionalista Party.
The administration of President Ferdinand Marcos was mired with charges of graft and corruption. Those accusations are embodied in documentation made public after Marcos voluntarily relinquished power in February 1986.
Marcos’ demise in 1989 pre-empted any possible criminal prosecution against him. Cases resolved against Marcos were pursued ex parte or without his participation.
His widow, incumbent Ilocos Norte Rep. Imelda Romualdez Marcos, was recently convicted of graft by the Sandiganbayan. Her lawyers intend to appeal her conviction.
President Corazon Cojuangco Aquino’s administration was likewise stalked by charges of corruption. The news media back then reported widespread anomalies which they attributed to Aquino’s relatives. They also coined the term Kamag-anak Inc. to highlight the extent of the problem.
Mrs. Aquino’s most glaring controversy was when she virtually exempted the Cojuangco family-owned Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac from the coverage of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law.
For his part, President Fidel Ramos was criticized for his expensive solutions to the massive power outage problem he inherited from Mrs. Aquino. His decision to get power barges and to commit payment for unconsumed electricity was decried because it made electricity very expensive in the country.
Many retired military officers were given key posts in the Ramos government. Ramos, after all, was a soldier before he joined the civilian government under Mrs. Aquino. Ironically, the bulk of Fort Bonifacio, a military reservation which Marcos did not touch, was sold off during Ramos’ term.
Plunder charges were lodged against President Joseph Estrada during his time. He is the first Philippine president to be tried by the Senate as an impeachment court. The Estrada camp asserts that there was no deficit spending during the Estrada administration.
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s term was rocked by controversies. She was installed president by what appears to be the manipulation of then Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. The ZTE telecommunications anomaly plagued her term as well. In the “Hello Garci” scandal, it was learned that Arroyo tried to influence an election commissioner to protect her votes in the 2004 presidential polls. Arroyo had to make a public apology on television for that scandal.
When Arroyo was charged and tried for plunder, she wore a neck brace to support her request to seek needed medical treatment abroad. Her request was denied. After the cases against her were dismissed, her neck brace was gone. She remained strong enough to seize the speakership of the House of Representatives from Pantaleon Alvarez earlier this year.
President Benigno Aquino III of the Liberal Party takes the cake. His administration bought defective trains for the metropolis, acquired defective helicopters for the Armed Forces and allowed 44 Filipino police operatives to be massacred in Mamasapano in Maguindanao.
Aquino’s underlings likewise embezzled more than P186 billion of the Malampaya gas fund and misused the pork barrel fund. Indeed, the alleged corruption under the Marcos regime is nothing in comparison with the anomalies under Aquino III.
President Rodrigo Duterte, who is nearing his midterm in office, has not been associated with any corruption. His management style may be authoritarian, but he does not tolerate corruption. That explains why Duterte is very upset about the rampant anomalies in the Bureau of Customs, so much so that he has asked the military to help clean up the mess there.