Senator Joel Villanueva must be suffering from a serious case of deja vu. For the second time in just two years.
Villanueva, who calls himself “Tesdaman,” has been ordered dismissed from the Senate by the Office of the Ombudsman for alleged misuse of his pork barrel funds when he was still a congressman. It’s been twice now that Villanueva has been linked to abusing his congressional pork—and, to me, twice that he’s being made to suffer so that others who similarly spent theirs can be protected.
The order dismissing Villanueva was released on the heels of intense criticism leveled at Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, who sought an investigation of the recent trip to Las Vegas made by Philippine National Police Director General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa. Dela Rosa was invited to Vegas by Senator Manny Pacquiao, who paid for his plane fare and accommodations so that Bato may watch the senator’s fight against Jessie Vargas.
Morales got body-slammed, on social media in particular, for going after Dela Rosa when she could, for instance, pursue lawmakers who pocketed their pork barrel and Disbursement Acceleration Program funds during the previous administration. In apparent response, the Ombudsman went ballistic on Villanueva.
In October 2015, Villanueva resigned as Tesdaman, I mean, as chief of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, because he was running for the Senate. But he quit under a cloud, because he had been included by then-Justice Secretary Leila de Lima—his party-mate and fellow Aquino administration official—in a list of lawmakers accused of pocketing their pork.
Prior to Villanueva’s inclusion in the list of De Lima (who, at the time, was still the one making lists of dubious characters instead of topping them, as she does now), President Noynoy Aquino was widely criticized for not charging any of his officials and fellow travelers on the “Daang Matuwid” for their involvement in the multi-partisan practice of lawmakers in both the Senate and the House stealing their pork, through Janet Lim Napoles or other such fine, upstanding “businessmen.”
The ties between Morales and De Lima are well known. Despite the fact, for instance, that at least four cases have been filed against De Lima in the courts and before the Department of Justice, the Ombudsman sees no reason to charge the senator for the proliferation of illegal drugs at the New Bilibid Prison. As the beer ad used to say, “Iba ang may pinagsamahan.”
As for Villanueva, there must be something about him that makes people like De Lima and Morales think they can always use him as a “sanitizer” for their dodgy official actions. They must hate the superhero shtick so much, too.
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Speaking of superheroes, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade admitted recently that he isn’t one, implying that only someone with superhuman powers can solve the problem of gridlock in Metro Manila and other problems confronting his department. Which is probably why Tugade wants Congress to give him huge powers, so he may transform into some kind of transportation Superman.
Of course, in his present form, Tugade can’t fix the traffic situation. Right now, he can’t even get through the Commission on Appointments, which has already bypassed his confirmation for his alleged failure to do even just a humanly job.
Tugade stands accused of nearly everything that Cabinet officials of the previous administration were routinely called out for, from protecting undeclared vested interests, appointing suspicious subordinates, negligence, incompetence, promising without delivering and yes, seeking too much power or powers. He’s been criticized not only for not doing his job in the here and now but also of doing poorly in his previous government position as head of the Clark special economic zone.
Lawmakers in both Houses, pro- or anti-Duterte, civil society groups and the long-suffering public have demanded that he rethink his position and strategy—or simply to resign and stop embarrassing his old schoolmate and friend, Digong. He has, quite simply, become a dead weight to the Duterte administration and a very real threat to reverse the huge strides it has made in departments other than the DoTr, the agency made famous for not doing anything by his immediate predecessor-in-office, the unlamented Joseph Emilio Abaya.
To be fair, I’m told Tugade is very smart, personally honest and an all-around nice guy who did exceptionally well as a private businessman. And he also has the unenviable job of whipping into shape a transportation bureaucracy that has been so used to doing nothing that it will probably take a real Superman to light a fire under it and get it going.
But I have to agree with those who say that Tugade must not force Duterte to choose between him and the lawmakers, the various groups and a public that is fast losing its patience about the lack of progress in resolving the various issues confronting the transportation sector. If Tugade really loves his country and his boss, he should stand down and just quit.
Perhaps Duterte can find some other way for Tugade to help him in his work. But running the transportation department is turning out to be not job that Tugade—who is, after all, only human—cut out for.