EDITORIAL
Blatant horse-trading

Philippine Daily Inquirer
May 21st, 2016 02:15 AM

When even your closest friends publicly disagree with you on your choices, perhaps you should pause and take stock.

Evangelist Apollo Quiboloy, a longtime friend of Rodrigo Duterte, is not happy with the Cabinet appointments announced so far by the incoming president’s team. He has made his displeasure known through his spokesman Mike Abe, who said there should be “a correct process” when it comes to choosing Duterte’s alter egos.

That Quiboloy would air his disappointment in this way is startling: The two men are so close that Duterte has no qualms admitting that the evangelist regularly buys him shoes, and Quiboloy once said he was ready to lend his private jet gratis so his friend could fly home to Davao from Manila every day if necessary.

But, now, Quiboloy is miffed at Duterte and his team, apparently for having been left out of some crucial deliberations. According to Abe, his boss has not been able to talk to Duterte “since Day 1 (after Election Day).”

Quiboloy may well just be suffering from injured  amor  propio—the self-sacrificing hometown friend who believes he did so much to help his buddy become, soon, the most powerful man in the country, only for dirty interlopers from Manila and beyond to elbow him out once Malacañang was won.

Nevertheless, the point of his disapproval happens to be shared by many.

Spokesman Abe specifically mentioned the appointment of reelected Las Piñas Rep. Mark Villar as public works secretary—a decision, he said, that was made because Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, Duterte’s running mate in the election, lobbied for Villar to get the post instead of the trade and industry portfolio for which he had been initially eyed.

That revelation compounds the unease that has met the announcement of Villar heading the Department of Public Works and Highways. Not only did he apparently agree to abandon his Las Piñas constituency just like that, mere days after being reelected as their representative; worse, his new job as overseer of the Philippines’ real estate poses a blatant conflict of interest given his family’s status as one of the country’s largest property developers.

It’s understandable if Villar was flattered at the invitation to serve the incoming president and his country in so direct a capacity. But the public also has reason to raise an eyebrow at the circumstances surrounding his appointment.

Barely had the ink dried on the “coalition” agreement that Duterte’s party PDP-Laban had signed with the Nacionalista Party headed by Villar’s father, Manny Villar—the real-estate mogul, former senator and 2010 presidential candidate—than the congressman’s name was announced as the incoming head of the DPWH.

The arrangement came off as naked quid pro quo: the Villar-led NP pledging to support the fledgling administration in seeming return for a powerful government post that happens to have enormous implications on the Villars’ family business.

To be sure, such flagrant horse-trading is not unexpected of politicians. But Duterte has just been elected on a platform of change, with over 15 million Filipinos handing him the nation’s highest office based on his extra-blunt promise to sweep clean the Augean stables of Philippine politics and society. His camp had fanned the expectations of a hopeful public, even those who didn’t vote for him but who quickly came to terms with his victory as the result of a vigorous democracy.

Duterte’s Cabinet is purportedly patterned after that of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau—diverse, dynamic, competent, with more women and young people in it. Mark Villar certainly qualifies as young. But in all other aspects, his appointment to the DPWH is a troubling throwback to the old-boys-club politics of self-interest and accommodation. The C-5 controversy—a multibillion-peso highway project said to have been redesigned, at huge extra cost, to benefit the Villars’ housing projects—doomed his father’s presidential candidacy; now, his conflicted appointment will only cast a shadow at the very dawn of the Duterte presidency.

Predictably, a number of Duterte supporters are pushing back by saying that all the complaining is too much and too soon, that Villar should be judged once he has warmed his seat at the DPWH. But conflict of interest has nothing to do with competence; it’s integrity that’s at stake—and the clean and transparent administration that Rodrigo Duterte has promised to bring to Malacañang.