No body in charge

EVEN AS the Left and the opposition were very noisily claiming that it was a prelude to the imposition of    martial law, the Human Security Act (actually the anti-terrorism law) was passed in 2007. Its provisions enabled the Arroyo administration to contain terrorism.

One of the law’s key features, intended to create a strong institution that is alert and capable of fighting terrorism, is the seven-member Anti-Terrorism Council. Under the law, the executive secretary serves as its chair, with the justice secretary as vice chair. The other members of the council are the secretaries of national defense, foreign affairs, interior and local government, and finance as well as the national security adviser. Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and even his successor who served at that post for only four months, Leandro Mendoza, convened the council every month.

Since President Aquino assumed power nearly seven months ago, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa has not called a single meeting of the council. Not even the warning in November by governments of the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States of an impending terrorist act in the country in November convinced Ochoa to convene the council.

Instead of ordering Ochoa to convene the council or himself calling for a meeting of the National Security Council his mother established in 1987, President Aquino preferred to insult foreign governments which issued the warning of a terrorist attack, claiming, distastefully in an APEC forum in Japan, that he “suspects” their sincerity.

Mr. Aquino even boasted that in his seven-minute meeting with US President Obama in October, he had convinced the latter to change the US government’s warning of an impending terrorist attack on the Philippines. I hope Obama resists the temptation to say something sarcastic to Mr. Aquino when and if he calls to condole with the Filipino people over the attacks.

Asked by reporters in November to comment on the embassies’ warnings, Philippine National Police spokesman Senior Supt. Agrimero Cruz said: “Maybe the Anti-Terrorism Council has news on that, so you better consult with the Anti-Terrorism Council.”

Cruz might have been just sarcastic. The council (and Cruz would have known it) had not convened at all under the new administration, and since the secretaries of the previous administration had stepped down, it is technically non-existent. The PNP spokesman was asking reporters to consult a non-existing body.

Then in December, Mr. Aquino announced that instead of the defense secretary, the Cabinet cluster on national security would be headed by Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo. Since then Robredo has been tied up with the crime and carnapping wave that has outraged the country. Robredo has not convened the Cabinet cluster on national security.

Malacañang insiders say there is now confusion over which body should be convened following the bus bombing the other day which killed five innocent commuters: the Anti-Terrorism C ouncil headed by the executive secretary or the national security cluster headed by Robredo. The staff of the National Intelligence Coordinating Authority who make up the secretariat of the council joke that they have been unemployed since June.

In the meantime Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin seems to be the type of man who takes his words very seriously. “There is no terror threat in the Philippines,” he said just a month ago. Now he says that he considers the bus bombing day as a “police matter.” We hope that he will transfer to the Philippine National Police command over the Armed Forces’ vast network of intelligence units in the Army, Air Force and Navy as well as crack special forces units.

National Security Adviser Cesar Garcia seems so much of a spook that he is invisible.

Mr. Aquino tried to excuse his government for failing to stop the Makati attack by rhetorically asking, “How can we monitor all 6,000 buses that ply EDSA?” I do hope he wasn’t serious, or we’re in deep tro uble.

There is no government body that is now in charge of confronting terrorism. Some businessmen even dare say that nobody is really in charge of this fledgling administration.

With five lives snuffed out and a dozen maimed by a terrorist bomb, Sen. Joker Arroyo’s quip that this is an amateurish “student council” government isn’t funny anymore. Not at all.

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While he may think it has been forgotten, the issue over Mr. Aquino’s Porsche has become viral, eroding his integrity. In response to my column last week, I still receive e-mail claiming that the Porsche actually was a 2010 model and cost at the very least P15 million, far from the P4.5 million the President claimed he bought it for.

More troubling though is that few believe that Mr. Aquino actually purchased it. They are convinced that it was actually a gift, and among those being mentioned as the generous gift-giver are: car buff Manny Dimaculangan; Robert Coyuito, owner of Porsche importer PGA cars and of Oriental Petroleum fame; a board member of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office; and a Cebuano tycoon.

To debunk these nasty allegations and for the sake of the integrity of the President, I wrote last Friday Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda, his staff Kristin Basa, and Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang to ask them to reveal to the public (and not to me, if they don’t want to) the Porsche’s deed of sale, its LTO registration, the deed of sale of the BMW that Mr. Aquino said he had sold so that he could buy the Porsche, and the bank loan he got to augment funds he needed to buy the supercar. Their offices confirmed receipt of my letter. So far though, no reply—not even a courtesy we-will-get-back-to-you-soon note from the good secretaries. Why?

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer