Aquino and Cronyism

Philippines President Benigno Aquino is under fire over his latest choice for an ambassador post.

Groups opposed to the government have been stepping up their campaign against allies of Philippines President Benigno Aquino.

It started with the appointment of businessman Domingo Lee as the country’s new ambassador to China, North Korea and Mongolia. Lee is the honorary president of the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, and is known to have close ties to the Aquino family. His appointment has drawn flak from career diplomats from the Department of Foreign Affairs, some of whom were overlooked despite years of experience in international diplomacy.

Of course this type of political appointment is nothing new. Indeed, it was one of the hallmarks of the disdained Arroyo administration, highlighted by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s decision to appoint retired generals and other government officials who had earned her favour to posts as ambassadors, far from the scrutiny of opposition groups in Congress mounting investigations into alleged corruption.

Unfortunately, the Aquino administration seems to have quickly forgotten its recent history — and it’s now paying the price. The minority opposition group in the lower house of Congress has moved to launch investigations into alleged irregularities involving government officials in the Aquino administration with close ties to the president.

Among those being eyed are:

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Interior Undersecretary Rico Puno (alleged bribery), Land and Transportation Office chief Virginia Torres (alleged illegal ‘meddling’), Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. (over his lavish mansion), Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima (over alleged tax filing charges against rivals) and Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office Chair Margarita Juico (alleged office irregularities).

Some recent opinion polls suggest that despite these travails, the president still enjoys relatively high public confidence. Still, this apparent immunity from public scorn doesn’t extend to the officials around him, and it’s they who have become targets for closer opposition scrutiny.

Such closer scrutiny is welcome, especially since a pledge to root out corruption in government was at the cornerstone of the Aquino administration’s campaign. But it will almost certainly take its toll on the president as he gets dragged deeper into controversies that reflect poorly on him.

How Aquino handles these investigations will provide a useful yardstick for measuring his determination to ensure clean and honest government. In the meantime, as the old saying goes, with friends like these, who needs enemies?