Jojo A. Robles

Secret deals

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You want to talk about secret deals? Okay, let’s talk about secret deals entered into by this truly secretive administration.

 

The first time I heard talk about President Noynoy Aquino entering into a secret deal, he had just arrived from Tokyo, Japan, where he met with Murad Ebrahim, the chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, in a hotel near Narita airport. No one outside a very small circle of top Malacañang officials at the time - this was in August 2011 - had been told beforehand about the government-MILF meeting.

“There was no secret deal made at the meeting,” said Marvic Leonen, a former dean of the UP College of Law who had been appointed chief government negotiator with the MILF. The meeting was merely “a frank and candid exchange of views about the frames of the continuing peace talks and some possible approaches that the parties can take to bring about a peaceful settlement.”

Leonen would give no further details of the Tokyo meeting. Until much later, when he gave birth to the two agreements that came out of it - the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro - which, in turn, brought into the world the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law.

Leonen, of course, would be rewarded for his work as chief negotiator with a Supreme Court justiceship. And Aquino would never be dissuaded from his decision to push the BBL, even after the MILF helped massacre 44 members of the PNP’s Special Action Force nearly four years later.

Many have asked what commitments Aquino gave to the MILF that he will not even budge an inch from his administration’s pro-BBL position. But, of course, there was no secret deal hammered out in Tokyo.

Just like there was no secret deal that resulted after a late-night meeting in Malacañang Palace two years ago between Aquino, another bunch of his top officials and Janet Lim Napoles. For 10 minutes, according to presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda, Napoles talked to Aquino, national police chief Alan Purisima, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and a few others about nothing at all, apparently.

Napoles’ strange surrender in Malacañang only fueled more speculation about a secret deal between Aquino and the supposed mastermind of the pork barrel scandal that would almost bring down the administration. Now, two years later, Napoles has not linked any palace official or ally to the scandal, preferring to go to jail on charges of serious illegal detention rather than to detail her involvement in the scam.

There was definitely no secret deal between Napoles and Aquino. And no close Aquino ally has been charged in connection with the scandal.

* * *

A government that enters into secret deals is the reverse of transparent, the attribute that Aquino, as a candidate in 2009-2010, claimed almost as a birthright. Of course, Aquino promised transparency and the passage during his term of a Freedom of Information Act.

Aquino’s spokesmen have long justified that this administration does not require an FOI law because it is “already transparent.” You just have to believe that Aquino is genetically unpredisposed to entering into shady deals, I guess.

Freedom of information advocates had hoped that Aquino would call for the passage of the law making government deals transparent in his final State of the Nation Address a couple of months back, but were once again disappointed when it was not mentioned at all in the speech. They noted that the Philippines remains the only country without an FOI law of the eight original signatories of the US-led Open Government Partnership initiative, which Manila signed in 2011.

(In a late bid to deny that he was against the passage of an FOI law, Aquino included it in his budget message to Congress. FOI advocates were unimpressed, noting that the proposed law was “buried” in page 38 of the 43-page message, making it “officially dead.”)

All of this is really a long-form reply to the question posed after last weekend’s protest rally along Edsa staged by the Iglesia Ni Cristo. Was there a secret deal that led to the self-dispersal of the INC rally or wasn’t there?

The INC, after all, claimed that it scored a victory after it secured an agreement with the Aquino administration on its demands. The government denied having entered into any deal with the INC.

 

Neither party will discuss the details of their negotiations during the tense days when the church’s members blockaded Metro Manila’s main thoroughfare. I don’t think anyone can compel the INC to disclose the details of the talks; and Malacañang, because it never really believed in transparency, cannot be expected to do so, either, even if it has that obligation to us.

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