Jojo A. Robles

When a probe is a cover-up

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It’s not a real investigation. It’s just an elaborate cover-up, with politics and unbreakable personal relationships thrown in for good measure.

The good news is, Malacañang Palace has disowned the statements of its online attack canines that politics is behind the bullet-planting controversy. The bad news is, the Aquino administration seems as unwilling as ever to seriously pursue the case, because it assigned Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya to investigate and put an end to the extortion racket.

“Let’s set aside any political color,” said palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda. He was referring, of course, to the claims made by the Alternate Communications Group that the whole hullaballoo has been engineered by the political opposition in order to embarrass the administration and to take away votes from its presidential candidate, Mar Roxas.

But at the same time, President Noynoy Aquino showed that he was not taking the matter of security personnel allegedly slipping bullets into outgoing airline passengers’ luggage when he made Abaya his point man in the probe. Abaya, of course, is the president of the Liberal Party to which Aquino, Roxas and even Lacierda belong; and when Aquino picked Abaya - ¬instead of, say, more independent officials not directly involved in either the ruling party or the operations of the airport - he was practically ensuring that his investigation goes nowhere.

It’s really easy to figure out: At the center of the controversy is the screening of luggage by the personnel of a relatively new agency called the Office of Transport Security, which is directly under the Department of Transportation and Communications, which Abaya heads.

The OTS was created in 2004 in response to calls from the United States for allied countries to tighten up on transport security and facilities, much like Washington also did when it established the Department of Homeland Security and the Transport Security Administration in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks. Several years ago, OTS took over the function of screening luggage at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport from the PNP Aviation Security Group, which is now relegated to providing police presence and responding to alerts such as those given by OTS, whenever it “discovers” bullets in some unfortunate passenger’s checked in or hand-carried bags.

So, the administration is now asking the lineal head of OTS, Abaya, who just happens to be the LP boss, to investigate his own people and risk embarrassing himself and his own department. Meanwhile, Malacañang has repeatedly denied that it is investigating or even summoning Manila International Airport Authority general manager Jose Angel Honrado, who is the official in charge of the entire airport - quite simply because Honrado is known to be one of the closest friends of Aquino himself, having served as his mother’s aide-de-camp when she was President.

All of this is why I believe no impartial investigation, to say nothing of concrete action, is going to come out of this whole song-and-dance routine being performed by Malacañang. And Abaya is just too conflicted and political (not to mention demonstrably incompetent, as his involvement with the MRT 3 mess is concerned) to come up with anything other than the complete absolution of all the parties in the controversy.

Politics most definitely figures in the equation here. But it’s being resorted to by the Aquino administration, not just the washed-up former entertainers in its employ.

And, Lacierda, bless his Yellow heart, has already been quoted as saying that the media is behind the bullet-planting controversy. Maybe the next spin is that former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is involved in it, as well, because OTS was conceived during her time.

* * *

In the meantime, the rest of the world - very much like our own peripatetic countrymen - have been taking the bullet-planting very, very seriously. The latest black eye to the Aquino government and the Philippines in general is the letter-advisory issued by the United Nations to its employees to take extra precautions when handling their own luggage at Manila’s “premiere” gateway.

The damning advisory of the UN’s Department for Safety and Security, intended only for the organization’s staff, was divulged to the local media by a correspondent of The New York Times, after he revealed its existence in a post on Twitter. “Staff members are advised to keep your luggage with you, lock your luggage and consider wrapping your luggage in plastic as an extra security measure,” the advisory said.

With the Philippines rushing last-minute preparations for hosting the Apec summit in two weeks, the UN advisory comes at a most inopportune time. If the administration doesn’t take this controversy seriously, it’s going to haunt it for months to come.

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