L’Affaire Alvarez

July 19 2010

L’Affaire Alvarez is not going away.

From every corner there is mounting anger at the appointment to Customs, that bedrock of corruption, of a man who has been found by a jury of his peers to be a cheat. To recap, Alvarez and his buddies falsified their scorecard at the Mango Tee, allegedly giving themselves a total of 35 under par for one round, the equivalent in golfing terms of conquering Everest without sherpas or oxygen in the dead of night in a blazing snowstorm. Hand it to them, these guys do not mess around.

Alvarez reportedly claimed that they did not cheat, they just broke the rules. Thank God for the distinction, one that I trust Mr. Alvarez has deeply ingrained in his children: “ Listen up, kids, it is OK to break the rules but don’t ever, ever cheat”.

Unfortunately, sir, Webster’s (and I looked it up to be certain) defines cheating as “violating rules or agreements”. It also defines a cheat as “ a fraud, swindler, deceiver, impostor” so take your pick. You are apparently now one of these as are your friends reportedly a certain Rudy Fulo and Paul De La Cruz, formerly with ICTSI before Ricky Razon allegedly gave him the boot.

Public sentiment is all the more vehement since the matter comes a mere two weeks after our President so deeply proclaimed his crusade for integrity and transparency in Government.

I am actually not upset with Alvarez. He is who he is.

I do not blame the fox for being a fox when put among the chickens. Eating chickens is what foxes do. The more relevant question is who put the fox in the pen?

Who put Alvarez in Customs?

The Administration is mum. Everybody in Malacanang and the Dept. of Finance where Alvarez’ boss sits has run for cover. The silence is deafening.

There was a peep from Exec. Sec. Ochoa about how it was “ a light infraction” in the cosmic scheme of things; but in the barrage of expletives that followed the comment he chose not to expand on the theme. Good thinking. As George Will said: Do not talk unless you can improve on silence.

In the DOF nobody is talking about the elephant in the room.

I guess Administration officials have opted to hold their breath hoping the issue will disappear or be overtaken by other events. Well holding one’s breath indefinitely has, medically, proven to be fatal.

The longer the matter is unattended, the less the issue is about Alvarez, the more the issue is about his superiors and by extension his superiors’ superior. Mr. President, you could be it.

Your detractors are praying you do not address the issue because they are dying to do it for you at Alvarez’ confirmation hearings, on national television. They are chomping at the bit to make a laughing stock out of your team. One can almost see the saliva dripping.

Not only will they raise the valid question of your people’s judgment in appointing such a dishonorable man to such a sensitive post, they will also question his arrogance and that of your staff in dismissing the public’s desire for transparency.

And the questions of transparency are: Who recommended this man for the position? Who are his character references? What relationship, business or otherwise, does he or his friends have with your officials, especially those that vetted and approved his appointment? What are his credentials that make Alvarez so indispensable to the position?

Customs annually handles over P 250 billion in receipts. One percent of that is P 2.5 billion, two percent is P5 billion, and so on. Putting a recognized cheat (albeit only in golf) in charge may be tempting the Gods. Smugglers of Turkish flour, fancy cars, and expensive equipment must be rejoicing: Houston, we have lift off.

Whatever it says of one’s character, which is a lot, cheating in golf may arguably be a small infraction in the universe of issues like poverty alleviation and global warming. But so was “wang-wang”. It was a minor display of arrogance compared to ZTE and “Hello, Garci”; but it was one that resounded with the people. Banning “wang-wang” was a coup.

The Affaire Alvarez is in a similar vein. It may be trivial but it highlights the gut issue of integrity, so central to the new Government.

Mr. President, this matter most certainly flew under your radar. However, you now need to cut, cut clean, cut fast. Your agenda for the next 6 years could depend on it.

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About Leo Alejandrino

The blog is principally a commentary on Philippine politics and economics.
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One Response to L’Affaire Alvarez

  1. Mari Cris Olbes says:

    You hit the nail on the head, Leo, when you said “it may be trivial, but it highlights the gut issue of integrity…” That is the point. That was the point of Pres. Noynoy’s entire campaign. Let us not miss it. Not this time.

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