Column: ‘Tuwid na daan’ requires standards higher than Purisima’s

Published on October 7, 2014.

Director General Alan Purisima, the country’s controversial chief policeman, bought a sport utility vehicle last year worth about P4 million for only P1.5 million. Why did he enjoy such a substantial discount? His answer before the Senate committee on public order a week ago could be fairly summed up as follows: Because he was offered a substantial discount.

If Purisima were investigating a crime, would he accept his own answer at face value? It is an explanation that does not explain, and only fosters suspicions about his dangerous and apparently recently acquired naivete.

A skeptical Sen. Grace Poe gave him polite but pointed advice: “I’m not saying it’s your fault that you were able to get it at a discounted price. But you should have taken a second look at that big a discount… Ask yourself, why is this being given to me at a cheaper price?”

But does the chief of the Philippine National Police really need advice about motives, criminal or otherwise? That the car dealer has no dealings with the PNP, as Purisima said at the Senate hearing, does not make the sweetheart deal aboveboard; the lack of a direct relationship between dealer and organization only means that other relationships may be at stake. At least that is how we expect Purisima and other police officers to think, when a public official is offered a discount large enough to make the sale unprofitable.

And that is certainly how we expect the spokesperson of a president with a moral mandate to think too. But Secretary Edwin Lacierda defended Purisima’s dismaying testimony as “truthful,” and said he believed the controversial official retained the so-called moral ascendancy to continue as PNP chief.

I regard Lacierda as a friend and as an honorable man serving in a sometimes difficult position. But his defense of Purisima seems to me to be a sign of fatigue. “My point is he appeared before the Senate,” he told reporters. “He answered those questions truthfully and whether one [believes it or not], it depends on how one assesses his testimony and we’ll leave it to those who listened to the Senate investigation.”

In the first place, imagine if Purisima had been allied with Gloria Arroyo, or with Vice President Jejomar Binay. Lacierda would have made the most of the “inconsistencies” in Purisima’s answers which Senator Poe found suspicious. Secondly, appearance before the Senate is not the definitive argument it seems to be (only in contrast with the Binay family’s continued refusal to testify before another Senate panel). The testimony itself must hold water. But classifying Purisima’s answers as truthful is deeply problematic; for one thing, it means we have an innocent roaming the corridors of Camp Crame, trusting dealers who offer million-peso discounts out of the goodness of their heart. For another, it means incoherent explanations now pass muster.

Surely, “tuwid na daan” deserves better.

* * *

I skipped a few steps in the main argument I tried to construct in last week’s column, because of lack of time, and a couple of alert readers called me out. Let me retrace my steps, a little more carefully this time.

The Supreme Court decision finding aspects of the Disbursement Acceleration Program unconstitutional included two paragraphs that may be traced to Justice Arturo Brion. 2. Those two paragraphs came right after an extended discussion of the operative fact doctrine, but Brion’s view so narrowed the scope of the doctrine as to amount to a denial of it. 3. Brion’s view (the two paragraphs in the decision written by Justice Lucas Bersamin refer specifically to Brion) inverts the usual presumptions of innocence and regularity and places the burden on Aquino administration officials to prove good faith. 4. Almost immediately after the Supreme Court made the ruling available to the public, the two paragraphs became among the decision’s most quoted passages to circulate on social media. 5. In particular, the phrase “good faith” reached meme-like intensity on Twitter. 6. Since then, the two paragraphs have been quoted as justification for the position—such as that advanced by national democratic groups—that the DAP is the pork barrel writ large, and therefore condemnable. 7. The students protesting Abad’s presence at the UP forum were influenced by Brion’s view. Therefore, 8. It was, metaphorically speaking, Brion’s hand that pulled at Abad’s collar.

* * *

Please allow me a very personal note. My parents celebrated the 60th anniversary of their happy marriage last Thursday, at the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Shrine. Each of their six children gave short testimonies at a program after the wedding, according to the virtues we had learned from them. Here are excerpts from mine:

The other month, I read a piece of advice given to a new PhD about to start a teaching career in a top American university. “You are going to a place where everyone is smart. You can stand out by being kind.”

On reflection, I realize that this is the real lesson I learned from my parents, from the example they set. Be kind, even or especially if your education puts you in danger of being smart.

How wonderful, isn’t it, that the same word applies to the act of using one’s mind, and the act of using one’s heart? Thoughtful. [My parents] have always been thoughtful, in both senses. I think this thoughtfulness is what the King James Version of the Bible calls loving-kindness. For this virtue of tenderly thinking of others, this blessing, this grace, thank you.

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