Hijinks in high places
Philippine Daily Inquirer
April 1, 2017 at 1:38 am

There’s more than meets the eye in the ongoing tiff between Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Davao del Norte Rep. Antonio Floirendo Jr. Ostensibly, it’s about corruption and violation of the law, at least as alleged by Alvarez; he has filed a graft charge against Floirendo over the renewal of a joint venture agreement between the latter’s Tagum Agricultural Development Corp. (Tadeco) and the Bureau of Corrections for a 25-year lease contract on a 5,000-plus-hectare banana plantation in the Davao penal colony.

Alvarez says that 1) Floirendo, who sits in the Tadeco board, committed graft when his company entered into a joint deal with the government while he was still a congressman, and 2) the agreement was irregular because it was signed without the bidding mandated in all government projects.

When did this happen? In 2003, all of 14 years ago.

Throughout that time, Alvarez and Floirendo were said to be the best of friends—personal buddies as well as political allies. Their formidable tandem would help catapult then Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte to the presidency last year. Floirendo was Mr. Duterte’s biggest campaign contributor, plunking down P75 million, or a fifth of the candidate’s  P376-million war chest. Alvarez helped deliver the votes and now, as Speaker, basically wields the whip over the “supermajority” that rules the House.

It’s no exaggeration to say they’re two of the biggest pillars holding up Mr. Duterte’s political machinery. But they’re now at loggerheads—although Floirendo is said to be offering the peace pipe—revealing the fissures and divisions among various interest groups said to be jockeying for greater influence and power in the dispensation.

Only the naive would believe the purity of Alvarez’s intentions in filing suit against Floirendo; his protestations about upholding the law are essentially mocked by the timeline. Why only now, after more than a decade, and only when he and Floirendo have had a falling out? What this belated action suggests is that Alvarez was willing to look the other way when he and Floirendo were still chummy, and that he’s now willing to dredge up the issue and use it as a battering ram against his erstwhile friend, in effect weaponizing the law in a game of crude political hardball.

The playbook recalls the same strategy deployed against the now-incarcerated Sen. Leila de Lima: Fulminate on her “gross immorality” for having had an affair with her driver, an act that, Alvarez said, basically violated legal and ethical norms for lawyers and government officials. But the spectacle now unfolding has thrown into the light a case of monumental irony: The tiff is said to have been triggered by a spat between the two men’s  girlfriends. Both men are married but Floirendo has long been separated from his wife.

Floirendo’s partner, Cathy Binag, confirmed in a statement that she and Alvarez’s girlfriend, Jennifer Maliwanag Vicencio, had a run-in during the Masskara Festival in Bacolod City last October. The altercation has been cast as the casus belli that damaged the relations between the two men; but, as Binag herself said, quite tellingly: “I find it petty for some matured (sic) men to be burning bridges of friendship over a girls’ spat.”

Indeed. So what’s the real score? Might it be over the speakership, which some quarters say Alvarez is in danger of losing via an ouster plot instigated by Floirendo (a move in which the latter has denied any hand)? Is there a backroom deal somewhere, still undisclosed, that turned sour and caused the men’s friendship to deteriorate this rapidly? Again, Binag appears to be hinting at something much bigger when she said: “It all boils down to greed. Greed for wealth, power and influence.”

Hijinks in high places: Stay tuned.

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