By Conrado de Quiros | Philippine Daily Inquirer | April 14, 2014
The problem is not that Al Vitangcol has failed miserably to provide decent service to the train-riding public in Metro Manila. The problem is that he has been accused by no less than the ambassador of a fairly decent European country of trying to extort money from a Czech firm.
The first is merely a side issue and a most distracting one. It can always be defended, as Malacañang does, by saying Vitangcol did not cause overpopulation, which is the cause of the widening gap between trains and commuters. Or indeed he did not cause the spurt of Metro Manila’s residents, as pockets of the rural population stream into the capital for various reasons, not least of them earthquakes and superstorms, not the least of them “Yolanda.” Which you can debate to your heart’s content without getting nearer to a resolution than when you first began. Which merely distracts from the question of whether or not a high-ranking official of the Department of Transportation and Communications tried to extort $30 million from Inekon, which ought to have been resolved to the public’s satisfaction, if not contentment, by now.
Government denies it is shielding Vitangcol, yet its utterances only tend to confirm the fact. The DOTC for one contends that it is Czech Ambassador Josef Rychtar’s fault that government hasn’t acted on his accusation. That is because to this day, he hasn’t filed a case against Vitangcol with the DOTC, all he has done is raise it before the National Bureau of Investigation. The DOTC itself, acting on its own with dispatch, investigated Vitangcol and cleared him.
Well, ambassadors, particularly of respectable countries, are supposed to know the conditions of the countries to which they are assigned like the palm of their hand. Certainly, they are supposed to not be dumb. Would you, an outsider, file a case of intimidation and harassment against a general of the Armed Forces of the Philippines with the AFP? Edwin Lacierda complains that Rychtar has been talking a lot to the media rather than the proper authorities. For good reason: Because in cases like this, the media are the proper authorities. You can at least expect a fairer hearing there.
The DOTC cleared Vitangcol of the charge? You can almost hear Rychtar saying, “I rest my case.”
Lacierda adds: “I have no idea what prompted Ambassador Rychtar to speak up again…. Is this sour-graping (sic) or is there really a need for an investigation? I don’t know. We just have to go through the investigation proper.” Lacierda rejects however the idea of declaring Rychtar persona non grata. “We are not going so far as to declare him persona non grata. I think that is not on the horizon for the Department of Foreign Affairs. We will just wait for (the results of the investigation).”
Let’s see now: What made the Czech ambassador raise his accusation, and what makes the Czech ambassador insist that his accusation be acted upon, is simply that he was pissed off that a fellow national lost a bid? That it is perfectly understandable that a company that loses a bid should accuse a high-ranking government official of extortion? That it is perfectly reasonable that the very ambassador of the country whose company lost the bid should accuse a high-ranking official of his host country of trying to extort millions of dollars? That it is perfectly acceptable for an ambassador to risk sparking a diplomatic row by insinuating, no, by not very subtly proposing that his host nation is a nation of thieves? And not face any sanctions for it because, well, it’s just a lot of “sour-graping”? What idiocy is that?
Lacierda and the DOTC say if what Rychtar says is true, he should go on to file charges against Vitangcol and see it through in the courts. Why on earth should he? It is not the job of an ambassador to file charges against the officials of the country he has been assigned to. It is his job only to bring so brazen and astounding a thing as extortion—which he claims to have personally witnessed—to the attention of the government of his host country. It is the job of that government to do something about it.
In fact, the opposite is true. If what Rychtar says is untrue, or patently unbelievable, then government should go on to take action against him. Elsewhere in the civilized world, an ambassador accusing a local official of extortion is not called “sour-graping,” it is called sowing intrigue. It is called abusing the hospitality of the host country. It is called committing an unforgivable sin.
If it’s true, as Lacierda suggests, that all Rychtar has going for him is being pissed off that Inekon’s bid was rejected—insinuating by the term “sour-graping” that he might have had a personal stake in it—then the least he deserves is to be declared undesirable and kicked out at once. If it’s true, as Lacierda points out, that Rychtar has been a loose cannon, shooting his mouth off all over the media, thereby embarrassing his host government before the world, then the most Rychtar deserves is to be recommended for expulsion from the diplomatic community.
Why hasn’t government done that? Why should Lacierda be so loath to see that happen?
You cannot have your cake and eat it too. You cannot keep both Vitangcol and Rychtar by simply belittling Rychtar’s complaint, humihinga lang ng sama ng loob ’yung tao, the guy is just blowing off steam, by accusing Vitangcol of a stupendous crime. This thing can’t be swept under the rug.
No, the real problem is not the MRT, though that is a problem too, raising as it does all sorts of questions about efficiency. The real problem is the shakedown of Inekon, raising as it does all sorts of problems about integrity. Which makes me wonder if the first was not artificially generated to draw attention away from the second.
That is about an ambassador complaining bitterly not about sour grapes but about bad apples.