Seares: Caindec theory on rich officials; MCWD new board’s ‘super power’

Pachico A. Seares

ITEM one: Land Transportation Office (LTO) Regional Director Victor Caindec, accused of unexplained wealth, shot back with the reply that he was “rich” before he joined the government.

Item two: Even before Cebu City Mayor Edgar Labella appointed the new directors of the five-person board of Metropolitan Cebu Water District (MCWD), the talk was rife that at last the new board would instantly solve the water crisis.

Both claims are fallacies but while Caindec was serious about his defense, optimists about the future of the water supply were mainly kidding.

Manang Pacita quote

Pacita Madrigal-Warns (1915-2008), a wealthy ballet dancer and politician, administrator of Social Welfare Administration in Ramon Magsaysay’s cabinet in 1953, was credited for saying “Millionaires do not steal” when irregularities in her department were investigated. She later ran for and won a Senate seat in 1955, despite the quote that hounded her two-term election campaigns.

Justification or explanation similar to the infamous “Manang Pacita” pitch was also made by President Duterte in defending his senior aide Bong Go when the would-be senator was accused of meddling in a government contract just before the 2019 elections. Bong Go has billions, the President said. The accusation didn’t fly; Go was elected senator.

The same groove

Caindec merely justified the number of cars he bought and other trappings of wealth he displayed after he assumed office two years ago. He didn’t say that millionaires (or billionaires, adjusted to inflation) do not steal.

The two defenses though run on the same groove: namely, extraordinary affluence exhibited during a public official’s term is effectively explained by private assets one already owns before joining the government. In effect, theory says, such properties cannot be deemed ill-gotten because one has enough private assets to acquire them.

Besides denial, what more handy and seemingly plausible proof can justify questioned wealth than one’s wealth acquired through private business?

They’re still accountable

Caindec though cannot imply that the rich cannot be questioned for their possessions acquired during their stay in government because in doing so, he said in a Facebook post, it will discourage people from studying and learning to prepare for public service. It would nurture the belief, Caindec suggested, that one could become rich only by becoming a public official or employee.

To be sure though, public officials cannot be exempted from accountability by merely showing that they were already rich before they became bureaucrats.

New board’s ‘super power’

The joke about the new MCWD board’s “super power” to end the water crisis circulated after Mayor Labella announced the sacking of the five directors, four of whom his predecessor and political rival Tomas Osmena had appointed. As names of successors were floated, friends of the would-be appointees quipped, “The mayor must hurry so that we’d no longer have a water shortage.” As in, with the new board, the water crisis is over.

MCWD insiders tell us that the most effective measures are long-term (from eight years to a decade), such as tapping Mananga and Lusaran and overhauling the water district’s network of pipes. Even the short-term steps, such as desalination and mini-dams, cannot be taken quickly enough, given the pace of the system. It’s not like there will be no more shortage next summer since the new board will be running the show: problem solved.

The joke won’t last

The new board surely will be in a better position to improve things at MCWD. It has the confidence of Cebu City officials and, presumably, those of other local governments served by the water district and whose outcry took out the previous directors. And it knows that public expectation of a more efficient performance is as high as it can get.

Jokes never last long. The friendly quip about the new board’s prowess may soon turn into a hostile demand to show quick results.