Did PCGG's Rick Abcede bite more than he could chew?
HIGH GROUND By William M. Esposo
Inq7.net 2006-09-28
I'M CONCERNED for my friend and Presidential Commission for Good Government (PCGG) Commissioner Ricardo "Rick" Abcede. I think Rick may have lost himself in the rarefied world of power and politics. I'm afraid that he has taken on more than he can handle.

I've known Rick since college. He was known then as Ric. Friends and schoolmates alike admired Ric. No one would argue he had a good head on his shoulders, not even those who now disagree with him.

Ric brought a great honor to the Pontifical University of Santo Tomas (UST) when he was named one of the Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines in 1968. Ric was three years ahead of me in the UST Faculty of Arts and Letters, where we took courses in Communication Arts and Philosophy, respectively. From UST, Ric studied law in San Beda College and I went on to pursue a career in mass communications.

Rick, as he is now called, came into the spotlight when he started becoming one of the defenders of the Arroyo regime under the cloak of his organization, Filgood. Whenever he called me on the phone, perhaps to pick my brains or to spy for the regime, I would rib him about misspelling the name of his organization. Feelgood, not Filgood would have been more apt, because all he does is make Madame Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo feel good.

Despite opposing political views, Rick and I somehow maintained a friendship while keeping our political jousts within cordial levels. But as he drifted deeper into the bowels of power, Rick and I talked less. I thought that the deeper he got himself sucked in, the more uncomfortable he felt talking to me.

After the 2004 elections, Rick sought my advice on whom to approach in the Arroyo regime to get appointed in the executive branch of government. I know that to many of you who follow my column this would sound rather odd, to say the least, that Rick would seek the advice of one who is probably in the Arroyo regime's roster of the Ten Most Hated Persons in Media!

But Rick knew that I was once an insider in the Arroyo political camp -- from 1996 to 1997, when Gloria and Mike Arroyo asked me to assist in the effort to promote Gloria as president in 1998. At that time, I was among those (including the late Teddy Benigno, and others who now also oppose the regime) who felt that Gloria had the best chances to derail Joseph Estrada's ascent to power. However, early on I realized that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was not the leader I'd want to see elected as president, so I left her campaign team. She eventually dropped out of the 1998 presidential race and opted to run and win as vice president.

Rick needed to know who were the "long marchers" of the Arroyo regime -- the people who really mattered and were in the inner circle, whose endorsements were key in securing a presidential appointment. In a way, he was right in assuming that because I knew who was who in the Arroyo cabal, especially those whose names were hardly mentioned in the media.

Rick's desired appointment did not come easy. I did not hear from him for some time and so one day I decided to call him up. Hearing him on the phone, I sensed that he was depressed.

I then decided to contact and exchange notes with a close friend of Rick's, Gener Reyes, who was the editor-in-chief then of Flame, the official organ of the UST Faculty of Arts and Letters. Gener (now also going with a new name, Gerry) confirmed that Rick was deeply disappointed over the lack of response on his application for an executive appointment. Gener even expressed serious concern that Rick might backslide to his old
gambling habit because of his deep disappointment. That was something I was not aware of and I could only share Gener's concern.

During Rick's recent clash with the senators, Senator Juan Ponce-Enrile was shown on the ANC television channel saying that he heard that Rick was seen as a frequent visitor of the casino. A few months back, raising some issues against Rick, Philippine Star's Max Soliven mentioned that there was a PCGG Commissioner who was known to frequent and lose a lot of money in the casino. Max did not name Rick but, as Rick was the only PCGG commissioner that he was criticizing at the time, there was no room for doubt that he was referring to Rick.

Thus, all of us who knew Rick from way back were happy to see him finally receive his appointment as a PCGG commissioner. In a reunion early this year, Rick joined us, and a lot of our former schoolmates were glad to catch up with him. I felt that Rick had finally achieved the stature that he deserved.

But when I saw Rick recently on television practically taking on the Senate and even boldly announcing that the Senate should be abolished -- I said to myself, oh-oh! When I saw Rick take on Senator Enrile and openly accused him of conflict of interest, I started to worry that Rick might have plunged into political waters that were way beyond his fathom.

It was not so much what Rick said that bothered me but the manner in which he said them and the circumstances under which he did. Rick seemed to me to have lost sight of the fact that as an appointee in the executive branch of government he was accountable to the Senate, as the Senate represents a national public and shares in the responsibility of
appropriating a budget for the operation of the PCGG.

I was appalled to see Rick assault the Senate in a manner that I had not seen even higher-placed officials of the Arroyo regime do, not Angie Reyes, Ronnie Puno or Bert Gonzales, who all have had their fair share of problems with the Senate. Rick, I felt, appeared to have acquired the arrogance that many associate with his boss.

Rick appears to have failed to make the transition from a Filgood advocate to a PCGG commissioner. As a Filgood advocate, Rick enjoyed the position of a stakeholder in our democracy -- a voter who is entitled to express his views for or against any political side. But as a PCGG Commissioner, Rick is bound by a certain protocol that includes accountability to a senate that represents the people and appropriates an operating budget for the PCGG.

Rick took on Enrile "mano-a-mano" [in hand-to-hand combat], as it were. Bravo, one might say, considering Enrile's reputation, but to a veteran political watcher it was sheer political folly and naiveté. Did it not occur to Rick that Enrile was a recently acquired regime ally and that in a senate where the regime is badly in need of support Enrile is in a
position to demand a few concessions, including the head of a PCGG commissioner, the way Salome asked for the head of John the Baptist?

Did it escape Rick's mind that he works for a regime that will not entertain second thoughts of bartering its own children for political gain or expediency? Is Rick no aware that the regime he works for has a track record of people and causes that were placed on the political trading block?

You may email William M. Esposo at: macesposo@yahoo.com

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