Analysis: How about the war vs. corruption, PDu30?

President Rodrigo Duterte

By Julius D. Mariveles

CATCHING THE BIG FISH in corruption – and equally making citizens as its partners – will help the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte now largely known for its all-out war against illegal drugs and crime also win the war against corruption in the Philippines.

Independent political analyst Earl Parreno told CANA-Scale Up in an interview that to win war against rampant public corruption, the government must “pick up from the first two years” of his predecessor Benigno Aquino III while putting reforms in policy and law to ensure gains.

Filing of high profile cases should also continue since this helps convey the message to the public that the government is serious against corruption.

The main ingredient in all these strategies, Parreno said, is strong participation of the people, strongly influenced by the change in people’s views on corruption.

For instance, the filing of high-profile cases sent a strong message that government was serious in stamping out corruption. “Before, the perception seems to be that only low-level officials can be charged, when Aquino took over and the high-profile cases started flying, people thought differently.”

Strong start, weak ending
While Aquino’s daang matuwid (straight path) campaign seemed to have started strong in the fight against corruption in its first two years (2010 to 2012), this began to wane in his remaining years marked by patronage, accommodation, and reluctance to bring erring politicians to justice. 

Parreno said Duterte, who also promised in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July to fight low- and high-level corruption in government, should draw lessons from his predecessor’s anti-corruption campaign which unfortunately had failed to sustain gains from its kick-off. Duterte will mark his 100th day in office on October 8.

"The momentum had been lost after the second year of the Aquino administration," Parreno said.

From kicking off with the filing of high profile cases against alleged corrupt officials – including the impeachment of a chief justice and inquiry into the alleged corruption of then Vice President Jejomar Binay, Aquino seemed to have blinked when the subsequent cases involved his allies in Congress, particularly those who figured in the infamous PhP 10 billion pork barrel scam in 2013 involving Janet Lim Napoles and more than 50 politicians. 

Inquiries in Congress in those periods had failed to produce new laws or amendments to existing laws that would deter corruption, Parreno said. With the country losing at least PhP 10 billion (USD 209 million) to the scam, equivalent to the yearly budget of 10 Philippine provinces, not a single law had been passed to prevent a repeat of the scam where bogus NGOs can be used to milk government funds.

Parreno also said Aquino had also faltered after it was exposed that he issued an order putting into place the Disbursement Acceleration Program, a presidential pork barrel that made the executive's discretion in using government money unmatched in Philippine history.

“This gave the impression that all those Congressional hearings were not in aid of legislation but in aid of re-election,” Parreno told CANA-Scale Up.

On top of these inconsistencies, the Aquino administration had failed to pass a freedom of information law, one of his campaign promises back in 2010. He had opted not to certify it as urgent, thus expectedly paving the way for the Lower House to leave it in the dustbin.

Duterte, on the other hand, recently issued an executive order implementing Freedom of Information in the executive branch of government, a bold gesture that FOI advocates perceive as a positive sign to advocate further for a specific law in Congress, which has repeatedly watered down or stalled its passage. 

Citizen education
Parreno said the Duterte administration must seriously consider emphasizing anti-corruption as part of the country’s school curriculum to help “educate citizens at an early age.”

 How many LGU officials  were charged with graft?

Parreno pointed out that public perception on politicians as sources of dole-outs – and winning public positions to pay back political favors and earn power – remains very strong.

“Politicians should no longer be seen as providers of largesse or favors but as public servants,” he said.

If this perception remains unchanged, it would fuel the desire of politicians to please their constituents with largesse.

“What we need is active citizenship, which is actually nationalism. We must promote love of country,” Parreno said, adding that the passage of the freedom of information law will help citizens access public documents that are key in engaging their officials to do better.

Fr. Ireneo Gordoncillo of the Bacolod Diocese, on the other hand, said citizens should actively take part by organizing themselves at the local level.

“It should start with citizens themselves: We used to quote the saying ‘eternal vigilance is the price of democracy’ after (President Ferdinand) Marcos Sr. was driven out by EDSA 1; we should always remember that,” Gordoncillo, a Martial Law veteran, pointed out.

Gordoncillo said community watchdog organizations are important to changing a culture that seems to abet or even encourage corruption.

Local government unit (LGU) officials have been the top subjects of complaints before the Ombudsman, records from the anti-graft body showed. 

Politicians should no longer be  seen as providers of largesse or  favors but as public servants.

While off to a testy start with mainstream media, Duterte had also announced the creation of a new task force that would look into the killing of journalists and media workers in the country.

A 24-hour hotline for citizens will also be made available for anyone to report about corruption by dialing 8888. The President vowed that operators will be available round the clock to receive complaints and information.

The highest was in 2011 during which 3,854 LGU officials were charged; 2,669 in 2012; and 2,014 in 2013.

Just as the executive is gathering steam in its anti-corruption campaign, the judiciary, on the other hand, set free former President Arroyo less than a week before Duterte's July 25 SONA.

The Supreme Court, composed mostly of Aquino appointees, cleared Arroyo of plunder charges, effectively freeing her from hospital detention. 

Parreno shared this view, saying that a movement must emerge composed of citizens who are truly concerned.

Whistle blowing is also important but whistleblowers must not only report about their superiors but even their colleagues who are involved in corruption.

Independent anti-corruption body
A transparency advocate, meanwhile, sees the steps taken by Duterte as "positive" but it is up to the people to continue -- even painfully -- the campaign for lasting public governance. "Only then can we have a government that is free of corruption, something that Filipinos deserve for a long time."

Auke Idzenga told CANA-Scale Up: “First, let us not engage in corrupt practices or resort to it to get favorable treatment.”

Idzenga, a technology developer for the multi-award winning Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation, Incorporated, said "change should truly start in and with us."

AIDFI is a recipient of awards from the BBC World Challenge and the Ramon Magsaysay Foundation.

Idzenga is also co-convenor of the CANA-Scale Up-supported citizen council against corruption in Negros island.

He added, however that specific steps must be taken for a stronger campaign against corruption. 

He urged the Roman Catholic Church to speak louder against corruption among its own members and called for long prison terms for those found guilty of corruption.

And as the move towards federalization becomes clearer, Idzenga warned of decentralization of power to local elites. 

He also said projects must not be implemented anymore through legislators.

Pointing to the experience of Indonesia as an example, Idzenga said citizens must push for the creation of an independent anti-corruption body with substantial power. Citizen Action Network for Accountability-Scaling Up

(The author has worked for 18 years as a journalist: He has handled the newsroom and production unit of local radio station dyEZ Aksyon Radyo-Bacolod for 10 years and has worked as the multimedia director of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. He has also received fellowships from the Asia Journalism Fellowship and Dart Centre for Trauma and Journalism.)