Last of two parts
The first part on Tuesday urged families, barangays, religious and civic groups to join hands with the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte in fighting drugs. This second part talks about helping him stop corruption. Both initiatives are indispensable for narco-syndicates and corrupt officials not to come back after Duterte leaves office.
Before we leave the drugs issue, one more crucial point on narco-trafficking: It’s clear from the ups and downs of drugs in the country that cracking down on smuggling through the ports is the key to stopping narcotics.
While bundles of contraband can be slipped in by small boats all over the country, the bulk of illicit shipments, including shabu shipments, ingredients, and labs, has to come in by containers. Hence, the 2,000 boxes that vanished uninspected in 2011 was almost surely the main conduit for the narco-explosion in the country in recent years.
So squeeze smuggling, Mr. President, and narcotics will also shrivel.
Turning to corruption, Duterte announced that eradicating corruption is his avowed goal this year, just as narcotics was his wipeout target last year.
His handling of the P50-million bribery scandal at the Bureau of Immigration stirs both cheers and fears. Chinese gambling tycoon Jack Lam allegedly gave the money to BI officials, including two former Duterte fraternity brothers, to let off the hook more than 1,300 Chinese nationals illegally working for Lam’s Fontana online gambling operation in Pampanga.
Many applaud Duterte’s swift firing of his two college buddies, even after they turned over P30 million of the payoff. Also out of the agency was the dismissed officials’ boss, who surrendered the remaining P20 million to the Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group.
However, some doubt has emerged. This week, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre said that on President Duterte’s instruction, casino king Lam may return to the Philippines and continue his gambling operation if he would settle all tax liabilities past and future, and pledge never to bribe any official again.
Sorry, but shouldn’t Lam be probed and prosecuted for bribery? In fact, on December 3, Duterte himself ordered the Chinese businessman arrested, but the latter had fled the country. Days later, however, the President rescinded his arrest order if Lam would return to settle his tax obligations. Then on Dec. 17, Duterte said he would order that Lam’s properties be sequestered.
Secretary Aguirre, who alleged Lam offered him P100 million a month for protection, said it would be hard to prove the attempted bribery, since it was made through interpreters. Still, the government should try, at least by charging the translators and getting them to turn state witnesses.
Keeping the Cabinet clean
President Duterte must resolve the Jack Lam affair legally and transparently, to maintain public support for his government. And he needs the nation solidly behind him to win against drugs, crime and corruption — and against parties plotting regime change.
On fighting graft, this column outlined a three-point program for the Duterte administration back in June: Institute freedom of information by executive order — done in late November; impose a Code of Conduct for Cabinet members and other agency heads; and mobilize key sectors and the citizenry against graft.
On top of following laws against corruption, the Code of Conduct would address conflicts of interest and lack of transparency by requiring all agency heads to:
1) Disclose any conflict of interest that may affect policies, projects, programs, and contracts subject to their decision, oversight, or privileged information.
2) Recuse themselves from any decision in which conflict of interest or personal/professional ties may significantly influence the decision.
3) Promptly provide public access to information on agency matters, subject to restrictions imposed by law, jurisprudence, and explicit agency procedures.
4) Impose leaves of absence on agency officials, including the head, to allow unimpeded investigation of alleged anomalies involving those officials.
5) Immediately report to the President any conflict of interest, personal or professional ties, or alleged impropriety or irregularity involving key officials in the agency.
If President Duterte publicly required his appointees to follow such rules, he would affirm his commitment to fight corruption, and win over key sectors not only to join his war on graft, but also defend his government against its opponents.
Harnessing Filipinos against sleaze
That both the war on drugs and the battle against sleaze need nationwide public support is clear from the numbers. Rehabilitating the 3-million-plus addicts is clearly impossible if the government had to do it all by itself.
It’s the same story with corruption. With just several hundred investigators and prosecutors, there is no way the Office of the Ombudsman can keep tabs on most of the 1.3 million people in the public sector.
Nor can the OMB and even the Commission on Audit monitor most of the P3.35 trillion in national public spending, plus hundreds of billions more in local governments, state firms, and other entities not covered by the national budget. Or the trillions in taxes, duties and fees collectible by national and local governments.
Result: The chances of punishing sleaze are minuscule, deterring few grafters.
Plainly, the nation needs to mobilize many, many more warm bodies against graft. To get a one-to-100 ratio of graftbusters to government officials and personnel, for instance, we need 13,000 Filipinos on anti-corruption duty.
Such a ratio would match that of Hong Kong’s feared Independent Commission Against Corruption, which has done a stellar job of keeping the territory largely graft-free.
Should Congress give the OMB money to recruit thousands of probers and prosecutors? Well, it won’t. Lawmakers will never enable the anti-graft agency to catch most crooked politicians, who unfortunately include many legislators.
Moreover, depending solely on the Ombudsman to keep public servants straight could falter if the OMB itself becomes partisan, targeting administration opponents but sparing its stalwarts.
Hence, the anti-graft drive needs a nationwide citizens movement to investigate, and expose misgovernance and corruption, and give support to honest public servants under pressure.
We’ll talk about the mechanics of this movement next week.