WELL before taking charge of the nation, President Rodrigo Duterte reminded his Cabinet of a supreme requirement: his administration would not be tainted with corruption.
The President’s determination has given most Filipinos a great measure of hope, as did the other daunting task he has taken up as priority—bringing an end to the drug menace that has been destroying the lives of many people and the family as a unit. His unorthodox method for freeing society from the clutches of the drug lords is, of course, not acceptable to many, particularly the armchair moralistas and human right activists; but he seems to have gained the sympathy of the vast majority of the common tao. Ask any taxi driver, or any man on the street, and you’d have a better understanding of the generally positive mood.
On the corruption front, the President has specifically cited the Bureau of Internal Revenue as one known to be corrupt and the Bureau of Customs where, he said, employees earn huge amount of bribes, which make their salaries look more like an allowance. Thus, soon after coming to office, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez has moved to introduce what he calls “freedom of information” about past, as well as present, transactions for everyone to see their progress.
Such novel initiatives are admirable as they could improve the operating efficiency of the departments. However, it may not really eradicate corruption. Corruption thrives even in efficient bureaucracies, because it is rooted in greed, to which most people are vulnerable. Therefore, it calls for a lot more than the initiative that the finance secretary has shown. We need a well thought-out, long lasting society-wide—not just bureaucracy-wide—program that will combine both punitive actions and an educational program for reforming the general mindset across the society, particularly in the corporate world—the main bribe giver—and also in the media. We cannot hope for a clean government if all other segments of society remain corrupt.
In every instance of bribery, there is a giver and a taker. Both are equally guilty of the crime; therefore, both must be brought to justice in a fair and square manner. For that, we need a good anti-corruption ordinance that will clearly define the rules for investigation and trial.
The law must also define the distinction between a bribe and a gift. When a wealthy man offers his executive jet for the personal travel of a government official, a lawmaker, aA politician, or their families, will it be considered a no-strings-attached favor or a bribe disguised as generosity?
In court trials, the common law treats a person innocent until proven guilty; but this should not be the guiding principle in corruption cases. Rather than the prosecution—in this case, the state—proving the accused guilty, the accused must bear the burden of proving innocence. The reason for it is simple: All bribes exchange hands in secrecy. There is no witness or paper trail to pin the suspect down. Therefore, anyone in possession of wealth or leading a lifestyle beyond the means of legitimate income should be brought to court to explain it.
When found guilty, the bribe-giver must face the consequences of his action – the contract or license obtained from the government must be revoked and the corrupt must be dismissed from his employment. The bribe-taker, too, must go to jail, with everything that could not be justified as part of legitimate earnings confiscated by the state.