Getting lost in translation in the fight vs corruption

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Tita C. Valderama

SOME key members of the Duterte Cabinet are apparently as confused as many of us on the anti-corruption policies and pronouncements of the President.

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While it is clear from the start—even before Rodrigo Duterte was elected to the highest office―that corruption and criminality are top priorities in his governance policy, it remains unclear how this policy should be translated into action.

Fighting corruption and criminality is not simply saying that you’re against it, that you abhor it. More than words, one needs to prove his/her sincerity by doing something to correct a wrong that had been done, and to hold the erring person accountable for it.

Recently, Environment Secretary Gina Lopez revealed at a press briefing in Malacañang that she was offered a P6 million monthly bribe if she would sign a document in favor of a mining company.

On the same occasion, she said a miner told her that an official of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) had asked for a P30 million bribe. She also mentioned that other officials of the agency had titled land to themselves.

Lopez, who comes from the wealthy Lopez family that owns the ABS-CBN broadcasting network and a host of other big corporations, has shown that she is “a woman with balls” by standing firm against mining companies violating environmental laws, and ordering more than 20 mines closed and suspending at least seven others.

While Lopez described the rate of corruption in her agency as “disgusting,” she fell short of identifying or initiating any legal action against any of those involved in seemingly blatant acts of bribery, corruption, and extortion.

Last December, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre revealed at a press conference that he had been offered a bribe by Wally Sombero, a former police officer who now works as a broker for Macau-based gambling tycoon Jack Lam.

He said Sombero asked him to be Lam’s padrino for his casinos at the Clark Economic Zone and at Fort Ilocandia in Laoag City, Ilocos Norte. Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) Chair Andrea Domingo was likewise offered 1 percent commission from Lam’s casino earnings, Aguirre said.

He added that Lam had spent P70 million, bribing officials of the Bureau of Immigration (BI) for the release of 1, 316 Chinese nationals arrested during a raid in late November for working without permits at the online gambling casinos operating at Lam’s Fontana Leisure Parks and Casino at Clark in Pampanga

Some reports speculated that the offer for Aguirre could reach as much as P100 million a month.

The Senate has been investigating an alleged P50-million bribery of BI officials—deputy commissioners Alfonso Argosino and Michael Robles, and Charles Calima in connection with the arrest of the Chinese workers. Sombero, however, claimed it was a case of extortion.

At least some names in this multi-million-peso scandal have been publicly identified.

It was also in early December that Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol disclosed on his Facebook account that he received a Rolex Submariner Date wristwatch, which he later found to have a value of P450,000.

It was a gift, placed in a box stuffed in a bag with other mementos, handed to him during a dinner with top officials of a “very large” agricultural company.

Piñol said he nearly fell out of his seat when he opened the box and found the Rolex Submariner, which he described as “a watch which almost every man dreams of owning.”

Candidly, he said he initially thought of keeping the watch, especially after finding out its price tag on the internet. “Who does not like to own a Rolex, anyway?” he said.

But then Piñol said he returned the expensive watch because he was mindful of President Duterte’s anti-corruption policy. “Now I can look at anybody straight in the eye and tell him or her that I am following President Rody Duterte’s directive that members of his Cabinet must not be linked to any act of corruption,” he said.

It was clear that Piñol knew the giver. He said he returned the watch to the sender “respectfully” and explained that he could not accept it, even if it was given during the Christmas season of gift-giving.

It was clear that Piñol knew the law against receiving or accepting expensive gifts, especially when the giver is involved in a company that has dealings, or is engaged in transactions, with the government office he belongs to.

Piñol, a former journalist, even advised colleagues in government service to exercise “careful discernment on what kind of Christmas presents we could receive and from whom.”

But instead of getting praise from the President for refusing to accept the rare-edition Rolex, what Piñol got was taunting for bragging about it. In his speech at the 7th anniversary of Federalismo Alyansa Bicol in Legaspi City, Albay, a few days after Piñol returned the Rolex, Duterte said the agriculture secretary should not have done returned the watch and instead sold it and used the proceeds to buy rice to be distributed to the poor.

A month later, Piñol was reported to have said that Duterte and his special assistant Christopher “Bong” Go also received Rolex watches and had those returned. It was not clear, however, whether the gifts came from the same giant agricultural company.

In this case, the gift-giver or givers were not identified even if they were known to the recipients.

Corruption is a grave criminal offense. It will continue to flourish if the offenders remain unknown or are not held accountable and liable.

Public-shaming the corrupt, or exposing them to trial by publicity through congressional investigations are not the appropriate solutions to the serious problem of corruption and criminality.

Recognizing that corruption has reached “disgusting” levels and lamenting that almost half of the government’s budget is wasted to corruption will not solve the problem.

People need to see government’s determination and seriousness in fighting graft by throwing the errant public servants in jail, by equally applying legal procedures on anyone, regardless of rank and economic status.

Invoking technicalities, old age, or sickness to set free high-ranking erring officials while summarily executing or putting in jail ordinary persons will never be an acceptable policy. Do that and be ready to lose public trust!

Every one in government should be made aware of the following laws to be clear about what they should and should not do in the performance of their duties in order to keep their integrity:

1. Articles 210-212 of the Revised Penal Code, relating to direct and indirect bribery;

2. Republic Act 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits “directly or indirectly requesting gifts, presents, shares, percentages, and other benefits in connection with the work of a public officer, as well as soliciting for others, including members of the family of the public officer;

3. Republic Act 6713, of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees; and

4. Presidential Decree 46, making it unlawful for public officials and employees to receive, and for private persons to give, gifts on any occasion, including Christmas.

Each of the 1.4 million or so public servants, from the lowest-ranked to the President, should have these provisions and prohibitions in mind so they don’t get lost in translation.

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2 Comments

  1. Remember Homer’s Greek classics, “beware the Greeks, especially when they bear gifts” so likewise bribery and corruption is the common Trojan horse for invading gov’t. However Piñol being a former media man must also admit the reality that gift giving for a consideration is also rampant in the media profession, as it is in the public service.