THE lack or absence of transparency appears to be the primary problem in most, if not all, allegations of graft and corruption. Transparency looks like the most abused word in government, and even in the private sector, because it exists only on paper but not actually observed.
There would have been no need to push for a Freedom of Information (FOI) bill if government offices, both national and local, were transparent in the contracts they sign, and in using their budgets that come from the public.
The Senate would not have wasted 12 or so days in public hearings investigating accusations that Vice President Jejomar Binay is corrupt and that he has acquired questionable wealth since he became officer in charge of Makati City in 1986 if the multi-billion peso worth of public works and supplies contracts he entered into were transparent.
Senate President Franklin Drilon should not have lost his patience over Sen. Nancy Binay for “beating around the bush” during a Senate investigation of the allegedly overpriced P700 million Iloilo Convention Center (ICC) if it were explained how the project cost ballooned from P450 million to P700 million, or even more.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad should have avoided being pilloried over the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) had the allocation and disbursement of the public money been transparent.
The Philippines is not lacking in laws that ensure transparency in all its dealings. It is in the implementation where problems occur.
Transparency goes with accountability. Without these two basic principles in governance, we cannot claim to have democracy.
Accountability means anybody in public office ought to be responsible to the citizenry for their decisions and actions. Transparency requires that the decisions and actions of those in government are open to public scrutiny and that the public has a right to access such information.
For the long drawn out Senate investigations on various allegations of corruption to be productive, Congress has to review the government procurement policy under Republic Act No. 9184 and correct deficient provisions by drawing on the wrong practices in the cases that have been investigated.
After 12 public hearings, the senators must have already established a pattern of violations in the laws, not only RA 9184, but RA 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and RA 6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Government Officials and Employees. Look closely into the provisions that need to be strengthened, modified or amended.
The Senate blue ribbon subcommittee is not a fact-finding body to investigate any and all allegations of corruption against Binay and send him to jail. Sadly, what we hear from Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th is that more pieces of evidence will be coming out against Binay, and that the investigation “in aid of legislation” would last until April or May 2015. But I have yet to hear him speak about a legislative proposal that would come out of the investigation.
I am not in a position to say that Binay is guilty or not, but I guess Trillanes is already going out bounds when he said that Binay should be sent to jail. After just a few hearings of the Senate, what has come out already convinces me that the accusations of Binay’s former ally and trusted Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado ought to be investigated by government institutions that have prosecutorial powers.
The Senate investigation has already achieved the three sentors’ purpose of bringing down the popularity rating of Binay as a potential candidate for president in 2016. It is about time to pursue the “in aid of legislation” objective.
As the Senate investigation by three senators drags on, the public would grow tired of hearing accusations one after another without seeing anyone getting prosecuted and eventually punished.
Would we want to waste another seven years and several millions of pesos spent in litigating an official for plunder and see him free just a few days after getting convicted, courtesy of a presidential pardon or clemency? We’ve seen that in the case of Joseph Estrada who almost became president again in 2010, and is now in power again as mayor of Manila.
As the one-sided Senate investigation goes on, Binay’s ratings may yet bounce back as this gives him the opportunity to go around the country in the guise of public consultations to complain to the public about the harassment and persecution by some senators.
Take a look at Binay’s itinerary on days that he was invited to attend the Senate probe and answer allegations thrown against him and his family. On Sept. 25, he was in Balut, Tondo for the inauguration of a socialized housing project.
Binay chairs the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC). The position gives him nationwide access and excuse to be with the homeless poor who have the patience to go to the polling precincts to vote for candidates who can deliver their needs.
While in vote-rich Tondo, Binay talked with beneficiaries of the housing project and explained to the crowd that he has been unfairly treated by the Senate. At one point, he told the crowd not to cheer loudly because he might be accused of another wrongdoing by his detractors.
Some critics accused Binay of early campaigning when he delivered a speech on Sept. 18 to defend himself against the allegations of corruption in the Senate.
On Nov. 7, he went to the vote-rich province of Cebu and spent the morning walking in the busy downtown market area from Carbon, Pasil and Tabo-an.
People lined up in the streets to shake hands with the Vice President and have photos with him. Later, he had boodle lunch with vendors and government officials, some of whom would likely be in his senatorial slate in 2016 such as Rep. Lito Atienza of Buhay party-list, and Rep. Sherwin Gatchalian of Valenzuela City.
On both occasions, Binay said that he did not appear at the Senate because he wanted to work instead of engaging in politicking.
The three senators in the Senate blue ribbon committee should realize that they are giving Binay a favor by prolonging its investigation, even as it downplays the same allegations of corruption in the ICC involving Drilon.
It is about time to turn over the task of investigating to the prosecutorial arm of government. The DOJ-NBI and the Office of the Ombudsman must have people trained to investigate suspicions and allegations of corruption like those involving Binay.
We have seen too many Senate investigations that did not have results, except to gain publicity mileage to senators on the forefront of the inquiry. The three senators should stop insulting the Office of the Ombudsman by trusting that it could prosecute the guilty parties in this saga against corruption.
The Ombudsman has shown that it can send the “big fishes” to jail when it indicted Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla.