NO corruption. That’s the marching order from President-elect Rodrigo Duterte at his first Manila meeting with his incoming Cabinet. He and his family will not interfere with the actions and staff appointments of agency heads. But the top officials will be held responsible for any shenanigans not just by them, but their appointees, too.
In addition, Duterte aims to totally revamp the revenue, customs and land transportation bureaus; plus the Bureau of Corrections, where convicted drug lords enjoy lavish living while still running their syndicates. And he warned three drug-tainted police generals to clear out or be thrown out in shame.
Duterte’s war on corruption is key to eradicating crime. Under Aquino, lawlessness trebled from 324,082 incidents in 2010 to more than a million a year since 2013. Fueling that unprecedented surge was corruption in the Philippine National Police and the Bureau of Customs, which allowed syndicates to import, produce and sell narcotics.
Graft in the PNP and the BoC escalated when Aquino abetted jueteng and smuggling. He took away PNP oversight from then-Local Government Secretary and gambling nemesis Jesse Robredo. And Aquino never investigated mammoth contraband scams, including more than 2,000 cargo containers diverted in 2011.
The fight against corruption hinges on clean leadership. If the President and his alter egos tolerate or engage in sleaze, so will the bureaucracy.
Aquino’s constant defense of classmates, allies and shooting buddies (KKK by their Filipino initials) encouraged graft in his camp. Witness the tripling of smuggling to $26.6 billion in 2014, and the scandals in commuter trains, license plates, combat helicopters, and tanim-bala extortion; plus endless prison anomalies, for which Aquino’s friend, Ernesto Diokno, and his successors as corrections chief were never punished.
But if Duterte cracks the whip on his Cabinet, then KKK-style graft would diminish or even vanish. And ending lawlessness in the corridors of power is a must to eradicate it on the street.
Three steps to Cabinet integrity
So what should Duterte—as President-in-fact—do to avoid repeating KKK corruption? Three things:
• Issue his promised Executive Order for public access to official information in all entities under his jurisdiction.
• Impose a code of conduct on the Cabinet.
• And harness major social sectors in exposing corruption.
Two days after the May 9 elections, then-frontrunner Duterte said he would issue an EO to institute freedom of information in the Executive Branch. This would fast-track FOI after six years when the Aquino administration itself stalled its passage in Congress, despite his campaign promise to prioritize its passage.
Once Duterte’s FOI order goes out, his entire government can be subjected to close monitoring, with media and civil society able to investigate suspicious moves by demanding official information on them.
Along with this transparency EO, Duterte should order all agency heads to adopt a code of conduct requiring presidential appointees to:
1) Disclose any conflict of interest that may affect policies, projects, programs, and contracts subject to their decision, oversight, or privileged information.
2) Make public any personal and professional ties with people they appoint, work with, or transact with.
3) Recuse themselves from any decision in which conflict of interest or personal/professional ties may significantly influence the decision.
4) Promptly provide public access to information on agency matters, subject to restrictions imposed by law, jurisprudence, and explicit agency procedures.
5) Impose leaves of absence on agency officials, including the head, to allow unimpeded investigation of alleged anomalies involving those officials.
6) Immediately report to the President any conflict of interest, personal or professional ties, or alleged impropriety or irregularity involving key officials in the agency that come to the head’s attention.
With or without such a code, course, all officials must comply with integrity, transparency and accountability laws, including the Constitution’s provision on modest living for public servants—no Porsches, please—and the entire Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
To give teeth to the code of Cabinet conduct, President Duterte may wish to ask every agency head to sign a resignation letter which takes effect if the Chief Executive determines that the appointee has breached any provision in the code or any laws and policies against corruption.
Harness the people as Cabinet watchdog
With all the things he has to attend to, President Duterte cannot keep watch on every appointee. Hence, the third measure to help ensure Cabinet integrity is harnessing civil society and key institutions and sectors of the nation in monitoring agencies and their heads and key officials.
Duterte may consider creating a Presidential Integrity, Transparency and Accountability Council—PITAC, for short—headed by the Executive Secretary, and including non-partisan public figures of impeccable probity from civil society, religious, private sector, workers, media and other social sectors, especially anti-corruption groups.
PITAC’s task would be to monitor presidential appointees, receive and review complaints and allegations, and report its findings to the President. In this way, the body cannot only look into substantive allegations, but also debunk false and baseless ones.
In addition to the council, the Duterte government may consider creating in every major agency an advisory body representing segments of the public whom it serves, as well as nationwide anti-graft entities like Transparency and Accountability Network and Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption.
These agency-level panels would alert Cabinet members and other top officials about any irregularities. They can also give recommendations and comments on overall policies, programs and projects. This can be tried in a couple of agencies first, then improved and replicated in others.
A final note: Like the war on crime, the battle against sleaze will not be won without broad nationwide public support. Hence, leading national institutions like the Catholic Church and other religions, major business chambers, labor confederations, professional associations, grassroots entities, and other civil society groups must consider forming a national integrity movement, as this column has urged (see
We all had a hand in creating the lawless mess we’re in. And we must join hands in digging the nation out of it.