First of two parts
If there’s one painful lesson the nation should learn from past changes in national leadership, they never stopped corruption.
Corazon Aquino took over from Ferdinand Marcos, then had her Kamag-anak Inc. Joseph Estrada had his predecessor Fidel Ramos investigated over the Amari scandal, but Erap himself was ousted and jailed over jueteng and stock bribes. Now, his successor Gloria Arroyo is accused of sleaze over ZTE and PCSO irregularities.
Her biggest accuser, President Benigno Aquino 3rd, faces his own irregularities, with the graft-ridden pork barrel more than doubling under his watch, smuggling leaping five-fold, and his Disbursement Acceleration Program illegally appropriating some P150 billion—all three anomalies hitting unprecedented levels.
The current administration is scheming to stay in control, if only to keep mountains of incriminating pork barrel papers away from the public and the prosecutors. Even if the current cabal is swept away, key segments of it will swing to the next dispensation, as they did when Arroyo stepped down in 2010.
That would likely happen when a new leader walks into Malacañang. National politics demands both a nationwide network of allies and a titanic hoard of cash, so anyone playing that game cannot but make deals with less-than-immaculate politicos, and may well be of the same ilk himself or herself.
So if politicians will be politicians, along with the sleazy operators backing them, stopping graft can’t be done just by regime change. Those who govern must be closely and constantly watched. But most are not; there simply aren’t enough graftbusters.
The anti-graft numbers game
The Ombudsman is supposed to fight sleaze. Given the gargantuan government, however—1.3 million public servants with P2.6 trillion to spend next year—the OMB’s several hundred staff just can’t watch, let alone catch, more than a fraction of the dirt.
Even if its budget and personnel increased tenfold—most unlikely for pork barreled lawmakers to do—the boost to 8,000 or so OMB personnel would still field one graftbuster for every 1,500 public servants, compared with one for every 124 bureaucrats for Hong Kong’s feared Independent Commission Against Corruption.
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 130,000 Filipinos on anti-corruption duty.
That’s less than one-fifth of one percent of the 70 million Filipinos aged between 15 and 75. If they were mobilized, they should be able to raise the chance of grafters being caught to a level that would deter most would-be scammers, as it does in Hong Kong.
Replicating Namfrel’s success
Would 130,000 Filipinos sign up to fight graft? Well, nearly double that number are on Namfrel’s volunteer list. That’s why in the Philippines and probably in East Asia, the National Movement for Free Elections is the most successful and extensive example of people power for good governance.
With legions of volunteers, Namfrel has deterred, blocked or exposed massive poll fraud, including the February 1986 cheating which brought down strongman Ferdinand Marcos. Its historic effort nearly three decades ago is memorialized in the election tally board at La Salle Greenhills gym, showing Corazon Aquino beating Marcos.
With citizens watching and guarding the vote and the count, election officials and staff, political parties and candidates, and private armies are deterred from irregularities and violence. Sure, fraud, vote buying, and intimidation still happens, but far less than would occur without Namfrel and its fellow watchdog groups.
Similarly, to slash corruption, we need a nationwide citizens organization to monitor, audit, and investigate government activities and transactions, parallel with state investigators and auditors, just as Namfrel canvasses votes in tandem with the Commission on Elections.
The envisioned group—let’s tentatively call it Citizens Coalition for Good Governance, or CCGG—would tap working or retired accountants and civil servants, volunteer lawyers and investigators, schools and companies, religious, sectoral and community groups, and other entities keen to clean up government.
Citizens Coalition for Good Governance
To ensure integrity, impartiality and broad public support, CCGG should be led by a governing council of highly respected and non-partisan moral figures like the country’s four Catholic Cardinals, former Commission on Elections chairman Christian Monsod, Gawad Kalinga head Antonio Meloto, and business leader Washington Sycip.
CCGG can bring together such respected institutions as the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and other religious entities, Integrated Bar of the Philippines and other professional bodies, Management Association of the Philippines and other business groups, Trades Union Congress of the Philippines and other labor federations, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and other media, top universities and colleges, and non-partisan civil society organizations.
If convened, CCGG’s governing council shall draw up its objectives, operating framework, and funding arrangements. Among parameters to consider:
CCGG shall independently probe anomalies, with priority given to size, prominence and lack of prompt government action; and undertake lifestyle checks.
CCGG shall report any lack of cooperation from state officials and agencies, and file appropriate administrative and legal cases to obtain information and sanction inaction.
CCGG shall publicly report its findings and activities, file information and complaints with relevant government bodies, and monitor official action on its filings.
CCGG shall take steps to protect and support volunteers, civil servants, and other personages facing threats or reprisals for assisting the coalition.
CCGG shall lend support to legislative and administrative reforms toward good governance, transparency, and accountability.
Once created, the coalition can deter would-be grafters, who could be probed by CCGG even if political allies and connections derail or delay official inquiries. State officials and entities reluctant or slow to investigate anomalies would face comparision with the coalition’s swift action.
Agencies and local governments blocking CCGG would contend with media exposure and cases in the OMB, the Civil Service Commission, and the courts. Investigative reports would be given wide publicity among CCGG member groups and media, heightening and informing public vigilance against graft.
Probably most important, civil servants privy to irregularities would have a nationwide entity to act on their revelations and accord them protection. Such a threat of exposure from within the bureaucracy would further deter corrupt politicians and officials. This crucial CCGG role of supporting and defending upright public servants will be further discussed in the last part of this article on Thursday.
Through Namfrel, citizens have been indispensable in curbing election fraud. With CCGG, we can also score big gains against corruption.
(The last part about public support for upright civil servants is published Thursday.)