Ombudsman Ma. Merceditas Gutierrez has admitted that corruption in the Philippines is worsening, in an apparent affirmation of foreign surveys that had tagged the country as among the most corrupt in Asia.
“I can say based on cases reaching my desk that corruption in our country has become too much already,” she told thousands of government employees during the celebration of International Anti-Corruption Day held in Pasig City.
For this reason, Gutierrez appealed to civil servants and the public as well to trust her office amid criticisms and allegations of bias and impropriety in the handling of controversial cases, including those against former agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn “Jocjoc” Bolante over the P728-million fertilizer fund scam and former justice secretary Hernando “Nani” Perez over the alleged $2-million extortion involving former Manila congressman Mark Jimenez.
Yesterday, several groups including the Makati Business Club (MBC), the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, and the two social arms of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) belonging to the umbrella organization Coalition Against Corruption (CAC), again accused the Office of the Ombudsman of not doing enough to fight corruption in the Philippine government.
“I would like to ask for your trust. Many people criticize and throw allegations at our office – and even at myself. I just hope that you would first await our answer to any charge before believing it. Most of the time, our critics talk about cases that we have not even decided upon,” Gutierrez lamented.
“There is now a need to stage an all-out war against graft and corruption in all levels of our government and society. And this could only be done if we all work together in this war,” she added.
Gutierrez has been accused of favoring allies of the administration of President Arroyo who are facing graft charges before her office allegedly through inordinate delays in investigation and the filing of weak cases that result in dismissals or acquittals.
In an open letter to Gutierrez, a copy of which was sent to The STAR, the groups said they are dismayed over how the Ombudsman’s track record reflects “inaction or downright mishandling of high-profile cases involving large-scale corruption.”
Cases cited by the CAC include the Nani Perez-IMPSA kickbacks, the Comelec-Megapacific computerization deal, the Bolante fertilizer fund scam, and the case of overpriced Cebu lampposts.
They also accused the Office of the Ombudsman of failure to improve its organizational capacity to efficiently perform its investigative and prosecutorial functions.
The CAC further criticized the Office of the Ombudsman for the supposed downtrend in the control of corruption indicators and its sincerity rating in international and local surveys.
MBC executive director Alberto Lim said the CAC’s letter to Gutierrez is a notice or a call for her to improve.
“We’re not happy with her performance and the Office of the Ombudsman,” he told The STAR.
But Gutierrez again scored her critics, saying they have been accusing her without factual proof.
In her Ulat sa Bayan, the Ombudsman revealed that over 16,000 cases have already been resolved since she was appointed by President Arroyo in December 2005 out of a total of 21,000 cases filed before the anti-graft office.
She added that her office would release its findings on the P728-million fertilizer fund mess implicating Bolante next month.
Gutierrez also appealed to government employees not to instantly believe in allegations against their fellow civil servants. She specifically cited the case of officials of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS).
Employees of GSIS were booed by fellow government workers when they were recognized during the event. Their head, Winston Garcia, and other officials are facing several graft charges before the Ombudsman over allegedly questionable investments.
A survey on expatriate businessmen conducted by the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC) earlier this year had placed the Philippines as one of the four most corrupt Asian economies.
The Ombudsman also led yesterday an “integrity march” of some 5,000 government and business and civil society groups.
The group marched from the Rizal Provincial Capitol compound to the Philsports Arena (formerly Ultra) for a short program before noon.
Campaign vs fixers
In a related development, the Office of the Ombudsman and the Civil Service Commission (CSC) have intensified their joint campaign against fixers in government agencies by tapping public participation through text and call hotlines.
In line with yesterday’s celebration of International Anti-Corruption Day, the Ombudsman and CSC launched “Fix the Fixers campaign” that would gather information on fixers from their victims and concerned civil servants.
Under the program, which is established through the Anti-Red Tape Act of 2007, citizens can report fixers by text or phone to the Ombudsman or CSC, which would then investigate and prosecute the offenders.
Complainants may send the details to hotline numbers 927-4102 and 927-4204 or 0926-6994703 for the Ombudsman, and 932-0111 or 0917-8398272 for the CSC.
The key details needed are the alleged fixer’s name, the name and location of the government office where he or she operates, and the date and type of transactions he offers to “fix.”
The Anti-Red Tape Law (RA 9485) imposes stiff penalties on fixers: imprisonment of as long as six years, or a fine of up to P200,000, or both.
Government employees who engage in fixing or collude with fixers are subject to dismissal and perpetual disqualification from public service, on top of the criminal penalties.
The two agencies also affirmed their support to efforts of Congress to raise the salaries of public sector personnel under the Salaries Standardization Law Phase 3 resolution: “With higher government pay especially in the tough economic environment, there will be less incentive and pressure for public servants to engage in corruption.” — With Michael Punongbayan, Jose Rodel Clapano