Cost of doing business

HIDDEN AGENDA - Mary Ann LL. Reyes (The Philippine Star) - October 17, 2018 - 12:00am

A few months’ back, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) reiterated concerns raised by local and foreign businessman alike about persistent graft and corrupt practices in government.

Their concern is understandable. According to the Corruption Perception Index, the Philippines placed 111th out of 190 countries surveyed in 2017, thus obtaining its lowest score in a global corruption ranking in five years and slipping 10 places. The last time the country scored that low was in 2012.

Graft and corruption does not only make doing business more costly. It also takes away from the people public funds which could have been used to finance projects that could improve their lives, instead of the money going to the pockets of a few corrupt public officials.

In 2017, President Duterte created the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission under Executive Order 43. The commission was tasked to directly assist the President in investigating and/or hearing administrative cases primarily involving graft and corruption against presidential appointees and other public officers.

According to the PACC, while it has jurisdiction over presidential appointees nationwide, it will also conduct lifestyle checks on all government officials. PACC commissioner and spokesman Greco Belgica said they would begin with heads of departments, followed by local government officials, and then members of the Senate and the House of Representatives. This will be done by looking into their statement of assets, liabilities, and net worths or SALNs, comparing what the officials earn and see if it willl match what they own.

We also have the Office of the Ombudsman, led by retired Supreme Court associate justice Samuel Martires who has vowed to stop corruption, even within its own institution.

A recent filing with the Office of the Ombudsman by a coalition led by PACC’s Greco against House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya for the latter’s alleged failure to declare several millions of pesos worth of property in his SALN should serve as a test case for Martires.  

Upon his assumption of office, Martires had vowed that there would be no sacred cows in the investigation of cases filed before the Ombudsman during his watch.

In his complaint against Andaya, the Belgica-led Truth and Justice Coalition accused the Bicol congressman of having unexplained and undeclared wealth  as shown by questionable entries in his SALN for 2016 and 2017. 

 The group wants the Ombudsman to bring Andaya and his wife to court for perjury, falsification, and  violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, along with the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials, on top of filing administrative charges against the congressman for serious dishonesty and grave misconduct. 

 Belgica said it is grossly impossible that Andaya’s net worth remained unchanged at P45.6 million in 2016 and 2017.

Aside from several foreign trips from 2015 to 2017 by Andaya and his family, Belgica said Andaya failed to declare nine pieces of real property which were either in the name of Andaya or his wife, or his business enterprise, the Noy and Ning’s Corp.

This corporate entity, which as of April this year had a paid-up capital of P31 million, was also left undeclared in Andaya’s SALN, Belgica said.

 The complaint also alleged that Andaya declared his vehicles as having a value of P3.5 million, when their total combined current value should have been P12.45  million.  

Belgica said he received information that Andaya and his wife own five bulletproof Land Cruisers, valued at about P5 million each, which are registered in the name of other persons, and several firearms, among others.

The PACC commissioner also said that Andaya omitted to declare his relatives in government service, namely, his sister Maria Belen Andaya Eusebio, who was elected mayor of Pasig city from 2013 to 2016; his sister’s husband, Bobby Eusebio, who was elected Pasig mayor in 2016; his first cousin, Salvador Senar Jr., who was mayor of Magaro, Camarines Sur from 2013 to 2016, and is currently board member of the province; and Warren Senar, another first cousin, who was Camarines Sur board member from 2013 to 2016. 

 The SALN is not only a statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth, but also a disclosure of financial connections or business interests, and identification of relatives within the fourth degree of consanguinity or affinity.

In the complaint, Belgica urged the Ombudsman to place Andaya under preventive suspension pending its investigation into the allegations. If found guilty, he urged the Ombudsman to indict Andaya and dismiss him from government service and declare Andaya and his wife’s “perpetual disqualification to hold public office.”  

For his part, Andaya claimed that the complaint by the Truth and Justice Coalition was an expensive political hatchet job launched by his opponents in the run-up to the 2019 elections.  Andaya, who is in his third and last term as representative of the 1st district of Camarines Sur, plans to run for governor of the province next year. 

Andaya said his political opponents have vast resources at their disposal to malign his name.

As PACC commissioner, Belgica said he was told by President Duterte that he should spare no one in his campaign to rid the government of crooks. 

The filing of SALNs is the only way by which the public officers and employees could be accountable to the people. Being a public document, the public can scrutinize the filings to find out if our public servants are worthy of the trust bestowed on them, especially when they were elected to their positions.

The Constitution gives us a clear reminder: “Public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must, at all times, be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty and efficiency; act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.”

For comments, e-mail at mareyes@philstarmedia.com

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