Political will 4
DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - January 18, 2019 - 12:00am

In our continuing review of the so-called political will of the Duterte administration, we now focus on how they are dealing with corruption. Before anything else, I want to share the comment of Ray Orosa, a retired banker, on what political will entails.

“Many people misunderstand the meaning of ‘political will’. It is not a virtue unless it is understood to mean applied consistently and in accordance with the rule of law and without fear or favor. Otherwise it is sheer dictatorship and rule of fear belonging to the dark ages and not acceptable in a democracy.”

With that understanding of political will, it seems the record of the Duterte administration on dealing with corruption is spotty. Sure, the President fired two fraternity brothers involved in a scandalous bribery case at the Bureau of Immigration. Charges were also filed and that’s the last we heard about it.

Other political allies and friends were treated more kindly to the detriment of public service. A couple of scandalous anomalies at the Department of Tourism worth about P200 million seem to have been forgotten.

 True, the secretary of tourism was fired or allowed to resign, but it doesn’t seem like the President is interested to recover a centavo of taxpayers’ money lost. Otherwise he would be publicly nagging them to return the money as he nagged Lucio Tan to pay about P7 billion in PAL debts and the Rufinos to return the Mile long property.

 The other big thing that belies the President’s anti-corruption stance is his handling of the former senators involved in the Napoles scam. The President should have denounced the outcome of the cases without disrespecting the separation of powers with the judiciary.

 Worse, two of the former senators are part of the senatorial team endorsed by the President and his daughter. Yet, the President keeps on saying even a whiff of corruption displeases him.

 The President’s handling of the rigodon of Customs commissioners is another example showing he isn’t that serious about corruption. There should have been an all out war on corruption at Customs by now, if the President really hates corruption from all sources, including his allies.

 But to the credit of the President, he broke the chain of corruption involving a cigarette manufacturer that past administrations merely winked at. He supported Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez in going after the cigarette manufacturer and collected over P 30 billion in taxes. The manufacturer also sold out to a foreign manufacturer and the right taxes are now being paid.

Friends and allies, like those in the tourism scandal, seem to be exempt from the President’s anti-corruption drive. The President also risked a rice crisis in protecting his favored NFA administrator. Yet, even an even older friend of his documented anomalies happening in the agency.

The biggest challenge to a president who claims to dislike corruption is the congressional pork barrel system. Here, he compromised a big deal when he allowed his budget secretary to put in those “insertions”. Yet, he could have been the one president who had more than enough political support to end this corrupt practice.

As the ongoing pork controversy in the House is revealing, corruption in the conduct of public works projects is very much alive the past two years under Mr Duterte. I don’t think he is involved, but corruption is still going on under his watch.

And the President is giving mixed signals about his attitude towards corruption. He joked last week about kidnapping and torturing COA examiners. COA is the constitutional body that has revealed a good number of questionable deals in many line agencies under the President. This kind of joke from the President can demoralize COA’s field auditors and result in more corruption going undiscovered and unpunished.

 The worse kind of corruption is, of course, the failure of agencies to deliver services expected of them. Why, for example, are people still dying in landslides when government already has the danger zone data needed to prevent such deaths?

 It is getting tiresome to hear Palace spokesmen make it seem like the only corruption we should deplore happened in the previous administration. There are enough things going on now, more than a whiff, that Mr. Duterte should be mad about as well.

Political will to deal with corruption is weak. Mr. Orosa sums up this failure: “is that a matter of political will or deliberate obfuscation for you know what reasons or just sheer incompetence. At times the situation is deliberately muddled or made difficult for many million reasons. Political will is used  disingenuously to create opportunities for grafting with a seeming straight face.”

 By and large, there had been little perceptible change in the corruption scene. The President is all words, all promises. He goes ballistic so long as the person involved is not a friend or ally.

Dealing with corruption is one big area where results can be felt on the ground. Failure also reduces a president’s credibility over time.

 Corruption dissipates resources on a massive scale given our national budget in the trillions of pesos. Duterte promised to stop corruption. This is one promise we all hope he will keep.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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