DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - October 21, 2020 - 12:00am

In his recorded televised address a week ago, President Duterte once more expressed frustration over corruption in government. This time, he said, he heard reports of corruption in DPWH.

“The contractors…  The first whiff… they will ask you once they smell…. This is prevalent at the DPWH, where project engineers and all, on road right-of-way, there is massive corruption,” the President said.

Money changes hands, the President said, even before the start of a project. “No construction starts without it.”

Sen. Panfilo Lacson also said contractors openly talk and define officials from the executive and legislative branches who ask for “only” 10 percent are “mabait, maginoong kausap” and those who demand 20 to 30 percent are “matakaw,” while those who demand advance payments and renege on their word as “balasubas” and “mandurugas.”

“If Congress really wants to know, the projects at the DPWH have some leeway for that… I do not know who… There are so many officials lined up in the bureaucratic maze, so I am not privy to that, even in medicine (procurement) and all,” Duterte said.

Yun naman pala. Alam nila laganap ang corruption at DPWH. And what do our congressmen do? They put in P345 billion in lumpsum in the DPWH budget. We already know those are the pork funds of congressmen.

No one respects our anti-corruption laws because no big fish gets convicted for the crime. The fight against corruption requires a justice system that punishes corruption swiftly.

I understand that Japan and Hong Kong’s anti-corruption courts have a conviction rate of 90 and 80 percent respectively. Ours hovers under 30 percent, mostly lowly clerks.

The Commission on Audit’s 2019 report shows we lose P700 billion to corruption annually.

With just about two years left in his term, Duterte should be embarrassed about being a complete failure in curbing corruption. After all, he promised to fight it once elected.

Duterte is largely to blame because every time one of his trusted appointees get enmeshed in a corruption scandal, he quickly says he continues to trust that official. He did that with PhilHealth.

It was in PhilHealth where the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission reported P153 billion was lost to corruption over five years. The PACC cited ghost patients, fake receipts, admission beyond bed capacity, “upcasing” of claims, fake members, and laxity in premium collection.

Given Duterte’s trust of military men and military tradition, he should demand command responsibility from all his appointees. But he does not do that. He shields his appointees.

In the face of a COA finding of P2.2B worth of DOH drugs expired or sitting in storage, Duterte expressed outrage over the report, but declined to hold the Health Secretary responsible for wasting taxpayers’ money.

Duterte may have also made a mistake in naming the current ombudsman. It is surprising that the ombudsman junked the strongest weapons he has in fighting corruption – the SALN and lifestyle checks.

If he knows his business, the ombudsman should use SALN data as basic inputs into a digital database. Then, use artificial intelligence to ferret out officials whose net worth over the period of time has gone beyond reported taxable income.

The ombudsman should ask for the enactment of a law that makes it automatic for anyone on a government salary to waive rights to bank secrecy. This will allow the Anti Money Laundering Council to use data from the accounts to seek out the truly corrupt.

An article in The Diplomat reports: “One dynastic senator saw his wealth increase by over P500 million in just three years, while another saw her wealth increase by P1.9 billion in just six years.

“Among dynastic congressmen whose SALNs we tracked, we saw even more impressive growth rates in wealth, ranging from almost 200 percent to well over 300 percent just in one term (three years)…

“On the other hand, a public official suddenly becoming extraordinarily wealthy while in public office should be a clear anti-corruption red flag.”

If Duterte is serious about his desire to contain corruption, he should start using technology to get into the innards of transactions people have with the government. But no politician, Duterte included, really wants that to happen or it would have happened by now.

Now that we are in the budget season, Sen. Lacson is complaining that the national budget had been “mangled” or “mutilated” by the House.

The mangled version, the senator said, contained a pattern of decreased budgets for national projects and increased budgets for local projects. Lacson said he has identified a total of P70 billion in the budget allocated for “multipurpose buildings” across the country.

Sen. Lacson said he would propose a cut or realignment of what he called excessive and unjustified “amendments” to the 2021 national budget “illegally” made by the DPWH.

I wonder if that will work. It will be tough to get that through the conference committee with the House. The DPWH budget was mangled by congressmen lusting for pork funds, not DPWH.

The new Speaker might agree to cut some from the outrageous allocations of Taguig and Camarines Sur, but pork is the grease that runs the House. Good luck in excising those insertions in the budget.

The only way for Duterte to deliver a strong message is to line item veto pork insertions, specially in the DPWH budget. Why DPWH? Because as the President himself said, corruption is prevalent there.

Between the approving officials, the contractors and the congressmen, very little is left to do a credible project. And if all they want to build are multipurpose halls, as Sen Lacson claims, the impact on our economic growth will be minimal.

Corruption and the drug menace were the two top priorities of Duterte when he assumed office. He has expressed frustration and admitted failure in both.

I wonder… if he gave corruption the same deadly attention that he gave the drug problem, would Duterte be as frustrated with his lack of accomplishments now?



Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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