PHL: No. 129th in 2011 corruption survey
FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel O Abalos () - February 13, 2012 - 12:00am

A night away, the 14th, is the most important date of the month of February. This day emphasizes the significance of the widely regarded cupid’s month of February. As folklore suggests, it is the month cupid perpetually nurtured as lovers’ month; a month of peace; a month of mutual assurances; and a month where truths are revealed in whispers. 

However, on the contrary, by all indications, cupid completely abandoned us this month. As felt, instead of romantic whispers, we heard ugly shouting matches in the impeachment trial; instead of assurances of safety, we chilled on alleged death threats; and instead of government’s allegations of providing protection to its citizens and foreign nationals alike, we heard claims of kidnapping.

The timing maybe off but timing isn’t truth’s concern. It seeks its own path without fear. In fact, it reveals itself in many forms. There are thousands that come in audit reports, hundreds from the losing bidders, a handful from well-meaning citizens as whistleblowers, fewer-than-expected testimonies of bank executives on huge deposits by high ranking government officials and a pinch from some seemingly self-righteous lawmakers a.k.a politicians. 

The general public, however, treat truths differently. Some are factual but are taken for granted. A few are unfounded allegations but are embraced upon as gospel truth. Whatever the motivations are, one thing is certain, every session (senate and congress) or hearing in the impeachment court is an opportunity to make one’s face recognizable for re-election. Thus, assertions as to one’s honesty and authenticity of one’s allegations as well as their ways of handling the investigations or impeachment court hearings are ostensibly filled with biases and are to be taken with caution.

Therefore, in dealing with these allegations, first and foremost, we must deal with educated perceptions and results of factual examinations. On perceptions, there is one significant survey that we can deal with. The Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) of Transparency International (TI). TI defines corruption as “the abuse of public office for private gain”. Guided by this definition, TI’s corruption surveys “draw on assessments and opinion surveys carried out by independent and reputable institutions. These surveys and assessments include questions related to the bribery of public officials, kickbacks in public procurement, embezzlement of public funds, and the effectiveness of public sector anti-corruption efforts”. 

Based on such criteria, the 2011 CPI survey (which included 183 countries) ranked the Philippines at 129. Though we are five (5) rungs better than last year’s 134th, undeniably, we are still among the cellar dwellers. If there is any consolation, we were in a tie with the civil war-torn Syria and several notches higher than the politically unstable African countries like, Chad and Kenya, the war-ravaged countries like Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq, the reclusive country of North Korea and the lawless country of Somalia.

To recall, since early 2008 we have had sensational cases involving billions of pesos. For one, who will ever forget Joey de Venecia’s allegations of rigged bidding of the ZTE’s broadband deal? With the reinforcement of Rodolfo “J-Lo” Lozada’s testimonies on the NBN and Southrail projects’ kickbacks, such claims should have been credible. To the country’s dismay, the senate investigation led us nowhere. Then, as the 2010 election neared, some senators cried over Villar’s manipulation of the C-5 deal. While, he lost in his presidential bid, the allegations never went a step farther. Then, in 2010, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) took the center-stage of yet another broiling controversy. Whether these investigations will lead us to unbiased conclusions, we do not know. What is certain is, aside from one casualty in former DENR Sec. Angelo Reyes, and impeachment hearings of the senate, these investigations will just drag on until the 2013 election, then a day after, will be blown to oblivion.

On the other hand, there are hundreds of factual reports from the Commission on Audit (COA). Frustratingly, however, never did we hear any of these reports reaching both houses of congress in the same interest as some senators’ allegations of Villar’s manipulation of the C-5 deal, Joey de Venecia’s allegations of rigged bidding of the ZTE’s broadband deal, the AFP Generals’ “paba-on” or Chief Justice Corona’s unexplained wealth.

For instance, in COA’s 2006 audit report on the official development assistance (ODA) funded projects, it highlighted that ODA loans, which enjoy very low interest rates and payable in longer terms, are still considered as the country’s best source of funds. Sadly, however, some infrastructure projects funded through these funds were suspended due to non-compliance with Republic Act No. 9184, otherwise known as, the Government Procurement Reform Act. Worst, land acquisitions totaling P36.089 million were noted to be unnecessary and overpriced. Blatantly too, said report revealed that there were unliquidated cash advances/fund transfers of P1.563 billion. These projects, where lapses cost us billions, are scattered in several districts all over the country. Districts that are under the influence of our lawmakers who could have helped keep these projects above board. With these lawmakers and other line agencies coordinating, compliance could have been assured. Ironically, however, these are conspicuously happening despite theirs and NEDA’s presence, an agency that is tasked to regularly monitor and review all ODA funded projects. It is surprising too, that despite the regular meetings among the project implementing agencies (IAs), Department of Finance (DOF), Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and NEDA (as required by law) to address bottlenecks and issues on project implementation, these are left uncorrected.

Moreover, the taxpayers have already spent huge amount of money for the development of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). The truth is, the Commission on Audit (COA), in their examinations of the accounts and records of ARMM in 2008, reported that among other very serious infractions, the correctness of their bank accounts cannot be ascertained as bank reconciliations are not prepared. Moreover, huge cash advances have remained unliquidated. Worst, their (COA) reports have oft-repeatedly emphasized that they extremely doubt the physical existence of property, plant and equipment due to the continuous failure of the agency to conduct physical inventory. Likewise, the Province of Maguindanao (one of the provinces of ARMM were the Ampatuans once rule) is in total financial disarray. For instance, COA’s audit revealed that the validity, existence and correctness of its cash in bank amounting to P107,268,451.94 cannot be ascertained due to the inability of the office of the provincial accountant to prepare monthly bank reconciliation statements for the entire year. Moreover, fixed assets valued at P345,227,725.51 cannot be ascertained due to the absence of unit value, physical count and subsidiary records. Worst, even the withheld amounts from employees for their contributions to the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), PAGIBIG and PHILHEALTH totaling P7,088,625.70 are still unremitted. Ironically, the Province of Maguindanao solely exists on annual internal revenue allotments of over PhP500 million. Incredibly, despite all the mansions and businesses of the Ampatuans, Maguindanao earned a measly PhP204,294.62 in local taxes for the whole year of 2008.

These observations of COA are both substantial and factual, yet, are left in the freezer. Or probably, are now on its way to the archives. These reports could have triggered the same intense investigation as the ZTE deal if taken up by our lawmakers. Yet, we hear nothing. Since, year in and year out, we can be assured that similar lapses will be committed by the same implementing agencies, we can just wish that they’ll take this up with the same zest as that of the ZTE deal investigation, the Villar’s C-5 fiasco, the AFP generals’ “paba-on” quiz, as well as, the Chief Justice Corona’s impeachment trial.

Lest we forget, there are two parties to a transaction. Therefore, there are two players in an anomalous deal. Either the unscrupulous customer demands a sum to give his nod to the project or the supplier offers a bribe to get it. When one refuses, a deal isn’t made. Obviously, therefore, every anomalous deal is not a marriage of two strange bedfellows but a union of human beings of the same breed and immoral upbringing. 

Indeed, if still left unattended, we can just surmise that our lawmakers will only shout their hearts out if they are not part of the deal. If they are, expect a deafening silence.

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