Justice chief eyes 'strike forces' for 'simultaneous attacks' on corrupt agencies
This undated photo shows Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra at a Senate committee hearing.
The STAR/Mong Pintolo

Justice chief eyes 'strike forces' for 'simultaneous attacks' on corrupt agencies

Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - October 27, 2020 - 11:40am

MANILA, Philippines — Following President Rodrigo Duterte's latest order, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he may create "several strike forces" to investigate government agencies that are prone to corruption.

Duterte tapped Guevarra to lead a task force against corruption in the “entire government,” a task that the justice secretary admitted is the “toughest” assignment that the president has given him.

Guevarra's task force will exist alongside the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission, which was created in 2017 after Duterte threatened to investigate the Office of the Ombudsman for looking into allegations that he has undisclosed wealth.

The Office of the Ombudsman is itself an anti-corruption body, as is the Commission on Audit. Ombudsman Samuel Martires has issued new guidelines restricting public access to officials' Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth and has said the agency no longer conducts lifestyle checks because he finds them illogical.

READ: What is a lifestyle check?

Duterte has, in the past, ordered Guevarra to form task forces to look into alleged corruption, as in the investigation into corruption ay PhilHealth.

'Simultaneous attack' on corruption-prone agencies

In a message to reporters, the DOJ chief said: “Considering the breadth of the anti-corruption campaign, I will immediately focus on the organizational set-up and mechanism that will carry out the president’s directive till the end of this term, as well as the order of priorities.”

“Tentatively, I am thinking of creating several strike forces that will simultaneously attack various corruption-prone agencies,” he added.

Guevarra explained he will focus first on organizing the main task force and determining the overall strategy they will take.

He also admitted that with his new task, he would need all the support and cooperation of all government agencies in his new task.

“It will help us a lot if government workers themselves and the people they deal with would come forward and provide us with the necessary information to uncover corrupt activities and identify the perpetrators thereof. The new and expanded anti-corruption task force will take it from there,” Guevarra added.

Aside from heading the anti-corruption task force, Guevarra is already leading the DOJ and the ongoing review of "drug war" operations that led to deaths of "drug personalities."

Duterte’s directive for the task force will remain in effect until June 30, 2022 or when he steps down from office.

Ombudsman powers

It is unclear if the task force’s work will overlap with that of the PACC, which has been conducting its own investigations into alleged corruption.

It is also unclear how it will interact with the Office of Ombudsman, which has motu propio powers or can launch criminal and administrative investigations, into alleged anomalies in the government.

Duterte said that cases involving “big money” go directly to the Ombudsman, but this does not preclude the president from investigating officials and agencies.

He said that with the task force, the case will have been investigated and would carry a recommendation by the time it reaches the Office of the Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman can pursue administrative cases and also prosecute corruption cases at the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court.

PhilHealth, DPWH corruption

Guevarra previously led the investigation into alleged corruption at PhilHealth. 

The National Bureau of Investigation has filed the first batch of complaints against former and incumbent officers of the state insurer before the Office of the Ombudsman after the DOJ-led task force submitted its report to Duterte. The president approved the filing of raps.

The NBI, an attached agency of the DOJ, said they will file more complaints once the composite teams conducting deeper probes into PhilHealth finishes their investigation.

Currently, the Department of Public Works and Highways is also embroiled in corruption allegations, but Duterte has said he “has nothing against” DPWH Secretary Mark Villar, saying he is hard working and has many accomplishments.

The DPWH secretary last week created a task force to look into corruption allegations within its department.

Justice Undersecretary Emmeline Aglipay-Villar, Secretary Villar's wife,  said in a message to reporters that Guevarra has yet to give instructions on the task force, but explained that she has not participated in teams investigating corruption in the past.

“Matters assigned to me are usually review of contracts and other matters assigned to the legal staff. But even in cases involving review of contracts, I will not participate if there is any conflict," she added.

READ: ‘Up to Duterte to identify lawmakers in DPWH graft’

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