Mega task force formed vs corruption
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, who described President Duterte’s order as the most difficult assignment so far, wants several strike force units to look into activities of corruption-prone agencies.
Edd Gumban
Mega task force formed vs corruption
Edith Regalado (The Philippine Star) - October 28, 2020 - 12:00am

DOJ chief heads probe of ‘all’ government agencies

DAVAO CITY, Philippines — Bewailing what he called untrammeled corruption in government, President Duterte yesterday ordered an investigation of the entire bureaucracy, assigning the job to a “mega task force” – the same body that investigated irregularities in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), but with expanded powers.

In a recorded televised address yesterday, the President said he has ordered the special body that investigated PhilHealth to expand its probe to include the entire government, particularly the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

He said officials and personnel should expect suspensions in the next few days as his administration goes full throttle in its drive against corruption.

“In the coming days, expect suspension. Kung i-suspend kita, may duda ako. Hindi ako mag-suspend ng walang kasalanan (If I suspend you, it’s because I have suspicion. I don’t suspend anyone who is faultless),” the President said.

Duterte said the investigating body’s powers will remain until the end of his term on June 30, 2022 or even beyond, unless his successor abolishes it.

He ordered Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra to again lead the revitalized task force.

“This is my second call for a total campaign against corruption. Iyong task force na nabuo ko (The task force that I formed), this time we will look into every department. But upon my request, to focus on corruption in DPWH,” he said in his address broadcast from Davao City yesterday morning.

“I hope that all government workers, officials are listening. This is a memorandum to (Justice) Secretary Menardo Guevarra to investigate allegations of corruption in the entire government,” he added.

Duterte created the task force in August to investigate PhilHealth. It was led by the Department of Justice and included officials from the Office of the Ombudsman, Commission on Audit, Civil Service Commission, Office of the Executive Secretary, Office of the President and the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission. The task force’s next priority after DPWH is the Department of Agriculture.

Despite his request for “special focus” on DPWH, Duterte reiterated his trust in Secretary Mark Villar.

“Let me state here and now: I have nothing against Secretary Villar. He’s one of the hardworking at maraming accomplishments. But accomplishments alone, to me, should not suffice,” he said.

“In pursuit of this directive, the DOJ shall have the authority to decide which allegation to investigate, taking into consideration the gravity thereof and their impact on the delivery of government service,” Duterte said in his order to the DOJ chief.

Duterte said the DOJ may create as many panels as it deems necessary and may even invite or direct other bodies and agencies of the government to assist or be a part of the panel.

The Chief Executive also stressed that the DOJ shall prosecute and file the appropriate charges against all those found involved in the anomalies.

“The power and authority of the DOJ under existing laws and previous directives to investigate the commission of crimes and prosecute violators shall not, in any way, be diminished by this directive. This directive shall remain in effect until June 30 of 2022,” he said.

He said he trusts that the ombudsman will vigorously perform its function of investigating and prosecuting errant officials.

“But pagka akyat kasi nito doon (When it goes up there), may recommendation na. And if the ombudsman will say that it’s a well-studied complaint, then obviously you are going to jail,” Duterte said.

He said corrupt officials should bear in mind that it’s their families and loved ones who would ultimately suffer shame and humiliation.

The President likewise reiterated he has no plans to dissolve PhilHealth despite its being hounded by corruption.

Get things done quick

Asked why the President had to create a “mega panel” when there is already a Presidential Anti-Crime Commission (PACC), presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said the Chief Executive wants things done immediately.

He said that under the new arrangement, there would be greater coordination among investigative bodies of the government and less likelihood of overlapping functions, especially between the ombudsman and the PACC.

“I guess it’s the President emphasizing that in the remaining two years of his term he will give utmost priority to the fight against corruption,” Roque said at a virtual press briefing yesterday.

“And of course there is no prohibition, so it is allowed and whether we like it or not, even if there is an Office of the Ombudsman, the biggest public prosecutor is still under the Department of Justice because the number of prosecutors that we have under the DOJ are simply… probably 20 times more than the lawyers that they have at the Office of the Ombudsman,” Roque said.

Asked if the President has lost his confidence in anti-corruption bodies, Roque said the Chief Executive is looking at leaving a legacy of clean government as the end of his term approaches.

Roque reiterated that the President has always wanted to stamp out corruption since he started his presidency in 2016.

“He wants it done yesterday which means it has to be done at the soonest time possible. He wants to see them behind bars to set an example, lessen corruption in agencies like DPWH, Customs and others,” he said.

Although there is the so-called separation of powers between the three branches of the government, Roque said the mega task force may investigate, if necessary, members of Congress and local officials involved in corruption.

“The mandate of DOJ is to investigate everyone… while our elected members of Congress and the Senate enjoy some immunity, but it is not for violating of anti-graft laws.  Despite the separation of powers, all elected officials are included in the investigation,” Roque said.

Sen. Bong Go praised the administration’s renewed drive against corruption and called on the public to support it.

“I laud President Duterte for heeding our call to create a bigger and expanded task force to combat all forms of systemic corruption in the government,” Go said.

“We will spare no one, no sacred cow. Charge those who should be charged. Towards the last one year and eight months of this administration, we must not hesitate in our quest to eradicate corruption,” Go said.

House backs expanded probe

Speaker Lord Allan Velasco expressed support for President Duterte’s declaration of a government-wide investigation of corruption.

“The House of Representatives fully supports President Duterte’s directive for the conduct of a large-scale investigation into allegations of corruption in the entire government,” he said in a statement.

“We fully understand that the President is doing this out of his frustration over chronic corruption in government, and the House leadership is one with him in his desire to rid the bureaucracy of corrupt officials and employees in the remainder of his term,” the House leader pointed out.

The Marinduque congressman said he would also support an investigation by the executive branch on reported involvement of some congressmen in corrupt practices, particularly in the DPWH.

“While we are saddened that some congressmen and the institution have been dragged into this controversy, we welcome such probe by any government agency, as an investigation by the House would be self-serving and would only create a cloud of doubt,” the Speaker stressed.

House dangerous drugs committee chairman Robert Ace Barbers said some congressmen might indeed be involved in corruption in the DPWH as claimed by PACC chief Greco Belgica.

“A lot of these reports, although not yet validated at this point, I would presume that there is truth to these reports that also reached my office – there are really congressmen involved,” he said at a virtual press conference.

“We’ve been in politics for quite a long time so we know that there are people in government that are actually engaged or involved in graft and corruption,” the Surigao Del Norte congressman stressed.

“What I’m saying is that the PACC commissioner will not make such statements if he has no legal basis, so to speak, or he has not gathered enough evidence to name a few,” he explained.

Barbers stressed that while the PACC’s move is “great news” to stop systemic corruption, congressmen are not covered by the commission’s powers.

“As we understood it, the PACC has no mandate or coverage on members of Congress. Remember we belong to the legislature and PACC only covers executives or appointees in the executive department,” he pointed out.

Still, the congressman supported calls for investigation and said the House by itself can look into the allegations but with an imprimatur from the Speaker and via a resolution.

“But personally, I would rather let the other agencies or the appropriate agency investigate it. Remember the investigation to be done in Congress is in aid of legislation, so we have a lot of laws that protect public funds and recommend prosecution against corrupt officials,” he added. — Evelyn Macairan, Edu Punay, Cecille Suerte-Felipe

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