5 agencies in task force crosshairs
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the BOC and the BIR have been considered as “corruption-prone agencies,” along with the Department of Public Works and Highways, Bureau of Immigration and Land Registration Authority, the last two being under his jurisdiction.
STAR/File
5 agencies in task force crosshairs
Robertzon Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - October 29, 2020 - 12:00am

PACC finalizing report on congressmen in DPWH graft

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Justice (DOJ) has identified the Bureau of Customs (BOC) and Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) as the government agencies that will be prioritized in the investigation on corrupt practices and irregularities in the government. Three other agencies are also on the priority list.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the BOC and the BIR have been considered as “corruption-prone agencies,” along with the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Bureau of Immigration (BI) and Land Registration Authority (LRA), the last two being under his jurisdiction.

“Perhaps we will prioritize agencies in the national level that are really prone to corruption. We know what these agencies are, and we have already identified these,” Guevarra said in Filipino in a radio interview yesterday.

“The DPWH is also among our targets since the President recently mentioned about it. The usual suspects really, and they are always in the news, are the Bureau of Customs and the Bureau of Internal Revenue. Agencies under the Department of Justice itself – the Land Registration Authority,” he added.

Guevarra emphasized that there is an ongoing investigation on the alleged “pastillas scheme” in the BI and alleged irregularities and anomalies in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).

The mega task force will also conduct an investigation on the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), particularly on procurement activities in relation to overpricing and the like, according to the DOJ chief.

Considering it as a welcome development, Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero told The STAR in a text message that Customs officials would cooperate with the DOJ in whatever investigation it would conduct to rid the bureau of corruption.

Guerrero emphasized that there is already an ongoing investigation by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) – an attached agency of the DOJ – to determine the alleged corrupt practices in the BOC.

“There are in fact cases of BOC personnel pending with the DOJ and investigations pending with the NBI. The BOC will cooperate and welcome any and all investigations in support of the fight to rid the agency of corruption,” he said.

President Duterte has ordered Guevarra to come up with a “mega task force” that will look into alleged corrupt practices in the entire government a few months after the alleged scandal in PhilHealth and alleged corrupt practices in the DPWH were uncovered.

Guevarra said he immediately called for a meeting with senior DOJ officials, undersecretaries, assistant secretaries, chief state counsel, head of the National Prosecution Service (NPS) and heads of attached agencies.

He added that they are ready to take on the challenge of the President.

The DOJ chief, however, admitted that Duterte’s recent order is a “mission impossible” as he noted that corruption is ingrained in the system, dating back to past administrations.

Guevarra said they will do their best to at least “substantially reduce” corruption in the government.

In conducting the investigation, Guevarra said they would revive the special panel that probed the anomalies in PhilHealth, which is composed of the DOJ, NBI, Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) and the Office of the Special Assistant to the President.

The NPS, the Anti-Money Laundering Council, the Commission on Audit (COA), the Civil Service Commission (CSC) and the Office of the Ombudsman are also part of the special panel.

Guevarra said that they would consider the magnitude of the alleged anomalies in the concerned government agency in their investigation, which has a “twin goal” – to prosecute those involved in corruption and to install anti-corruption mechanisms in government agencies.

“So we’re talking here about values, magnitude of the funds involved. The memo mentioned the possible impact on the delivery of government service to be considered in choosing which agency will be investigated by the task force,” he added.

Guevarra emphasized that the investigation would not only focus on the national level as they will also go down to the regional and local levels to trace the roots of the alleged corrupt practices, similar to what they did in the PhilHealth case.

Expecting overwhelming complaints from the public, he said they have organized a secretariat that will handle, sort out, evaluate and prioritize public complaints and investigative reports of some journalists so that the task force can determine what will be prioritized.

He added that they would also coordinate with Congress when conducting an investigation on alleged corrupt practices in the government, but he noted that the DOJ would not only rely on public complaints.

‘Mega task force to address PACC limitations’

The PACC welcomed the creation of the mega task force that will probe corruption in the entire government, saying it will address restrictions that prevent them from investigating some officials.

“With the task force, similar to our experience in Task Force PhilHealth, this is going to be effective,” Commissioner Greco Belgica of the PACC said in an interview with “The Chiefs” aired on One News/TV 5 on Tuesday night.

“We were expecting this to happen. It’s a welcome development because this task force will address restrictions or limitations of our jurisdiction,” he added in mixed English and Filipino.

Created by President Duterte in 2017, the PACC is tasked to investigate allegations of graft and corruption involving presidential appointees.

This limitation, according to Belgica, causes problems as it prevents them from investigating corruption allegations against lower-level government employees and elected officials such as lawmakers and local officials.

“We receive a lot of complaints against local government units, elected officials and legislators that we cannot handle because our jurisdiction in PACC is limited only to presidential appointees,” he said.

With the mega task force, the commissioner said various agencies would be able to coordinate and share reports and findings about their respective investigations.

Belgica, however, stressed that member agencies would still maintain their independence and continue to perform their respective mandates and jurisdictions.

“We work together, but we still keep our identities as mandated to us,” he said.

On the PACC’s part, Belgica said the commission would submit an initial report on its investigation involving alleged irregularities within the DPWH to the Office of the President this week.

He added that the report would include the name of congressmen facing allegations “as to the choice of contractor, the choice of district engineers that result in substandard projects.”

The PACC official reiterated that they have no jurisdiction over lawmakers, but noted that some names came up in the course of their investigation of the DPWH.

Asked if Duterte’s support for the DPWH secretary will have an impact on their investigation, Belgica said they work for the President and follow his direction.

“However, things may change if the evidence will present itself,” Belgica added.

In a televised address on Tuesday, Duterte ordered the same interagency body that investigated alleged corruption within PhilHealth to expand its probe to cover the entire government.

Duterte directed Guevarra to again lead the task force.

Independence

Asked about the independence of the constitutional bodies, Justice Undersecretary and spokesperson Emmeline Aglipay-Villar said these would not be part of the core group composed of several executive agencies.

“However, we can work with these constitutional bodies in order to better investigate these allegations of corruption in the government,” Villar told “The Chiefs” also on Tuesday.

The core group would have to determine which agencies would be prioritized in their investigation, in addition to the DPWH that was identified by the President, according to Villar.

“We have to heed the directive of the government to prioritize based on the gravity of allegations of corruption and also its impact on the delivery of services to the public,” she said.

“The core group has to determine which of these agencies would probably be the first to be investigated,” she added.

Villar, the wife of DPWH Secretary Mark Villar, clarified that she is not part of any investigation involving the office headed by her husband.

Duterte also reiterated his trust in the DPWH chief, saying he has nothing against him as he is hardworking and has a lot of accomplishments.

“Secretary Villar has a lot of money. He does not need to commit corruption. The problem is in the lower ranks, it is still rampant,” the President said in Filipino in a televised address on Oct. 19.

Meanwhile, the PACC will also meet to discuss another case that involves the DPWH and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), according to Belgica.

“I submitted it to the commission for formal investigation,” he said.

“Maybe the (investigating) office has already finished the DPWH and DENR (report) and we can already submit it to the Office of the President,” he added, but did not disclose details of the investigation. – Janvic Mateo, Paolo Romero, Edu Punay, Robertzon Ramirez, Sheila Crisostomo

BOC DOJ DPWH GRAFT PACC
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