Mega task force urged: Review pending corruption cases, too
In making the proposal, CSC commissioner Aileen Lizada yesterday said several corruption complaints remain pending for years with several investigating bodies and agencies, with no cases yet filed against concerned officials.
STAR/File
Mega task force urged: Review pending corruption cases, too
Elizabeth Marcelo (The Philippine Star) - October 30, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The newly formed “mega task force” against corruption should also look into pending complaints so that appropriate cases could finally be filed and promptly acted upon, Civil Service Commission (CSC) commissioner Aileen Lizada said in a statement.

In making the proposal, Lizada yesterday said several corruption complaints remain pending for years with several investigating bodies and agencies, with no cases yet filed against concerned officials.

Lizada cited as example corruption allegations against several officials of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).

She said complaints against the PhilHealth officials were pending for more than 15 years before charges were finally lodged against them before the Office of the Ombudsman.

“That’s why the creation of the mega task force is very much welcome because its primary objective is to really look into corruption within government. It would aid the ombudsman in its investigation and fast-track the filing of cases,” Lizada said in Filipino.

The CSC, she said, is ready to help the task force in investigating government agencies through data gathering and information sharing.

Lizada said the CSC can forward the records of administrative complaints related to corruption filed with the commission. She said CSC’s records may serve as lead for the task force in the conduct of its investigation.

“We would like to extend our support and cooperation to this mega task force. They just need to tell us what support or assistance they need from the CSC,” Lizada said.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra had earlier met with the chiefs of the National Prosecution Service and National Bureau of Investigation, which form the core group of the mega task force, to discuss the conduct of investigation.

Guevarra said the task force will focus on national agencies under the executive department as well as on offices perceived as prone to corruption such as the Department of Public Works and Highways, Bureau of Customs, Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Land Registration Authority.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said Malacañang welcomes the task force’s focus on key government departments in its investigation.

“We fully support that. Traditionally, corruption is massive and systemic in these agencies,” he said in Filipino.

Defending Rody

Roque also rejected Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s comment that the mega task force seemed to have started on the wrong foot with President Duterte’s supposedly clearing Public Works Secretary Mark Villar and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III of any liability for corrupt practices in their departments.

Roque noted that the Chief Executive had never hesitated to let go even close allies found involved in corruption, citing as example former PhilHealth chief Ricardo Morales, who bowed out of office for health reasons.

As a veteran lawyer and public official, Roque said the President knows how to assess evidence presented to him and that only when evidence turns out weak that he would keep his allies under his wing.

He said the President will not hesitate to fire an erring official even if he is close to him or has praised him excessively in the past.

For House appropriations chairman Rep. Eric Yap, departments notorious for corruption should be hit where it hurts most – budget.

He said he would seek additional institutional amendments to the budget of corrupt agencies at the bicameral conference committee hearing on the proposed P4.506-trillion national budget for next year.

“I will suggest in the bicam to cut the funds of agencies that are filled with corruption,” he told reporters at a virtual press conference via Zoom.

“In the upcoming bicam, if we need to cut the budget of the agencies, we will do that,” he warned.

Yap revealed that his committee would conduct its own investigation on corruption in various government agencies as part of the House’s oversight power, possibly focusing on the BOC.

“We will help (BOC) Commissioner (Leonardo) Guerrero in pinpointing corrupt officials to cleanse the agency. We will submit a report to the DOJ to help in carrying out the order of the President. We will monitor this until cases are filed against those corrupt officials before the Ombudsman,” he said.

In a related development, the House leadership has ruled out investigating the involvement of some House members in corruption in the DPWH.

Congress hands off

Speaker Lord Allan Velasco said such investigation should be handled by other agencies, not Congress.

“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,” he explained in a statement.

Three ranking congressmen – public accounts chairman Mike Defensor, dangerous drugs committee chair Robert Ace Barbers and public works and highways committee senior vice chairman Romeo Momo Sr. – shared his view.

Deputy Speaker Mikee Romero said the President’s renewed and intensified drive against corruption would have a significant impact on the country’s economy.

“This cleansing of the government will entice more investors to come in and benefit the economy as a whole, which will help expedite our recovery from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic,” the 1-Pacman party-list congressman stressed.

Romero, an economist, also lauded Velasco for openly supporting the President’s anti-corruption agenda.

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) said it has already suspended and relieved over 80 immigration employees since 2016 as part of its effort to clean its ranks.

BI spokesperson Dana Sandoval said in a radio interview yesterday that more than 80 immigration employees were removed and suspended by bureau’s board of discipline from 2016 up to present.

“And we have a board of discipline handling these issues of corruption and anomalies in the bureau,” Sandoval said.

DOJ’s Guevarra earlier identified the BI as one of the agencies to be placed under close scrutiny by the newly formed task force against corruption. The BI is an attached agency of the DOJ.

Sandoval said they welcome “any investigation that the secretary of justice may deem fit to eliminate corruption in the bureau.”

“We are one with the [Secretary of Justice] and the President in the drive to eliminate malpractices in government and ensure better public service,” Sandoval added.

In another development, Sandoval said that they have implemented the order of the Office of the Ombudsman and the DOJ to suspend without pay the 45 immigration officers involved in the pastillas scheme.

Sandoval emphasized their operation at the airport would not be affected despite the suspension of the employees, citing fewer flights amid the COVID-19 pandemic. — Edu Punay, Robertzon Ramirez, Christina Mendez

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