Counting blessings
SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. (The Philippine Star) - December 22, 2018 - 12:00am

Well functioning institutions are vital to creating environments that enable growth. To engender good governance, you need transparency and accountability in government dealings. These fundamentals empower the people and drive development. Strengthen these institutions, under the rule of law, and you sustain your forward movement. Weaken them and you collapse like a house of cards.

Governments are incentivized to do better when people are watching. Scrutiny begets responsiveness. That’s one way to put it. As the year comes to a close, we recall the people who made an impact in this context and celebrate their positive contributions to our lives.

Simply, best. Top of mind, I am thankful for a boldly independent Commission on Audit (COA). This year, our President, in his best caricature of himself, grimly joked about throwing Auditors down the stairs. This was the Ilocos Norte audits. At another occasion, feigning humility, he suggested that he might have to personally visit the COA with the grievance that they relax their meticulousness. He thought signed contracts should be inviolable.

The COA is doing its job. Even the President gets it. Up to the end of the year, the independent Commission has sustained its tireless campaign to examine, audit and settle accounts to help improve government operations. Just this week, they released a resolution disallowing P71B in benefits received by SSS officials back in 2010. 

In this year of disruption and insurgence, COA has been in the thick of the action. It is their vigilance that exposed 2018’s most notable controversies: among others, DOT-PTV 4 Ad placements; excessive travels of the Tourism Promotions Board and PhilHealth officials; NFA’s use of a food security fund to pay off P3B of debt; the Yolanda housing project delays; military and police housing projects anomalies; excessive bonuses and allowances received by PAGCOR. 

The low key style of this current Commission is more agreeable than last administration’s more politicized COA. They are the more efficient, effective, productive and, certainly, less political version. I voice the opinion of many when I say that the COA is 2018’s most outstanding government agency. Kudos to Chairman Michael Aguinaldo and Commissioners Roland Pondoc and Jose Fabia.

When crows gather. The House is in a tizzy. Its a tense detente between the House and the Cabinet; the House and the Senate. There is silver lining here as these are evidence that the system is working. That bewilderment you’re feeling? That’s the House exercising its power to check. 

The Speaker rationalized that the pubic filleting of Sec. Ben Diokno was in the exercise of the House’s oversight role. The intention was to evoke the image of cans of worms being opened to be fed upon. The graphic fails because the birds that feasted were not tiny sparrows. They were more like giant buzzards. But the worms are out as are the skeletons. This story will still take a long time in telling. For now and in the long run, the public is beneficiary of the accidental transparency. 

Collision course. Its not often that a Chamber would square off against a Presidential alter ego. Early in this administration, the Commission on Appointments closed ranks against Sec. Regina Lopez and the more progressive Cabinet members. But this was in the exercise of its constitutional confirmation power. The battle against Sec. Diokno and the Cabinet is different. The House is calling out one of the President’s mightiest lieutenants for questionable transactions in office. And out front are the leaders of both the Majority and the Minority. 

Sen. Joel Villanueva referred to his chamber as the bastion of democracy when it was acting more like the stronghold of temporizing. Perhaps that statement would be a self fulfilling prophecy for the lower House?

The lost art. The Speaker committed that she would not begrudge her House members staking out principled positions even if contradicting the party line. By and large, GMA has kept true to her word. The House plenary hall is now a better place as we are seeing tiny saplings of debate peeping out from the ground. We hope to see them grow into mighty acacias soon. The Speaker is a believer in promoting full discussion on proposals to assure the best versions of legislation.

This is the exact point of Senator Juan Ponce Enrile in his lament for more debate in the Senate. We see here the old school, nose to the grindstone thinking of the mature Senate hands. As we said at the outset, transparency empowers.

Sages for the ages. We applaud the appointment of the well loved Lucas Bersamin as Chief Justice. It was nostalgic for me to see him preside over the acquisition of the Supreme Court’s future digs. Senate President Ernesto M. Maceda presided over the transfer of the Senate offices from the old Legislative building (now the National Museum) to their present premises at GSIS. They, too, are moving to BGC ultimately. It looks as if Taguig is slowly moving to displace Manila as the seat of government.

Many hoped for Antonio T. Carpio to lead the Court in more than just an acting capacity. But the President’s power to appoint our Justices is part of the check and balance mechanism. We can’t argue with his exercise of prerogative. 

There is a bigger reason why its ok. Carpio is larger than the game. In the narrative of a nation’s life, there will be individuals whose contributions to their country’s cause transcends even the most exemplary. Persons whose decisions affect generations of Filipinos. He is such a one.

His fight for truth, speaking for the millions who have no voice and standing up for those who lack the courage, in this time of fear and helplessness, may have cost him what was rightly his. But its no biggie. For he has been catapulted up among the stars. Carpio as Chief Justice would have been a triumph for the Court more than for the man.

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