Duterte wants ‘corruption cut,’ but appointees look half-hearted
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - September 30, 2020 - 12:00am

President Duterte says he has a “radical” solution to corruption. It supposedly needs congressional enactment. So excited is he about it that he’s volunteering unprecedentedly to appear in legislative hearings.

Duterte’s novel plan has yet to be detailed. What’s seeming though is that persons around him are facilitating corruption.

For one, an under-capitalized firm was hired for the P107.5-billion expansion of Manila International Airport. Contracting was rushed within three weeks last July. Most agencies were on skeletal force then due to spikes in COVID-19 infections. Transparency was circumvented in the haste, Rep. Jericho Nograles disclosed. Violated were the Build-Operate-Transfer and the Government Procurement Reform Acts. Transport and MIA officials must explain, Nograles said. The firm was granted special concessions that, because earlier withdrawn, made a super-consortium of seven back out.

Transport bigwigs should know what under-capitalization leads to. In 2012 a company with only P625,000 on hand was given P56 million a month to maintain MRT-3. Pocketing the money over two years, it left the trains, tracks, signaling, power supply and stations in disrepair. In 2013 another fly-by-night operation previously convicted for fraud was favored with P3.8 billion to make car registration plates. It delivered, late and lacking, metal units that crumpled in street floods. As exposed in Gotcha, both scams were pulled off via opaque shortcuts.

Energy regulators have yet to act on another Nograles revelation: the collection by a private outfit of P2 billion per year in government fees from the wholesale electricity market. Nograles has identified the under-financed beneficiaries as relatives of Duterte appointees. The regulators too are presidential placements.

Ombudsman Samuel Martires no less has emasculated anti-graft rules. No longer may the press and public freely access officials’ annual statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN). An official has first to give written consent before it is released to a requestor. That allegedly will stop foes from weaponizing politicians’ SALNs. No longer too will the ombudsman check on lifestyles of suspicious officials. Supposedly such investigations do not show if the subject is living beyond his means.

Former ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales criticized Martires’ moves. They contravene the Constitution’s principle of public office as a public trust, she said. Hiding the SALNs breaks the law. Politicos inordinately are favored, lawyers said. In 1992 Comelec chairman Christian Monsod told candidates seeking exemption from bans on firearms and police-bodyguard, “If you can’t take the heat, get out of the election kitchen.”

SALNs and lifestyle checks have helped convict many government crooks. Also detailed in Gotcha, the Armed Forces comptroller-general was exposed for graft in 2004 when his student-sons, flying first-class to America, were apprehended for undeclared $100,000 in their bags. SALNs showed the two-star officer had no legal means to acquire the cash, a posh Trump Plaza condo in New York City, a house in Ohio and deposits and property totaling P302 million. Martires might remember those. He was among three Sandiganbayan anti-graft court justices who approved in 2010 the general’s controversial plea bargain.

Though a Duterte nominee, Ombudsman Martires is independent of the Executive. Yet the presidential legal counsel and the spokesman rushed to defend his recent contentious acts. As if no other laws exist on crimes against persons, the former claimed that foes getting hold of politicians’ addresses and family members’ names from SALNs can harm them. As if to disagree is discourtesy, the latter said just respect the ombudsman. Such words from presidential aides demeaning anti-corruption do not inspire confidence in the administration’s seriousness. Incidentally, Duterte is the first President in 30 years to not publicize his SALNs, Rappler noted.

Duterte’s slowness to act against appointee-friends also cast doubts on his anti-sleaze pronouncements. Often he says he will fire them on mere “whiff of corruption.” But only after more than a year of stench and two Senate inquiries did he replace erring PhilHealth officials. By then at least P15 billion in members’ contributions had been lost, legislators said. At the Customs drugs continue to be smuggled in by Chinese triads. Cops crack hard only on street pushers and users.

“I want to cut red tape and corruption and simplify the ease of doing business,” Duterte said on state TV Monday night. Last week he told Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano that a new law is needed aside from the many already enacted against government sleaze.

“He wants that if a request from an agency is not acted on in three days, then it should be deemed automatically granted,” Sotto told Sapol on dwIZ last Saturday. If only to entice investments during the pandemic, senators are inclined to give Duterte special powers to streamline the issuance of licenses and permits, Sotto said. “There should be no room to extort bribes.”

In 2018 Duterte signed the Ease of Doing Business Act (R.A. 11032). The law requires agencies to act on applications within three days for simple transactions, seven days for complex ones and 20 days for those highly technical.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., dwIZ (882-AM).

My book “Exposés: Investigative Reporting for Clean Government” is available on Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/Amazon-Exposes

Paperback: https://tinyurl.com/Anvil-Exposes or at National Bookstores.

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