What is your commitment to the people?
AS A MATTER OF FACT By Sara Soliven De Guzman
The Philippine Star
The presidential candidates have been presenting their grandiose platforms and forthright measures to address our country’s problems on poverty, graft and corruption, unemployment, illiteracy, health, agriculture, economy, national security and defense, with very strong conviction and determination.
Unfortunately or fortunately, we easily get carried away by their energy, passion and most often than not – by their drama. Thus, voting for the snake charmer is a dangerous pursuit to live by.
We are such a desperate brood, all hoping for immediate change, expecting that in the next 100 days of the new president’s term, we will see some light at the end of the tunnel. In many presidential debates, forums or interviews, the question that is always asked in the end is: What changes can we see in your first 100 days?
What can possibly be accomplished within the next administration’s first year or within the first 100 days of the new president? I think the most important and basic change should be the restoration of the people’s faith in national leadership and government. But for all their eloquent pronouncements and promises not one presidential candidate has clearly declared what immediate steps he will take to achieve this.
The next administration will replace a leadership and an administration that is perceived as the most corrupt and callous since 1946 when the country became independent. All government offices (not excluding the judiciary) are infested with corrupt officials and personnel. Graft and corruption appears to have been tolerated because, though anti-graft agencies have been touting their “accomplishments” a number of corrupt officials have not been sacked, let alone investigated and prosecuted like certain squandering PCGG officials. Those involved in questionable transactions are merely moved to other offices like a former NEDA official who is now with the SSS. Heads and officials of agencies with regulatory powers over businesses impressed with public interest like the LTFRB are not controlled by their department heads on their money-making activities.
Despite all the rhetoric exercise and persuasion, there are still three commitments that the people would like to hear from all the presidential candidates – commitments, which if fulfilled, will lead to the restoration of faith, trust and confidence in the national leadership and the government. These commitments are basic and indispensable to good governance.
First, a commitment to appoint to the cabinet, other government agencies, financing institutions including government owned and controlled corporations, men and women known for their INTEGRITY, COMPETENCE and GOOD TRACK RECORD. No president no matter how dedicated and hard working, can, all by himself, run the government. The government is run and managed by department heads, commissioners, bureau directors and other agency heads who take their bearings from an honest president who knows the dynamics of good governance and who will not tolerate venality in his administration.
Previous presidents implemented the “to the victors belong the spoils” policy in appointing government officials, accommodating political leaders, kin and sycophants – even if those endorsed for appointment are known crooks, are incompetent or otherwise unfit for public service. The consensus in legal and business circles is that, compared with previous presidents, GMA has appointed the most number of unfit officials in the government. As a matter of fact, compared with Marcos, Aquino, Ramos and Estrada cabinets, GMA’s cabinet pales in comparison. A former DOJ secretary said it is an insult to even compare the Secretaries of Justice in the Marcos administration with GMA’s Justice Secretaries.
Second, he/she must show the people that misconduct in public service is unacceptable. There must be a commitment to be ruthless in dealing with subordinates and officials involved in questionable transactions, who are accused of malfeasance, or are ineffective in their positions.
In the present administration, those accused of malfeasance or are otherwise considered unfit to continue in their positions are not investigated and are allowed to remain in office. Just a few days ago, Palace official Charito Planas was saying that what is important is evidence not accusations which are easy to make. But officials, like cabinet members and other Presidential appointees who serve at the pleasure of the president can be dismissed for breach of trust without having to be charged in court and found guilty. By dealing ruthlessly with those who are suspected of betraying public trust or are ineffective in their positions, the president will be showing the people that he means business.
Third, he/ she must show the people that “crime does not pay”– a commitment to prosecute those who enriched themselves in public office including their accomplices in the private sector. Such a commitment will demonstrate that the constitutional mandate of public accountability is not a dead provision in the 1987 constitution and that justice in this country is for all. If a municipal treasurer is charged and convicted by the Sandiganbayan for misappropriating a few thousand pesos, why should those who have stolen millions be immune from prosecution?
A statement that the prosecution of those who enriched themselves in public office will be left to the judiciary is tantamount to shirking from a public duty. It is the president who sets in motion the momentum of reform. It is the president who is the conductor of the symphony orchestra that sets the tone.
A presidential candidate when asked what is his stand on graft and corruption answered that “it is an economic problem.” Graft and corruption is not an economic problem involving the poor. It is a malignant cancer involving the affluent in government whose greed knows no limit. Those aspiring to be president but refuse to commit themselves to go after the venal who enriched themselves in public office are ‘transactional” in character. They will tolerate graft and corruption in their administration, if elected.
Unlike long or medium-term solution or measures to address poverty, unemployment and criminality which are multi-faceted problems requiring concerted action from the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the government, a public commitment on the three suggested undertakings will show sincerity of purpose, strong determination and political will on the part of those aspiring to lead the country. It is a first step towards restoring the people’s faith and confidence on the national leadership and the government.