The former chief of staff of ex-president Gloria Arroyo, Rigoberto Tiglao writing in a piece entitled Whatever happened to…? scored the president administration for its poor follow-through on its promised anti-corruption campaign. The noted former journalist states in his regular Inquirer column that
We haven’t heard though of any revitalized anti-graft campaign in the “usual suspects”: the Department of Public Works and Highways, the Department of Transportation and Communication, the Bureau of Customs. If Education Secretary Armin Luistro doesn’t comment soon on how he will deal with the oligopoly of loan sharks preying on teachers at his department, I’d be praying for his discernment. All eyes are on Carlos Garcia’s plunder case. But has the Armed Forces set up the mechanisms to prevent other Garcias?
There are so many things wrong with a former government official especially a former presidential chief of staff pontificating about corruption like that. For one, there is the argument that they did nothing or were not successful in curbing corruption among the “usual suspects” that are mentioned.
Second, all the allegations about corruption at the infrastructure related departments, the DPWH and DOTC, as well as the procurement arms of service delivery oriented ones like DepEd and the Armed Forces are supposed to be endemic. The fact that no major headway has been achieved yet in these fronts does not necessarily mean that no concrete efforts are taking place.
Thirdly, moral suasion appears to be having some effect as per Tiglao’s own admission albeit a temporary one in his estimation. Moral suasion if unaccompanied by a proper executive compensation scheme (executive salaries and bonuses at publicly owned and controlled corporations are still under review) and an enforcement mechanism to catch and prosecute erring officials will have a limited effect, but moral ascendancy was a threshold issue the previous administration failed to traverse.
There are disturbing signs in the enforcement system that Tiglao refers to such as the slashing of the budget of the Ombudsman, the fixation with the Truth Commission, and the neutering of the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission. He states that
Prosecuting the alleged misdeeds of the past administration is not the be-all and end-all of the Office of the Ombudsman. It is investigating 2,000 cases of corruption all over the country. But obviously so mad at the agency’s head, the President has cut down its budget by P400 million this year.
Its performance was not stellar, but the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission was a means for whistle-blowers to report graft cases they knew about. But it has been effectively closed down, with its functions turned over to the executive secretary’s legal office, which is hardly staffed by stellar legal minds.
Ok, here he may have a point although my agreement will have to be qualified with a caveat. While providing closure to some of the prominent cases involving corruption on a grand scale would send an important signal globally and at home, the day-to-day corruption at the “street level” is what most ordinary people care about.
However, the reason why this administration has had to resort to bypassing the Ombudsman in the first place was the way in which the previous administration sought to protect itself by appointing a “friendly” individual in that constitutional office with a fixed term. That is the caveat.
Be that as it may, the slashing of budgets and use of the purse strings to coax members of the judiciary to fall in line with the current administration is setting up a situation in which the mice get away as the cats quarrel among themselves. Institutional conflict results in institutional failure.
The administration is hobbling on one leg in its anti-corruption campaign having to rely on moral suasion and appeals to altruistic motives without the necessary second leg consisting of rewards and punishment. Without it, its moral appeals may indeed fade with time. But it cannot be faulted (at least not at this point) given the fact that the previous administration engaged in institutional investments within the judicial branch.
The government of PNoy has tried to substitute constitutional offices with administrative ones, but these have proven to be crutches that break (as in the Truth Commission) rather than prosthesis that work. I can see the game plan in this for the opposition. On the one hand the rigged system allows grand corruption allegedly committed by them in the past to go unpunished. On the other, the opposition can use this failure to prosecute and jail as fodder against an “ineffective” government unable to fulfill its promises.
Devious indeed, but then again the stakes could not be any higher.
Image is of the office of the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission courtesy of the Chan Robles Virtual Law Library.