For whom the whistle blows

“It no longer shocks me.” That seems to sum up the sentiment of P-Noy following revelations of corruption in the military’s top brass. It was just the last of litany of reports on graft across the broad spectrum of the public sector. Indeed what is shocking is not that such appalling acts of brazen theft and collusion occur, but that there remains a few good men and women within the service who would not only resist this but also find the courage to blow the whistle on such nefarious activities.

Indeed, for Ms Heidi Mendoza, the former auditor who served as resource person at the Congressional hearing into the alleged anomalous plea bargain deal entered into by Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and Gen Carlos Garcia, her whistle blowing was not just for the officials concerned, but for the entire polity for allowing such practices to come about. Her credibility as a witness seemed almost unimpeachable to Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile. So much so that he voiced his view regarding the need for the Ombudsman to review its deal with Garcia.

And so in this episode it would seem that the rear guard action conducted by Mrs Arroyo’s forces via the fixed term appointment of Ms Gutierrez as Ombudsman has been foiled. Given the weight of both public and legal opinion following the combined exposés of Lt Col Rabusa in the Senate and Ms Mendoza at the Lower House, it will be exceedingly difficult for her to maintain her stance with respect to the deal. Kudos to both Blue Ribbon Committee Chairman Sen Teofisto “TG” Guingona III and Rep Neil Tupas, Jr for conducting their respective investigations so diligently.

The question now is to what extent legislation can be aided given the findings of their respective committees? With regards to this, I would like to hazard a couple of proposals whose relevance has now become much more apparent. Apart from administrative measures aimed at strengthening the budget processes and systems of procurement and disbursement within the military, there are a few more strategic pieces of legislation that need to be pushed forward.

If the thesis of Ms Mendoza is correct that not everyone who works in government is seeking to profit at the expense of the Filipino people, then we need to equip those individuals with the tools they will need in order to press their case against those who seek to profit from the system. It is not enough to deliver homilies to honor such individuals.

First of all, there needs to be a whistle-blower protection act. Consider how Ms Mendoza’s career was threatened and how she was forced to quit after 20 long years of service in government due to the pressures she faced. That could have been avoided if there had been a whistle-blower act. Seeing how she was told to go slow in her investigations, she could have filed a complaint against her agency for covering up the anomalies she had uncovered. This is the first proposal.

Secondly, the time has come to pass a freedom of information or FOI act. Without the oversight powers of Congress enabling it to subpoena important documents for the purpose of its investigation, the media had to rely on Ms Mendoza’s personal account of events in reporting the story. With an FOI law, any ordinary citizen or media outfit would have the right to obtain pertinent documents such as the COA report of Ms Mendoza and take it from there. The FOI law would work in tandem with the whistle-blower protection law in the same way that the audit documents corroborated Ms Mendoza’s testimony.

These two laws would subject government officials to unprecedented scrutiny by the opposition, the media, and ordinary citizens alike. They would encourage more whistle-blowers to come forth. While designing and implementing more sophisticated budget systems and procedures based on expert advice constitutes a good first line of defense, greater public participation and scrutiny of government would act as the final line of defense and might be more potent as a deterrent against illegal activity.

If the thesis of Ms Mendoza is correct that not everyone who works in government is seeking to profit at the expense of the Filipino people, then we need to equip those individuals with the tools they will need in order to press their case against those who seek to profit from the system. It is not enough to deliver homilies to honor such individuals.

At the start of the year, the president outlined his legislative priorities. These did not include the integrity and transparency measures mentioned here.  It is quite ironic that some of the funds diverted to provide golden parachutes for the generals was meant for the AFP modernization program. It is now becoming apparent that if we want to modernize our way of governing, then we first need to tack these items on to the public policy agenda.

Doy Santos aka The Cusp

Doy Santos is an international development consultant who shuttles between Australia and the Philippines. He maintains a blog called The Cusp: A discussion of new thinking, new schools of thought and fresh ideas on public policy ( and tweets as @thecusponline. He holds a Master in Development Economics from the University of the Philippines and an MS in Public Policy from Carnegie Mellon University.

  • UP nn grad

    What is going on???

    UN: No check issued for PHL troop expenses in East Timor
    02/18/2011 The Philippine mission to the United Nations (UN) on Thursday said the UN did not issue a $5-million check to a military officer in 2001 to reimburse deployment expenses of Filipino peacekeepers in East Timor.

  • I will be willing to place a bet that no one absolutely no one in this Garcia case will be found guilty and be jailed.

    This so called “he said she said” display in Congress will have to be backed up with solid validated documented facts in a court of law.

    After six years no one has initiated the process of evidence gathering of bank records and the money trail.

    The auditors have provided the framework but no one put the substance to prove all these alleged claims. The same thing happened to the fertilizer scam.

    Go through the COA audit reports of the DA and other agencies and you will notice not smoke but raging fires that nobody from the COA heads to the DOJ Ombudsman take notice. There are reams and reams of reports.

    But there has to be validation of these reports. That is the second part of the process that requires the political will of the government to act.

    Do you think you have enough of evidence to back up the charges?

    Do you think your champion or saint on his white Porsche or his so called borrowed white Lexus can personally do the investigating.

    During the last administration there were so many hearings on different issues on government corruption and nothing happened.

    Do you honestly believe things will change. What about the NAIA 3 mess that occurred during the past administrations?

    The entire process behind the institutions that ensure and implement the rule of law is broken. Within a month with the 24/7 news cycle another issue will replace the current headlines.

    The tabloid nature of media drives short term attention spans. The institutionalized corruption in the Philippines mean that these constituencies are more active in using the same media to defend their cause and bide their time to weather this passing storm.

    Look at the Lacson case. The entire case rested on one eyewitness but with no other evidence backing up the witness. An appellate court has just ruled on the evidence and has thrown the complaint out.

    The sad part of this is that Lacson thumbed his nose at the entire process because he knew that it was institutionally weak.

    In other jurisdictions his assets would have been frozen to prevent his being able to access as flight would mean a high probability of guilt and any attempt to assist him would be a separate criminal charge of obstruction of justice. Lying to the cops is aiding and abetting escape is a crime.

    Bill Clinton was impeached but not found guilty simply because of lying.

    The people behind the process of institutionalized corruption feed of this system. Their standards of living depend on it.

    The lifestyle of many generals are there for everyone to see. From the many a few have been generously rewarded. For many years the military even had their bonded warehouse, why I do not know?

    One of the many tools for giving away perks was giving licenses for bonded warehouses. The implied intent was clear. Smuggling.

    A new bunch of people all belonging to the new government are now in place in the very same already deeply established institutions of corruption that exist side by side the legal process.

    Anyone who has done business or practice law are already honed in to the dual system of governance in this country. The formal banking and formal accounting institutions know the use of double and sometime triple set of books that big medium and small businesses use.

    The DOF, BIR, BOC know that a large number of dummy corporations are used to hide transactions.

    You want to avoid paying VAT I know of several groups that sell shell corporations that can provide documentation. You want to move a Billion dollars out of the country without going through the formal channels any businessman can tell you that all banks without exception can assist you.

    Systems and structures have process mechanisms to facilitate everyday life. No one using these mechanisms relate morality to the process. Whether the use is bad or good is a judgment call.

    It is societal norms that rule.

    In point of fact several U.S. banks were fined for moving cash in armored trucks for drug lords across the Mexican border. It is a well known fact that hard cash is the U.S largest export.

    You heard Rabusa said that the ISAFP could always produce large amount of dollars in cash.

    All cash comes from the banking system. They are all traceable.

    This is not rocket science.

    Yup the air for change is there alright. There’s a new bunch of crooks in town. They wear a different set of perfume from the previous perfumed set.

  • Bert

    “Are you one the ignorants who wish to spread ignorance and have blind faith in Cory magic?”-J_AG

    You want to call me ignorant? That’s ok with me, who cares what you want.

    Look around you, people are upbeat about what are happening. There is optimism in the air, and you can feel it if you’re not dense or dumb. People are having the courage to put their lives at risk exposing corruptions and government institutions and private citizens are moving to help those who have the heart and the courage to do something for the country.

    Maybe you’re not ignorant. But you are blind. And more.

  • Destroy the beast that is the Philippines government by starving it.

    It would be better that Ramon Ang, Pangilinan and the Ayalas run government so if they fail they will face the let them eat cake moment directly.

    They will be forced to align their private returns to social returns otherwise they will face an off with their head moment.

    Mubaracks cabinet is composed of men who own monopoly control of strategic sectors of the Egyptian economy. Their tourism minister also owns several hotels.

    • Bert

      You think all these happening today, this inertia I’m talking about that you cannot see, can happen under the regime of a corrupt administration like the previous one?

  • Bert

    Well, the ball has started rolling under this new administration.

    The least the good citizens of this republic can do is to be optimistic and then help keep the ball rolling…on to our intended destination where we ought to be.

    Nonchalance, pessimism, and obstructionism will not help.

    Everybody now, let’s keep the ball rolling, in whatever small ways we can, whatever it takes, big or small.

    There is an inertia currently in motion.

    If we don’t help, the alternative is stagnation.

    Is that what we want?

    • What inertia are you talking about? People are pursuing their economic opportunities afforded by the economic political system.

      Those people selling fish balls and those women gyrating and lap dancing in clubs are all pursuing their economic interests.

      The guys in the BIR, BOP and BSP are all pursuing their individual economic interests.

      Somehow all these economic activities are not producing wealth and welfare for the broad masses of this country.

      Society is not stagnating it is regressing for the vast majority.

      Are you one the ignorants who wish to spread ignorance and have blind faith in Cory magic?

      I am a hardened cynic and realize that we must hasten the tipping point in this country.

      I am on record for completely liberalizing monetary policy in this country by abolishing the BSP. Move the country back to the era of free banking in the 19th century.

      No regulations for the finance sector. Make the peso fully convertible in international markets.

      That would mean like oil price futures and other major currencies place the peso in the mercantile exchange in Chicago. Withdraw membership in the economic multilateral institutions (WTO-IMF-WB-ADB)Maintain membership only in the ICC in Basel.

      Turn the country into a Commercial Republic run by corporate interests who set up a representative form of government. Similar to the start of the U.S. Republic.

  • A cultural revolution will happen only if the hardened economic constituencies that run this country see the un-sustainability of their practices. Will it happen during Pinoys run. I doubt it. They are already deeply entrenched in this government. Plus they have no long term loyalties to the country.
    They can transfer their wealth easily. They extract resources and they do not create long lasting wealth.

    It takes a well funded and effective state apparatus to make the economy work properly.

    The three most important sectors- economic planning agency, monetary and fiscal authorities and the judiciary are all captured institutions.

    Represented government depends on property rights. The narrow sector with property rights rightly claim their right to dictate to the state. That is how the US started out.

    Even in multilateral institutions your voting power is dependent on your economic size. That is the golden rule in political economy. Economic power dictates political power.

    Let us stop all this useless chatter about democracy and such. Industrialization created a wider broad based of people with property rights.

    Then followed political civil rights. The philosophical hardware of the US was their adherence to natural rights (right to property) above all else supported by an constantly evolving rule of law. (Common law)

    • “A cultural revolution will happen only if the hardened economic constituencies that run this country see the un-sustainability of their practices.”

      I rather think the cultural barrier to change is broader than the economic constituencies that run the country, but is nation wide in the form of Ego that prevents people from wanting to take care of others. The lack of courtesy, trustworthiness and charity hereabouts is astounding, producing packs of babies and dogs on the road, corruption and trash, and precious little effort to prevent harm to regular people on ferries, in typhoons, on airplanes, on the road, in the barangay . . . everywhere. The cultural barrier to change truly is within the Filipino, not “over there” with that other guy.

      • America almost hit the nail on the head but missed.

        Economic constituencies lead to political constituencies and this leads to cultural mindsets.

        Trust is only given to filial relations. We are a familial based culture because social security is guaranteed by filial relations.

        We keep our family compounds clean but the street surrounding it are filth. The rich clans and the wannabe rich live in larger enclaves called funny enough villages.

        America is living here because he can arbitrate his pension denominated in dollars (derived from an advanced productive economy) with the peso which is backed up by a non productive economy and he complains that he does not see the trappings of a first world economy/polity that can afford to fund a first world system of economic and political governance.

        But it is the economic and political system that gives rise to incentives. Bad system you get perverse incentives.

        Look at what happened in the supposedly most advanced economic-political system in the world.

        They took their eye off economic governance in a most strategic sector of the economy due to a rabid ideology in free markets and what happened.

        Animal spirits ran amuck.

        America you are here because of your rational animal spirit. I suggest better places than the Phils. if you can afford it. Go check out the best foreign places to retire on CNBC. My choice would be Argentina. They are not doing too badly and their beef is good and their women exceptional.

        They have not looked back since restructuring their debt some years back.

        Things will probably get worse here in the Phls. Unfortunately the government has been pursuing the economic model suggested by your brothers in Washington and so far the incentives it has produced has been one sided.

        And please understand that when you want to discuss your philosophy or whatever please give some objective facts to back up your theories or opinions.

        Blaming the poor comes dangerously close to the attitude of the white man of people of color and different cultures. Your people used it to justify genocide.

        Should we start mass abortions and sterilizations for the poor? It is more cost effective than schooling the poor properly on their health and welfare.

  • Cast this thread against Senator Revila, Jr.’s proposed legislation called “Crime of Honor” or somesuch, which is essentially an anti-whistle-blower bill, where any complaint against a legislator risks putting the complainer under trial and possibly in jail.

    The drive to bring corruption into the daylight is excellent, excellent. It will never be clean because the guilty will do all they can to deny, obfuscate, delay, disparage and counter-accuse. But the march to light should be relentless.

    Credibility is just a year or two away . . . trust right behind credibility . . . and then President Aquino will have re-written history in an astounding way . . .

    Ms. Arroyo gets smaller as the incidents are revealed . . .

  • UP nn grad

    The whistle blows — anti-Gloria forces are happy. Ping Lacson’s returning to Pilipinas Senate.

    Is the “not guilty: because there is a new administration in town?

  • UP nn grad

    And Pilipinas should increase the monthly retirement-funds for the officer-corp of Pilipinas police and military. Also for the president and vice-president and justices of supreme court.

  • UP nn grad

    Whistle-blower protection, yes. And yes, too, to whistle-blower reward (say 10% of recaptured money)

    BUT… any money the whistle-blower had made illegally (while acting as an enabler of a conspiracy of plunder) should be confiscated by Pilipinas government / then the reward-money is given.