AFP modernization program

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.

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