Let me take last week’s column a bit further. We have a President who is changing society, or trying to. Political games he plays (successfully, I might add), but a trapo he is not. His “daang matuwid” has resonated in the public arena, and his honest lifestyle is setting an example for many to follow. Attacking corruption at the top is working, but it now has to be expanded. We all know who the corrupt are, so the President now has to widen his net and take them down, too.
And what better time than now, as the political campaign starts, to expose the corrupt so they don’t get elected into public office to continue their corrupt ways? All’s fair in love, war—and politics. So hit them now. I’ll live with it, being only the opposition for now (you can’t, after all, completely expel politics from the equation, sadly), as long as friendships become irrelevant later. That’s what makes great leadership—playing no favorites, the only favorite being the people.
The President has promised to be such a leader, to serve the people and truly clean up this society. He has but three-and-a-bit years to do it. He has to so entrench the desired result that whoever follows can’t undo it, so he needs to widen the net far more quickly. And address where he hasn’t succeeded as yet—the local level. I hear innumerable stories of bribes required to get anything done by local governments. These, too, can be exposed right now so the corrupt local officials are not reelected.
And the entire judicial system has to play its part. Do you know that the current administration has filed 276 smuggling and tax-evasion cases since July 2010 but there has been not one conviction yet? Of the 151 tax-evasion cases, 132 are pending at the Department of Justice, 17 are pending at the Court of Tax Appeals or regular courts, and two have been dismissed. Meanwhile, of the 125 smuggling cases, 16 are pending at the Court of Tax Appeals and the rest are still for preliminary investigation.
It would seem that the bureaucracy is not supporting their President by not attaching any urgency to removing corruption from society.
The business community, or at least the respectable side of it (certainly not the 276), has chipped in to help the President. The local and foreign business chambers have joined together to sign a pledge of doing business honestly, to resist unscrupulous, dishonest government officials. Some 1,600 companies have signed an Integrity Pledge wherein they promise to operate honestly. Of course, anyone can sign anything and still do everything else, but it’s a start. It’s creating an awareness of the benefits of dealing honestly, and one won’t be alone if one does. There are 1,600 others who feel the same way.
Some indications from the Philippine Development Forum in Davao last week give some hope. The DOJ included in its Rule of Law Working Group (ROLWG) not only the Judicial Reform Initiative group (which now has some 17 member-organizations) but also partner-agencies like the Asian Development Bank and the foreign chambers. Among the ROLWG projects is the establishment of an incident/complaint/case monitoring system covering the entire justice system. Various initiatives have been approved by the President through a Cabinet cluster, but these are still in the works. And the Supreme Court is working on automation and greater use of the alternative dispute resolution mechanism, and has established eight mediation centers and accredited more mediators. So some things are happening.
And the business sector has noted improvements in national government agencies. But, the gains of the national government are not showing up in the local government units, where governance and corruption issues remain. These should be known so that in the May elections, the people can vote out the corrupt in favor of the decent.
Yet many, including businesses, are unable to seek redress in the courts because of perceptions of delay and corruption. As I mentioned, there’s the Judicial Reform Initiative that the business chambers have started in recognition of the negative impact of slow—or, worse, influenced—decisions in court cases. It’s a significant reason why investors don’t invest. The Chief Justice has promised her support and cooperation in moving this project forward.
One suggestion is to establish a special court (courts?) to handle business cases. Another is to have “friends of court,” experts in business, to advise judges on the technicality of a case and, in instances where the case is with the Supreme Court, on its possible impact on business in general and on society as a whole.
Many decisions of the Supreme Court are judgmental, as the split decisions show, so the impact beyond the strict interpretation of the law should be among its principal considerations. The decision on the level of foreign ownership in PLDT was such a case. Here, the high court overthrew (in a 10-3 decision) a definition of ownership that had been in place for 75 years for no (in my opinion) sound reason, sending the business community into turmoil. It should reconsider its judgment if it cares for what is best for society.
And what is best for society is what law is all about; it’s the only reason for law. Law is the servant of society and it was created and developed to strive for the harmonious relationship between peoples. A lower court may be constrained to stick to the letter of the law, but the Supreme Court is not, or should not. “WHAT IS BEST FOR SOCIETY” should be its motto.