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Fighting corruption in the twilight of Duterte

What does it mean that President Duterte has decided to dedicate the remaining years of his term to fighting corruption? Another all-out war, but without the dreaded sting. Like Marcos declaring a curfew during the People Power Revolt. People laughed. Why this is so becomes clear when we juxtapose the President’s perspective and wisdom on corruption with our long and deep agony, history, and understanding of the sources, patterns, and trends of corruption in the Philippines.

Let’s start with our realization that corruption is the use of office for private gain. Corruption is applicable to both public and private offices; private company presidents can be as corrupt as government ones. Being the highest public office in control of massive resources like intelligence funds, the Office of the President has the highest vulnerability to corruption.

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Next, let’s break it down. Corruption, as Robert Klitgaard puts it, is monopoly plus discretion minus accountability (C=M+D-A). Read monopoly as the monopoly of government authority in the grant of franchises, visas, contracts, permits, as well as the highhanded deprivation of life (Kian delos Santos), liberty (Leila de Lima), and livelihood (ABS-CBN).

As to discretion, read that as the discretion to appoint unfit (morals and skills-wise) secretaries, undersecretaries, assistant secretaries. Include the creative privatization of public offices and resources via the “pastillas” scheme, retirement visas, symbolic sportsfest calderos, private jets, absolute pardons, and reduced sentences.

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Lack of accountability should be read as the President and other officials effectively withholding their statements of assets, liabilities and net worth and those of other government officials from public scrutiny. Add the dismantling by the Ombudsman of painstakingly developed anti-corruption mechanisms such as lifestyle checks. How about the executives of corruption-plagued departments like Francisco Duque III or Mark Villar being prematurely absolved of corruption by the chief anti-corruption official—the President?

Finally, let’s be clear: “Corruption is about systems, not people.” Interlocking systems are necessary to defeat corruption. Political will is nothing without these systems.

Civil society watchdogs such as the courageous and persistent Concerned Citizens of Abra for Good Government fight corruption where timid government agencies refuse to tread. Report Card Surveys check if indeed budgeted public services trickle down to the poor and vulnerable. Open Public Documents ensure that government contracts and policy documents are on the level, enabling public and media vigilance.

Transaction Reengineering cuts unnecessary red tape in obtaining vehicle plates, driver’s licenses, NBI, police, and barangay clearances, medical certificates, etc. Corruption Vulnerability Assessments identify and fortify those agencies most prone to corruption, such as the Bureau of Internal Revenue, the Bureau of Customs, the Bureau of Immigration, and the Philippine National Police.

Fast-Tracking High-Profile Cases demonstrates to society that corruption does not pay. Lifestyle Checks ensure that all government officers and employees are fearfully accountable—that is, until the Ombudsman recently repudiated it as supposedly an unjust weapon used for maligning government officials.

Anti-Corruption Vanguards such as the Ombudsman, the Commission on Audit, the Civil Service Commission, The Sandiganbayan are critical frontliners in the fight against corruption. Whistleblowers’ Incentive and Protection Schemes empower and enable citizens to help fight corruption without getting maimed and killed. Public Ethics creates a social climate of integrity, transparency, and accountability, starting with homes, schools, communities, and workplaces.

If these are the necessary systems that must be established and strengthened in the twilight of the Duterte regime, where is the overarching strategy? Where are the resources to make it happen? And is the Department of Justice the sole puny heroic structure to manage the task and ensure that all of this happens?

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If we think fighting corruption is only prosecution of the corrupt, we are as dead wrong as laying dolomite in Manila Bay, facial powder to hide the corruption lesions and puss that have erupted with a vengeance on the face of government in the time of Mr. Duterte.

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TAGS: corruption, crime, Duterte, watchdog
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