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Put big guys in jail

/ 05:05 AM November 12, 2020

Corruption is alive and well, unaffected by President Duterte’s avowal to end it. A vow he made in his campaign for the presidency. A vow he promised he’d succeed at within his first six months of office. A promise he has failed to achieve.

Now he’s revived his vow. He’s got 19 months, not just six, to achieve it. Maybe this time he’ll be more effective.

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But he won’t, unless—and it’s a big unless—some big guys go to jail. Not just kicked out of office, not just transferred elsewhere, but put in jail, without bail. If the case is weak, well, there are plenty of people in jail where substantial proof of crime is not there. This should be the case for erring officials from PhilHealth to Customs to Immigration and beyond. DPWH is also in the news lately.

According to the World Prison Brief, there are some 215,00 Filipinos in jail, including pre-trial detainees. Only a handful are what I’d call influential or those who committed large-scale theft of public money.

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Take the P10-billion pork barrel scam, for example. Its alleged mastermind, Janet Lim-Napoles, remains in jail, while the senators allegedly involved were released on bail or due to “health considerations.” There are plenty of poor and sickly people in jail. There’s no compassion for them. So, as it now stands, why on earth wouldn’t you steal? The practical message is, if you’re going to steal, make it big. It’s the big, influential ones that escape.

Isn’t justice portrayed as a woman with a blindfold? Maybe in the Philippines she uses it as a mask, so she doesn’t have to explain her biased actions. Am I being unfair? Certainly there are many fine judges and criminal lawyers, but there are enough, too, that give the Philippine court system a bad name.

The good news is that the President is not corrupt. There’s been no accusation, no suspicion that he is. So he’s setting an example his subordinates should follow.

The secret to combating plunder is transparency. So if the President is serious (I think he is in his intent), he has to force the passage of laws that would strengthen the country’s anti-corruption measures and improve transparency in government transactions. The first is the Freedom of Information Act (FOI), which has been languishing in Congress since the early 1990s. One has to wonder why. While Mr. Duterte’s second executive order is on FOI, this does not have the strength of a law, and doesn’t seem to have been adhered to. A recent example is the Office of the Ombudsman limiting access to SALNs.

The process should be made fully transparent all the way from the request for bids to the awarding of contracts. So it’s heartening to see that Secretary Mark Villar is starting that in the DPWH. He has ordered the livestreaming of biddings for infrastructure projects. Villar has also allowed authorized observers to monitor the procurement process online. It’s a good start. Tied to this is the need to go digital. You can’t bribe a computer.

The Bureau of Customs (BOC) is also moving in the right direction on this. With funding and assistance from the World Bank, the BOC is digitalizing its systems through a Customs Modernization Project (CMP) that will reduce transaction costs and enhance the predictability and transparency of processes.

Then there’s the measure proposing the lifting of bank secrecy. The Philippines is one of only three countries (Lebanon and Switzerland are the other two) with such a draconian, protective-of-criminals law. The bill remains pending in Congress despite being backed by the Department of Finance and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. And by Peter Wallace, who had money stolen because his bank couldn’t release account details of the thief to stop withdrawal of the money.

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The National Tax Research Center wants the bill’s approval to strengthen the government’s measures against tax evaders and money launderers. The bill amending the Anti-Money Laundering Act should be signed into law.

Don’t we all want to join the President and crack down on the crooked and influenced? Talking to him, I can sense that’s certainly his intent. Let’s wish him success in a venture without success to date.

Email: [email protected]

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TAGS: corruption, Like It Is, Peter Wallace, Rodrigo Duterte
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