Transparently nontransparent | Inquirer Opinion
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Transparently nontransparent

/ 05:06 AM September 14, 2023


Filipinos seem to have a high tolerance for corruption, even if perhaps not by choice. A big factor in this is our unwillingness to question things. We see questions as attacks or signs of disrespect. There is an illogic here in that to respect something, you must not question it. A child that questions is “pasaway” or “pilosopo.” A citizen that questions is subversive and ungrateful to its government. A government official that questions gets fired.

Even if we do not see questions as inherently evil, some people are hesitant since questioning disrupts momentary harmony. Questions can reveal disturbing answers that make an unjust reality difficult for us to ignore. Nonanswers can reveal even worse. It is Filipinos’ preference to avoid conflict and confrontation that has allowed corruption to dot our political landscape through the decades.

It is the season of budget hearings, and we have seen how the House and Senate have shut down the opportunity for questions toward the Office of the Vice President’s (OVP) budget proposal due to “parliamentary courtesy.”


Marikina Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo further explained that this tradition of shutting down deliberations was to spare the OVP from potential embarrassment. But if they can stand by their proposal with integrity, why should questions and deliberations cause embarrassment? Especially since the OVP has been embroiled in a scandal involving them currently asking for confidential funds that exceed the Department of National Defense’s own request as well as having been given P125 million in confidential funds last year by the Office of the President despite not having any such line item in the OVP budget for 2022 (Quimbo once again attempted to defend this move by insisting that the line item exists but the budget clearly shows it to be an account category heading and not an item, as refuted by Barry Gutierrez, former spokesperson of former vice president Leni Robredo). “Parliamentary courtesy” in this case was used as a screen against transparency.

When reporters continued to ask the OVP on the use of their confidential funds, the office sent short replies on how the accusations of irregularity and impropriety were merely opinions of ACT Teachers party list Rep. France Castro, who is neither a lawyer nor an auditor. Nevermind that she is an elected representative who was part of the budget deliberations with a mandate to scrutinize the use of public funds.

When pressed further as to why the OVP seems to be targeting only Sen. Risa Hontiveros and Castro, when other government officials have also questioned the legality and appropriateness of the confidential funds, Vice President Sara Duterte said “I have no respect for them.”

No matter the personal feelings or political dynamics, we should not ignore the fact that at the end of the day, these questions were sidestepped. Moreover, government officials who were given the mandate to investigate the use of public funds were painted as bad characters for having dared to ask questions. Apparently, if the opposition asks questions, they do not deserve answers.


It is one thing for political allies to gather round and help each other escape issues of transparency. It is quite another for the Office of the Ombudsman to do the same. In a principled system, the office serves as guardians against graft and corruption. It is the agency that allows regular citizens to seek grievances against unscrupulous government officials. And yet their last couple of pronouncements seem to be toward protecting government officials rather than the public they serve.

Ombudsman Samuel Martires urged Congress to drop the Commission on Audit’s (COA) mandate to publish their reports on government agencies saying it leads the public to prejudge officials involved. The COA reports are one of the few remaining mechanisms of transparency and accountability that ensure our taxes are being spent well. By focusing on the plight of officials’ reputations instead of their mandate to investigate erring government officials, the Office of the Ombudsman has seemingly abandoned its post.


They made more puzzling statements that further seem to obfuscate who they are protecting. They have dropped cases of Red-tagging, citing that there is nothing illegal about it. They have also defended their own lack of receipts for their own confidential fund, insisting that such receipts are not needed, and they only needed to certify that it was spent toward its intended purpose.

We are in strange and disturbing times when government agencies and officials are blatantly and proudly refusing to be transparent about their expenditure of taxpayer money. VP Duterte thanked her political allies for the confidential fund as well as for being protected from having to defend it, forgetting that it was the Filipino’s money that was given to her. The Filipino people deserve to ask questions and deserve better answers.

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TAGS: confidential funds, corrupt, corruption, transparency

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