Duterte to DOJ: Probe all corrupt acts in gov’t
MANILA, Philippines — Saying official corruption had gotten worse, President Rodrigo Duterte announced on Tuesday that he had directed the Department of Justice (DOJ) to launch a sweeping investigation into graft across all government agencies and to put special focus on the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), which he earlier described as ridden with irregularities.
He also ordered Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra to prosecute and file charges against people involved in irregularities, whether from the public or private sector.
In 2016, Duterte won the presidency campaigning on a promise to fight corruption, crime and illegal drugs.
But his administration has been dogged by scandals and allegations of graft and coverups in state agencies ranging from prisons, the state health insurer, immigration, airports and customs, to police and the drug enforcement agency, few of which led to convictions or high-profile resignations. On Tuesday, Mr. Duterte issued a memorandum that expanded the scope of an earlier task force formed to look into allegations of widespread graft at the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) and authorized Guevarra to create as many panels for the investigation as necessary and to include other government agencies in these groups.
The DOJ will look into graft until the end of Duterte’s term on June 30, 2022.
Guevarra said it was the “toughest” assignment he had received from the President.
“I will need the support and cooperation of the entire government machinery to achieve this singular objective of substantially reducing corruption in [the] government,” he said in a message to reporters.
In issuing the directive, Duterte noted that corruption in the country has been thriving.
“I have made a pledge … that I will concentrate the last remaining years of my term fighting corruption, because up to now, it is not waning, it is becoming stronger. It’s as if officials of the country are becoming inutile and cannot do anything with the onslaught of corruption,” he said in a televised address.
The Philippines fell 14 notches to 113th spot among 180 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index last year.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said Mr. Duterte, “using his own personal standards,” was not satisfied with efforts to clean up state agencies.
The President issued the directive, Roque said, because if the Office of the Ombudsman is mandated to go after official corruption, the DOJ is the biggest public prosecution agency in the country and has more lawyers it can deploy for the investigation.
“The more government personnel focused on corruption, the better,” Roque said in a press briefing.
The investigation would not just be focused on officials of the executive branch, but would include public officers in the other branches as well, he said.
There is no separate agency investigating Congress, Roque said. “It is the power of the executive to implement all laws, regardless of who is involved,” he said.
He said there would not be any overlap in the functions of the DOJ and other government agencies because the agencies could be included in the task force.
The DOJ directive was also meant to emphasize the President’s desire to focus on tackling corruption and to leave a legacy of a clean government, he said.
Mr. Duterte believes he can still minimize corruption, even if he cannot completely eradicate it.
Resignation won’t save you
He noted that he had started with PhilHealth, where officials had been removed or had resigned. But resigning would not absolve officials of any liability, he said.
“Let me remind everybody in this government [that] your resignation will not save your neck,” he said. Even if they resign, they could still be summoned or subpoenaed for what they did as part of the government, he said.
He would also suspend officials in the coming days, he said.
“If I suspend you, it means I have doubts about you. I will not suspend anybody who did not commit wrongdoing,” he said.
The President also said he no longer favored abolishing PhilHealth, backtracking from an earlier plan to ask Congress to do away with the state health insurance firm.
He noted that many PhilHealth officials had already been suspended.
“I will not abolish it because it’s not easy really to create another one, but I think by this time many have been suspended,” he said.
But while railing against corruption, Mr. Duterte continued to vouch for Public Works Secretary Mark Villar and Health Secretary Francisco Duque, the PhilHealth board chair.
He said he had nothing against Villar, whom he called hardworking and accomplished.
Roque said the President would leave it up to the DOJ decide whether to investigate Villar.
Charges against Duque
As for Duque, the President said he “was not part of PhilHealth” and was not reporting to the agency.
Duterte said he did not heed calls from Congress to suspend or replace Duque, adding that there was no basis for such an action.
“What ground would I base my decision? Would I just obey the cry of 1 million as against my assessment that Duque did not steal anything, when we talk about money? Maybe some other things. He might be some other things but corruption, no, nothing about money,” he said.
On Tuesday, the public accounts and blue ribbon committees of the House of Representatives voted to approve an investigation report recommending the filing of administrative and criminal charges against Duque, members of the PhilHealth board, and other officials of the state health insurer for irregularities in the company. (See story on this page.)
Duterte also warned his critics against linking him to corruption.
“Do not invent a sin against me because I have painstakingly avoided being corrupt,” he said.
The President directed executive agencies to simplify the process for the distribution of cash assistance to the people so that it would not be delayed.
He noted that in some provinces, officials were asked to submit proposals before the money could be distributed.
Assistance related to food and health should be given promptly, he said.
“Do away with delay, local government permits and the like,” he said.
If he receives a report of a delay, he will forward it to the Ombudsman, which can suspend officials, he added.
The President also issued an administrative order directing executive agencies to comply with rules and policies to ensure transparency, accountability, and good government in their procurement processes.
The order requires them to post on their official website and social media platforms the details of their projects, including the budget for these and the winning contractor, as well as the status of the construction and the reason for any delays.
They must post the source of the funds for these projects, the responsible official, and his contact number or email address.
They must also post the detailed actual cost of the project and any variations from this.
All agencies, after they have awarded a contract, should also make public the name of the winning bidder, the approved budget and the amount of the contract awarded, and the implementing office of the concerned agency.
The order also requires the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System to be user- and mobile-friendly, up-to-date and compliant with the requirements for maintaining a Transparency Seal.
The Government Procurement Policy Board is tasked with disseminating the names of blacklisted contractors and suppliers to the procuring entities and to the Commission on Audit every quarter.
The blacklist should also be posted on the PhilGEPS and GPPB websites and the social media platforms of the procuring entity.
—With reports from Tina G. Santos and Reuters
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.