Palace seeks help of public vs graft | Inquirer News

Palace seeks help of public vs graft

The government may have taken steps to curb corruption, but allies of President Aquino in the Senate said much more need to be done to eradicate graft and improve the image of the bureaucracy.

Among government institutions, the Senate recorded the biggest rating downgrade (from a good +36 in 2012 to neutral -8 in 2013) in the survey by Social Weather Stations (SWS) of top executives of some 1,000 private companies in the country.

Fifty-six percent of the executives in Metro Manila and other urban centers polled last year said there was “a lot” of corruption in the government in 2013, a 13-point or 30-percent increase from the level in 2012.


The Bureau of Customs (BOC) was the only government agency with a “very bad” net sincerity rating. From -46 in 2012, the Department of Finance-attached agency scored a -63 in the SWS survey.


Acknowledging the results of the survey, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said the Aquino administration was working to “firm up the infrastructure of government to ensure good governance.”

Coloma said Malacañang was open to suggestions from the public on how to improve its performance.

Senate President Franklin Drilon said the results of the SWS survey were “perfectly understandable,” believing that the Senate’s poor figures were temporary.

Outrage over pork scam

“They are a natural consequence of the public’s outrage on the pork barrel controversy, which involved the Senate as among the affected institutions,” Drilon said.

Three senators—Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr.—were among those charged last year in the Office of the Ombudsman in connection with the P10-billion pork barrel scam.


Drilon expressed confidence that the Senate would soon reverse the negative perception that he blamed on the pork barrel scam.

Measures to fight graft

He said there were several bills meant to eliminate corruption in the bureaucracy.

“The Senate will waste no time as it continues its efforts throughout this new year to institute policy reforms within the Senate and pass measures that will stamp out graft and corruption in the bureaucracy,” Drilon said in a statement.

He said that “throughout last year, initiatives like the abolition of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), the Senate inquiry into the pork barrel scam and the movement toward the freedom of information bill (FOI)—which is now in advanced stage of legislation—are examples of the Senate’s commitment to its anticorruption and reformist agenda.”

He also mentioned various bills to help eliminate corruption such as amendments to the Sandiganbayan law “to expedite the disposition of numerous ongoing cases bogged down in the antigraft court;” amendments to Republic Act No. 6770, or the Ombudsman Act; and the Whistleblower’s Act and Witness Protection Program.

Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino IV and Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara pushed for their respective advocacies against graft and red tape, with the former proposing to make doing business in the country easier and the latter advocating whistle-blower protection and freedom of information.

Angara said “the battle [against corruption] has not been won yet despite the valiant efforts of P-Noy (President Aquino’s nickname).”

“A change in culture doesn’t happen overnight. We need people who will report incidences of corruption, those whom we call whistle-blowers,” Angara told the Inquirer.

He said this was the reason behind his proposed Whistleblower Protection Act, to encourage insiders to squeal on corrupt government hands and irregularities in the bureaucracy.

“We are also an author of the FOI bill ever since our days as a congressman,” Angara said.

The transparency measure that makes public access to government records particularly those pertaining to the disbursement of public funds mandatory has been repeatedly thwarted in the 14th and 15th Congresses.

Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said he had “high hopes the government’s anticorruption campaign would succeed.”

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto expressed optimism that steps to reform the BOC and the scrapping of the PDAF would result in a better perception of the government this year.

President Aquino has appointed a new customs commissioner, John Phillip Sevilla.

Common knowledge

Sevilla, who assumed his post only last month, told reporters at the three-day Good Governance Summit that reports of irregularities supposedly involving BOC personnel were not new.

That, he emphasized, was the “reason why the agency is undertaking a reform program,” including measures aimed at making customs procedures more transparent.

Sevilla said at the summit on Thursday that transparency would be a key strategy of the BOC in addressing the deeply rooted culture of corruption in the agency.

“We are committed to implementing radical transparency,” he said during the forum.

At the summit, the BOC launched its key transparency initiative—a portal containing transactions in the agency. In particular, the website will show imports processed in all customs districts as well as the corresponding taxes and duties paid.

Customs ng Bayan

The Customs ng Bayan website ( is meant to give the public easy access to information on customs-related transactions and open these transactions to scrutiny, Sevilla said.

He said the BOC was inviting people to help the agency police its own ranks.

“By opening the books of an agency that many Filipinos believe is the most corrupt in government, we invite the public to join us in our war against smuggling that defrauds the government of billions of pesos every year,” Sevilla said.

Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Sevilla’s immediate boss, said the implementation of the Customs ng Bayan initiative even before the enactment into law of the FOI bill was consistent with the Aquino administration’s anticorruption agenda.

Easy data access

“Even before the passage of the freedom of information law, we find value in crowdsourcing the anticorruption effort through a radical change in our data transparency policies for public accountability,” Purisima said in a statement.

On the same note, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said the administration, which has two years left, wants to instill the culture of easy data access in government.

“Experience has taught many of us that securing key government data can be an arduous, complicated process that may take a while, sometimes much longer than necessary … We’re changing all that,” Abad said in a statement.

Info on donations

Besides importations, the customs portal will also contain information on foreign donations to the Philippines passing through customs, including those meant to help areas affected by Super Typhoon Yolanda.

Despite the perception of widespread corruption by the executives, satisfaction with government efforts to promote a good business environment and business expectations for the next two years peaked in 2013.

In the SWS survey, conducted from July 31 to Nov. 29 last year, 88 percent of the respondents said passing a strong FOI law would have helped reduce corruption. The number was up from 78 percent the year before.

But it remains to be seen if an FOI law—a campaign promise of President Aquino in 2010—would be finally passed on his watch.

Coloma claimed that the administration was “doing everything to promote the principle of freedom of information” and that “passing a law is the responsibility of our lawmakers.”

Asked why Aquino, who promised an FOI law during the presidential campaign, had not certified the bill as urgent, Coloma said: “The President has always been circumspect in the use of this power.”

He highlighted the part of the survey indicating that 73 percent of the respondents felt that the government’s efforts to eliminate corruption were “somewhat/very effective.” (The number actually dropped from 78 percent in 2012.)

“Hence, it is evident that the perception on seeing a lot of corruption is balanced by the perception that the government is taking steps to eradicate corruption,” he said.

Even without an FOI law, he said the administration had been implementing concrete steps consistent with the principles of freedom of information.

“That’s why perhaps no one could say that this administration does not believe in the principle of freedom of information,” he said a few hours after presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda led the launch of Open Data Philippines.

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The project “aims to make national government data searchable, accessible and useful, with the help of the different agencies of government and with the participation of the public.”

TAGS: Government, Malacañang, Philippines

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