Sona promises: Has Aquino prosecuted the corrupt?
President Aquino has used “tuwid na daan (straight path)” to describe the direction of his governance of the country.
This is anchored on his campaign slogan, “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap” (If there are no corrupt officials, there are no poor people). Corruption is seen as the root of poverty in the country.
In his past five State of the Nation Addresses (Sonas), the President made eight promises to prosecute the corrupt in the government, comprising more than half of his 13 governance promises.
The technical reports accompanying his Sonas emphasize that the straight path does not pertain only to the President’s anticorruption campaign as it “also encompasses a way of doing things right, where the process is participatory, the programs are wholistic, growth is sustained, the peace policy is comprehensive and development is sustainable.”
The other governance promises are to improve the budgeting process, end patronage in the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), push for good governance in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), implement performance-based bonuses and pass amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act.
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Promises: Prosecute the corrupt and file weekly cases against tax evaders and smugglers (Sona 2010); prosecute and imprison Customs officials involved in smuggling and illegal practices (Sona 2014)
The filing of the cases was the specific act promised in the general statement to prosecute the corrupt. Aimed at plugging the leaks of government money, this was implemented through the Run After Tax Evaders (RATE) of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), the Run After the Smugglers (RATS) of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) and the Revenue Integrity Protection Service (RIPS) of the Department of Finance (DOF) to investigate corruption in the DOF and the agencies under it.
The BIR made news with its campaign to run after doctors and other professionals and celebrities, including boxing champion Manny Pacquiao, former Chief Justice Renato Corona, businessman Antonio Tiu, actor Zoren Legaspi, businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, her husband and daughter.
As of Dec. 31, 2014, the BIR had filed 327 cases (against the target of 234 cases for the period), with taxes due estimated at P64.98 billion.
In his fourth Sona in July 2013, Mr. Aquino singled out the personnel of the BOC, Bureau of Immigration and the National Irrigation Administration for incompetence, saying they had no place in government. The BOC by then had filed 162 cases (below the target of 182 cases for the period July 2010 to June 2013). A year later this increased to 170 cases (still below the weekly target), with total taxes due amounting to P26 billion.
As of June 2014, 101 cases had been filed against erring government officials, including BOC collectors.
For all three campaigns, the problem has been the very low conviction rate. For example, of the 327 tax evasion cases, 98 percent were pending (283 at the Department of Justice and 39 in the courts) as of December 2014. Five cases were dismissed.
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Promises: End the culture of wang-wang and continue to hold accountable those who practice the culture of entitlement (Sona 2011) and file the government’s first major case against the corrupt and their accomplices (2011)
The appointment in 2010 of former Commission on Human Rights Chair Leila de Lima as justice secretary was hailed because the justice portfolio was considered crucial in the fight against corruption.
The list of accomplishments in the promises to institutionalize accountability is long. This includes the following high-profile cases:
Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and former Commission on Elections Chair Benjamin Abalos Sr. were charged with election sabotage. Plunder charges were filed against Arroyo and officials of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) and Commission on Audit over the misuse of the PCSO’s intelligence fund. Arroyo is still detained while Abalos is out on bail.
In September 2013, charges of plunder, malversation, bribery, graft and corrupt practices were filed in the Office of the Ombudsman against Napoles, Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Bong Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada and 34 other people. The three senators are in jail.
An impeachment complaint was filed against former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez for alleged betrayal of public trust in connection with her handling of the cases involving the fertilizer fund scam, the euro general scandal, the Mega-Pacific deal and the NBN-ZTE deal among other controversies. She was forced to resign.
Chief Justice Renato Corona was convicted and removed from office by the Senate impeachment court for betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution, particularly for dishonesty and failure to disclose his assets.
But early on, the President’s tuwid na daan was under question when Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz named administration officials believed to be receiving bribes from operators of jueteng, an illegal numbers game. Among the officials was one of Aquino’s closest allies, Interior Undersecretary Rico E. Puno, who denied the charge but eventually resigned.
It was this perceived slowness in dealing with charges against his allies, including former Land Transportation Office chief Virginia Torres and former Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima, that marred an otherwise good record of quick and brave action against corruption in high places.
Reforms to institutionalize good governance, however, have led to improvements in the country’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) ranking by Transparency International, a Berlin-based civil society organization engaged in fighting corruption. The Philippines’ CPI moved 40 notches higher, from 134th place in 2010 to 94th in 2013.
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Promise: Prosecute government officials involved in illegal logging (Sona 2012)
Aquino’s Executive Order No. 23, which declared a moratorium on logging in natural and residual forests nationwide, significantly reduced illegal logging hot spots from 197 in 2010 to 23 as of April this year. With the 88-percent decrease in hot spots came massive reforestation efforts that led to the increase in forest cover from 6.8 million hectares to 7.8 million hectares in four years.
By October 2013, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources had fired 22 employees, among them two regional directors, while 306 personnel were under investigation. As of April this year, 1,411 illegal logging cases had been filed and 197 people had been convicted.
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Promise: Use zero-based budgeting (ZBB) to review government programs (Sona 2011)
The government started to use ZBB in 2010 and according to the 2011 Sona Technical Report, it enabled the government to identify and terminate programs that were no longer delivering intended outcomes. The savings generated from the terminated programs were channeled to programs that were performing well and to other critical priority programs to fill gaps in education and health.
The savings from ZBB in 2011 came up to P12 billion. The savings became one of the sources of the “stimulus package” called the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), which was launched in October 2011 to fast-track public spending and push economic growth. The other sources, according to Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, were “unprogrammed funds,” which were “windfall revenue collections” like large dividends from government corporations and financial institutions (SSS, GSIS, Landbank, etc.), and proceeds of the sale of government assets and of new loans.
Little was known of the DAP until Sen. Jinggoy Estrada slammed the P50 million in additional pork barrel funds given by the administration as “incentive” to senators who voted to convict Corona in his impeachment trial in 2013. Abad later said the funding came from the DAP.
In July 2014, the Supreme Court, voting 13-0, struck down the DAP for certain unconstitutional practices involving the use of government savings and budget realignments.
BACKSTORY: SC declares parts of DAP unconstitutional
But it later said that the ruling did not mean the invalidation of the 116 DAP projects discussed in its earlier decision, and that funding authorities retained the right under the Constitution to augment projects identified in the budget law.
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Promise: Pass amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act (Sona 2012)
The President said he wanted the amendments so “we may strengthen our measures to hold the corrupt accountable.” Three amendments were passed. Republic Act No. 10167 now waives the requirement for the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to notify suspected launderers that their bank deposits are being monitored. Republic Act No. 10168 criminalizes financial support for known terrorists as a stand-alone offense (enacted in 2012), and Republic Act No. 10365 requires foreign exchange establishments, real estate dealers and jewelry and precious metal dealers to report any suspicious transactions (enacted in February 2013).
The last amendment would shield the country from being blacklisted by the International Financial Action Task Force. A blacklist could mean difficulties for overseas Filipinos sending money home, as they would be required more documentation.
In June, the Supreme Court ordered the AMLC to explain its inquiry into the bank accounts of Estrada and his wife Ma. Presentacion Vitug-Ejercito.
Estrada, who is being tried in the Sandiganbayan for alleged involvement in the P10-billion pork barrel scam, claimed that the bank accounts that were subject of the AMLC inquiry were opened before the amendment of RA 10167, which allowed ex-parte bank inquiries. Hence, he should not be covered because the law could not be applied retroactively.
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Promise: Push for good governance in ARMM (Sona 2011)
Underscoring the promise is the search for peace in Mindanao. In the short term, it was for a clean and synchronized 2013 elections. The elections were relatively peaceful, with only six election-related violent incidents (compared with 33 and 15 incidents in the 2010 and 2007 elections, respectively) and with failure of elections declared in only one precinct, a marked improvement over previous years (failures were declared in six municipalities in 2010 and 17 municipalities in 2007).
The Office of the President’s 2014 Sona Technical Report said a number of initiatives had been put in place in the ARMM to promote good governance. Among these were the ensured compliance of all regional line agencies with the Transparency Seal requirements (websites to show information about respective budgets, bids, public offerings and project implementation status), publishing of bid invitations online, professionalized selection and promotion of ARMM employees, validation of licenses of hired teachers with the Professional Regulation Commission.
The ARMM is deemed abolished and will cease to exist upon the ratification of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
Congress has still to pass the BBL bill.
BACKSTORY: House passes proposed BBL, 50-17
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Promise: End patronage politics in the DPWH and replace it with a culture of merit (Sona 2011)
The DPWH has instituted reforms to promote 5Rs (right projects, right cost, right quality, right people and right-on-time implementation). Key to these are improved procurement procedures that reduced the requirement of bidders from 20 to 5 documents and the removal of the requirement to submit a letter of intent and the pilot of electronic bidding system in the central office.
E-bidding will reduce face-to-face interaction with bidders and thus help reduce opportunities for collusion. It is to be fully implemented in all DPWH offices in 2016.
The DPWH also implemented the Cadet Engineering Program (CEP) in 2013. The DPWH selected 40 engineers from 197 applicants after a series of interviews and examinations and trained them for 26 weeks on technical knowledge, strategic thinking, leadership, public service and values and professional ethics. The first graduates of the CEP program in December 2013 were deployed to different DPWH technical offices.
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Promise: Implementation of performance-based bonuses for government employees (Sona 2012)
According to Executive Order No. 80 in 2012, government employees will receive Performance-Based Bonus (PBB) on top of the Productivity Enhancement Incentive (PEI), which is given to employees across the board regardless of their actual performance.
The PBB replaced the across-the-board P10,000 cash gift given at the end of the year to all government employees during the Arroyo administration.
The amount ranged from P5,000 to P35,000 depending on the performance rating of an agency and its employees.
Under the PBB plan, agencies within a department vied for the best performing agency rating, while employees were ranked against each other so that only a small percentage of the entire government work force got the maximum bonus.
In July 2013, a group of teachers decried the PBB for not living up to its promise of rewarding the best performing government employees.
Teachers Dignity Coalition chair Benjo Basas said the promised maximum bonus of P35,000 was given to only 10 percent of the government work force, contrary to official pronouncements that it would be given to all those who performed their jobs exceedingly well.
He said the teachers also complained that the bonus was based on individual school performance, namely, aptitude test results, dropout rate and budget liquidation, over which the teachers had no control.
Basas said it turned out that the DBM placed a 10-percent cap on the number of best-performing employees in the best-performing agencies.
Other complaints were in the delay of the release of the performance-based bonuses and the fat bonuses of government-owned and -controlled corporations.
The grant of bonuses of around P1 million each for 2012 to members of board of the Social Security System (SSS), which was reported in the media about the same time as the announcement of an increase in SSS members’ contributions beginning 2014, was condemned by SSS employees and members and others outside the pension fund.
Critics said that although the grant of huge bonuses to the SSS directors may arguably have been legal, it was definitely immoral.
Sources: Inquirer Archives, Office of the President Sona Technical Reports 2011-2014, government websites
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