By Dean Art D. Brion
In my article last February 20, 2017, I called the attention of the Duterte administration to the problem of corruption. I said that a campaign against corruption appeared to be the missing component among the President’s moves at that time.
Since then, the corruption in our midst has been further highlighted and cannot now be missed; over the years, it has become pervasive and is now present in practically all sectors and levels of our society. Unless significantly curbed, it is a problem that, like the drug problem, can ultimately destroy our society or at least retard its growth.
By legal definition, crimes involving corruption essentially involve public officers and employees. Private individuals only fall within this net when they conspire or participate with public officers and employees in graft and corrupt practices acts.
Action against corruption must nevertheless address both the public and the private sector actors as corruption is essentially a two-player game; private sector participation is many times essential to start or to consummate the crime. The tendency to be dishonest is likewise not a trait true only for the public sector; within the private sector itself, dishonesties similar to the public sector corruption also appear to be pervasive.
To cite examples of this latter point, it is not unknown for some private corporate executives to loot their own companies. This dishonest trait becomes public sector corruption as companies seek an undue edge in transacting with government. Even members of the media are not immune to dishonesties. It is for this reason that the term “envelopmental journalism” has been coined and it applies to media in both the public and the private sectors. The professions have not been spared either, as shown by the lawyers who charge fictitious expenses to pad their legal bills, or who falsely charge clients for the “lagay” supposedly given to the judge or the fiscal. The dishonesty metamorphoses into bribery when the judge or the fiscal actually receives their “lagay.” Even common citizens become corruptors when they try or succeed in facilitating their transactions with government through petty bribes – an event that is not too uncommon in daily life.
To be sure, we do not lack laws that punish dishonesties committed both in the public and the public sectors. But despite these laws and our prosecutory and judicial structures, corruption and its counterpart dishonesties still persist.
Corruption has existed in all administrations. The big money earners in the past have been jueteng and other forms of gambling and smuggling, undertaken with the consent or connivance of government regulators. These have given way recently to big-time dealings in drugs, to systemic smuggling that now extends to every conceivable item locally in demand, and to more sophisticated forms of gambling. The recent revelations of drug and cement smuggling bear witness to the extent and the systemic mode currently adopted at the Bureau of Customs. While not every regulatory agency carries this notoriety, the nature of their regulatory functions and the success rates in engaging in corrupt practices render these agencies prone to irregularities.
In the legislature, the “pork barrel” has always been the top mode of scooping wealth from the public coffers. In the earlier days, allocations for infrastructure projects were “shaved” at the expense of quality, to give the participating public officials their loot. In later years and beyond the public works projects, fictitious projects came to be invented, thus leaving the allocated funds illegal proceeds to be divided up among the participants. These latter deals were exposed when the legislature’s illegal DAP and PDAF budgets came to light.
In the judiciary, malpractices at the appellate court levels have been exposed, but those involving the Supreme Court could so far only be hinted at. The public owe these hints to a practicing lawyer, Atty. Lorna Kapunan (now the lawyer of Patricia Bautista, the wife of Comelec Chairman Andy Bautista), but any practitioner active in Integrated Bar affairs would privately confirm that corruption does exist at the Highest Court’s level and some would even confidentially name names. Nobody would of course come out to testify. Atty. Kapunan herself refused on the excuse that what she knew was “hearsay,” although she was very categorical when she made her assertions over national television.
Under these circumstances of pervasive and worsening corruption in the Filipino way of life, what should President Duterte do? In more practical terms, what can he do if he wants to combat and triumph over corruption during his term given the number, kind, and enormity of other problems that now beset the nation, many of them also crying out for urgent attention?
If the President takes the strictly constitutional route in resolving corruption, then the solution must be in the proposed amended or revised constitution that he envisions for the nation. Corruption must simply be given special attention to allow him the flexibility that the nature and extent of the problem requires within the time left for his administration.
But will the time left allow the President to use this route and still make a significant dent on the problem? Under the mathematical formula – distance = rate x time
that is true, not only in physics but even in everyday life, when the distance to be covered (or the defined results sought to be achieved) has been pre-determined and time is constant, it is the rate that must move and adjust. In a problem like corruption, this rate may very well translate to implementation modes that the present Constitution does not allow.
The President, of course, can simply do what he can within the means now available to him as his past four predecessors had done before him. But would this be the Duterte who had refused to be cowed by the seemingly insurmountable challenges that Davao City posed when he became its mayor?
I pause at this point. Like other citizens, I can only wait, pray, and hope.
J. Art D. Brion can be reached at email@example.com.
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