Wake Up, Philippines!

Counting the cost of corruption in the Philippines

“…Elections are like a sponge, it sucks up all the money, most of it from corruption.”

Among the very first lessons in business is that “THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A FREE LUNCH”. Somebody is bound to pay, Always. Especially when it comes to corruption. So how does corruption get to us? Let’s count the ways.

1. Loss of Government Revenue

The first victim of corruption is government revenue. In a developing economy like the Philippines, this can be extremely debilitating. The continuing budgetary deficit of the government results into cutbacks in expenditures for much needed social services.

2. Education

The gap of classrooms in public elementary schools is estimated to be about 40,000 this coming school year. The case is even more pathetic, as the lack of qualified teachers further confound the problems. While student population keeps on growing year after year, these gaps in classroom, books and teachers is widening. What do these lead to? Poor quality education of the future citizens of the Republic further undermining their prospects of contributing to nation building. THAT IS A VERY HIGH PRICE TO PAY FOR CORRUPTION.

3. Infrastructure

With tightening sources of funding for infrastructure development, government has to resort to partnership with the private sector. A public good like roads, bridges, ports and airports will necessarily be charging user fees to be able to earn profit and recover capital. Nothing wrong with because he who benefits should share the cost. But a lot of these projects require performance undertaking from the government to be financiable to lenders. This results into the contingent liabilities of the national government burgeoning the levels no one wants to even find out. Remember the NAIA III Terminal? an edifice that can’t be operated until now. The MACAPAGAL BOULEVARD which can easily enter the Guiness Book as the world’s most expensive boulevard? THE SMOKEY MOUNTAIN PROJECT where almost a billion of OFW’s money was invested and has not been repaid until now? Last count in 2003, it stood to over P500 Billion. That’s about over 30,000 pesos per household. THAT IS NO LOOSE CHANGE TO PAY FOR CORRUPTION.

4. Environment

Because government resources are constrained, environment protection programs are neglected. We passed the Clean Air Act and yet we cannot put our acts together in ensuring clean air. The law is toothless because the government has no money to invest in monitoring equipment. Even garbage it cannot collect. Remember the PAYATAS TRAGEDY? Meanwhile, to be able to generate power and run our heavy industries, less desirable Plants are allowed to be established. ASK THE PEOPLE from CALACA, BATANGAS, PAGBILAO QUEZON, and SUAL PANGASINAN, all sites of COAL FIRED POWER PLANTS that contribute to withdrawals from our deposit of breathable air, potable water and liveable communities. The resource balance of our children’s future is rapidly depleting, A COST OF CORRUPTION THAT WE MAY NEVER BE ABLE TO ACCOUNT FOR.

5. Government Debt and Poverty

Again due to budget deficit, government keeps on accumulating debt, which at end of 2003 stood at over 2.4 trillion pesos. That’s over 30,000 pesos for every Filipino man, woman and child. At an average interest cost of 10% per year for both short and long term loans, that is equivalent to a staggering P240 Billion in interest payment alone every year. That’s the amount of money taken away form the mouth of the poor, who account to more than half of the Philippine population. TURNING OUR BACKS FROM OUR MARGINALIZED CITIZEN IS A STEEP PRICE TO PAY FOR CORRUPTION.

6. Political Patronage

Corruption doesn’t prosper without protection. Those who practice realize that to keep themselves in their lucrative posts, somebody politically powerful should be able to stop any attempts to cut him from illicit money flow. In return, he lavishes his patrons with gifts. Gifts in no small terms, which further corrupt him and his patron. His patron, in order to accumulate more gifts has to increase his influence. To increase his influence, he needs to milk his corrupt benefactors. And it goes on deeper and deeper.

Elections are like a sponge, it sucks up all the money, most of it from corruption. Election in the Philippines are nothing but patronage politics. How else does one explain the millions spent in a campaign in exchange for a few measly thousand pesos in the salary of a public servant? There is only one explanation I have, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A FREE LUNCH, SOMEONE IS BOUND TO PAY FOR IT.

How do campaign contributors expect to recover their investments? In the form of political protection to allow them to continue with their illegal activities. In the form of rigged government contracts. In the form of economic rents taxpayers eventually pay for.

7. Crime

Corruption corrupts and the deeper one gets into the mire, the more desperate one becomes in defending the well from where he draws his booty. He will be prepared to use trick, treat and threats to keep his business. And since corruption, like stale food attract flies and worms, criminal syndicates are not very far from them. So do their violent means of doing business.

The problem with the proliferation of illegal drugs can be linked solidly to corruption. How else do drug lords and pushers do their business under the noses of law enforcers and local government officials except that they pay-off this public servants or work in cahoots with them. Remember Mayor Mitra of Quezon Province? He was caught red handed transporting a ton of shabu using the town ambulance.

This social ill has led to the commission of many a heinous crime is prospering and multiplying in every Barangay of this country because of corruption. RAPES, MURDERS, and KIDNAPPING FOR RANSOM ARE TOO MUCH TO PAY FOR CORRUPTION.

8. High Cost of Doing Business

It is sometimes beyond our imagination for a businessman to spend three full days in the crowded city hall of a highly urbanized city trying to get a business license. And he was just going to buy and sell eggs. How much more if he wants to operate a industrial project. If there are 20 government offices he needs to go through for various permits, licenses, certificates, approvals and signatures, he needs an entire army of fixers to handle them. Precious hours are lost among senior officers of the firm who have to wine and dine to the whims and caprices of government officials. Remember the stinking IMPSA and PIATCO deals?

Those companies whose code of conduct does not permit them to provide bribes and pseudo-bribes end up spending tons of money just to end up deciding to leave the country in exasperation.

On the other hand, many of those who stay to do business have gotten used to government people scratching their heads as they show up in their offices asking for all sorts of gifts for every known relatives of a mayor, congressman, senator, department secretary, bureau director or chief of police. What does the businessman do? He just passes on to his customers this extra cost incurred in doing business in the Philippines. Remember the Power Purchase Adjustment (PPA)? This is one bloody scheme that sucks us dry!!!

9. Loss of Investor Confidence

As Judge W.H. Heath said, if we cannot manage our money and assets, how can we be expected to manage other people’s money? Investors demand that there be a reasonable level of assurance that they will get their investment back. That their investment will in fact make money. And that it will not be taken over by political forces.

It becomes extremely challenging to attract investors to do business in a country where a fugitive from the FBI and convicted pedophile gets elected in Congress. Or where tax evasion case with very clear outcomes is lost to technicalities.

Multilateral donors find it hard to give us loans and technical assistance grants when they know that a large portion of their money will be used to line up the stomachs of politicians. They will have to invest in additional personnel, incur additional costs just to watch us spend their money. Every time we submit receipts they spend thrice the time just verifying whether they are genuine or not. This is the only country in the world whose AUTHENTIC DOCUMENTS (as declared and sealed from Malacanang) has one year expiry date. Believe me it can be tiring to do these things.

When many in the International community considers your country as corrupt, it does not feel good. It does not buy you goodwill. Jeers and sneers YES. But respect? NO!!! Just look at how we PINOYS are treated in foreign airports. Who would forget Senate President DRILON being forced to remove his shoes in a US airport despite showing his Diplomatic Passport. I myself had a very disgusting experience in SCHIPOL airport in the Netherlands (CARLO BUTALID & GRACE CABACTULAN MAY NOT AGREE WITH ME) and at Charles de Gaulle in France. But can we blame them? Of course not. There’s simply too much Pinoys who are going out of the country with spurious documents, escorted and facilitated by no less than BID personnel from NAIA. THAT IS WHAT WIDESPREAD CORRUPTION IS COSTING US.

We have only just began counting the cost of corruption. It cost us the prostitution of our political institutions. We have now hoodlums in uniforms and hoodlums in robes. It costs us many lives and honor lost to crime. It costs us our self respect. And it costs us lost opportunities for a better future of our children.


Author: Jun S. Aguilar
Date: March 12, 2004

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Cost of corruption

Posted in Editorial, Graft and Corruption, Poverty by Erineus on February 1, 2009

The failed attempt of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration to prevent Rodolfo Noel Lozada Jr., former president of Philippine Forest Corp., from testifying on the $329-million National Broadband Network project has once again focused public attention on the perennial problem of corruption.

Graft and corruption has been a fact of national life since post-Liberation days. Almost every administration has had its big and sensational graft cases. At every presidential election, one major issue that is always raised is graft and corruption. Opposition leaders denounce the graft being committed by the administration, but once they take over the reins of government, they also commit graft. It’s just a case of different sets of people pigging out at the trough that is the national treasury at different times.

Economist Alejandro Lichauco has said the Philippines is perennially in crisis because of “the mortal mix of corruption and poverty and a consequent loss of popular confidence in government and the electoral process as instruments of change.” The fatal mix, he said, is poverty so massive and so intense as to have degenerated into a problem of mass hunger, and corruption that is as massive as the massive poverty. A deadly mix, indeed, that is killing tens of thousands of people.

Starting with the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship, the Philippine crisis has been characterized not only by corruption and poverty but also by human rights abuses and a culture of impunity. Bruce Van Voorhis, a member of the Asian Human Rights Commission, said that these aspects of the life of the nation are linked: “People are poor to a large extent because of widespread corruption; those who wield political power violate people’s rights to attain and maintain that power; a lack of judicial punishment in the courts ensures impunity that permits corruption and human rights violations to continue. The cycle has sadly repeated itself for years.”

Corruption retards economic and social development, lowers the quality of public services and infrastructure and raises the prices of goods and services. In all these aspects, it is the poor who suffer the most because they cannot avail themselves, for instance, of the services of private doctors and hospitals or buy expensive goods. In some cases, corruption literally kills: for instance, a ship sinks and hundreds of people die because a coast guard officer was bribed to allow the overloaded, non-seaworthy vessel to leave port.

In 2000, the World Bank estimated that the Philippines had lost $48 billion (P1.968 trillion) to corruption from 1977 to 1997. Think how many kilometers of roads and bridges and how many schoolhouses and hospitals that money could have built. Think of the other public infrastructure and public services that could have been improved with that kind of money. But all that public money went into the private pockets of corrupt, greedy government officials.

Graft and corruption flourishes because of the culture of impunity. Have you heard of any big fish being convicted of corruption and plunder, except deposed president Joseph Estrada? Yes, Estrada was convicted of plunder, but he did not spend even a day in a real prison. Only six weeks after his conviction, he was pardoned by President Arroyo. Was that any way to set an example for the other grafters in government and to would-be grafters and plunderers?

And so the graft and corruption continues. But from time to time a ray of light pierces the darkness and gives the nation hope that we might yet be able to start punishing the grafters. Such a ray was Lozada, whose courageous and forthright testimony at the Senate may yet save the nation from the grip of scandalous, graft-ridden deals.

But whistleblowers like Lozada cannot, just by themselves, ensure a successful campaign against corruption. Graft and corruption has become so ingrained in the national life that it is considered “normal.” Even people like Lozada are ready to consider a 20-percent “commission” on government deals acceptable. But that should not be acceptable. A 20-percent “commission” is an illegal and immoral “tax” on a poor and overburdened people. They have to realize this, watch every government transaction that may be tainted with graft, and denounce officials who are stealing taxpayers’ money — their money.

Source: Philippine Daily Inquirer
Date: First Posted 00:43:00 02/12/2008

Glimpses: Of traitors and heroes

Posted in Church, Government, Social Issues/Concerns, State, Traitors/Heroes by Erineus on February 1, 2009

It is not difficult to talk about traitors. There are so many of them around, easy to spot because they usually hold positions of power or hold great wealth. The worst traitors come from the Church and the State, both being the dominant and domineering institutions of the country over the past 400 years. The Church and the State are natural sources of vision and virtue, of courage and heroism, of nobility and purity. When they live up to their highest calling, an enlightened society is born and raised.

The story of the Philippines, however, is a story of failure of leadership. In a democracy, the failure of society may mean the failure of the citizenry. “For the people, by the people, of the people” is more than a democratic principle, it is democracy’s fundamental philosophy. That is why I cannot point to the people as the culprit for the massive poverty and corruption that shame the nation. Our poverty is not a choice — it is an inherited status, a curse from birth. Corruption stems from abuse and exploitation of power, and the people are its victims, not beneficiaries.

The State in colonial times used force to rob the people of their land and loot the country of its resources. The Church at that time shared in the loot and cooperated with the State to manipulate the native population into submission. There is little need for me to retell an old story. I am not a historian, only a student of history. And if our history were not so crucial to our present, I would prefer to simply move on in cadence with time.

Today, however, is a special moment when history and the present meet to reconcile and change a course, or agree to continue a path where a people’s soul wallows in slavery and darkness. After more than twenty years, another moment emerges with a special invitation for courage and faith. Once again, change knocks loudly in the hearts of Filipinos, asking to come in, bearing messages of encouragement from America.

When slavery has been one’s reality for centuries, it conditions the mind and spirit to cope by first resigning to it, and eventually by accepting it as a natural state of life. It used to be that parents of poor families would dissuade their children from even imaging a better life. It was, for those parents, simply fantasy to do so as life would never allow such a shift from poverty to comfort or abundance. Ambition was not only useless, it actually was dangerous. Ambition only got the poor into trouble with the Church and the State who were always vigilant against their subjects hoping and dreaming.

We must remember history, not only the events and the special personalities but also the effects of it that we carry to the present. If change seems to come so slowly, this is only a direct result of a history that has so deeply embedded submission and resignation in the psyche of ordinary and poor Filipinos. Those among us who clamor for change would do well to understand the process and effect of colonial times, to understand the exploitative nature of the Church and the State all those centuries. Once we do, we can design a mechanism to deconstruct the imposed horizon blanketing a captive’s mind and ultimately allow the rainbow to inspire a benighted people to follow the light.

In a democracy, government is the one tasked not only to govern but to lead and inspire. In a religion, the church is expected to nurture and to pastor. In the Philippines, however, both government and church have failed miserably as institutions in their mandated roles. What has saved the day for them are pockets of good workers on the ground, public officials who defy the collective look of graft and abuse by their sincere and dedicated service, priests and nuns who shun the pomp of position and protocol and instead take the posture of washing the feet of the poor.

Where government and church as institutions have oftentimes been traitors to their higher calling, ordinary workers among them have been heroes and have carried the day for them. Even when whole institutions become corrupt, the light of a few honest and courageous members can continue to provide hope to an exploited society. Because we have many traitors who keep Filipinos in the dark, who abdicate the empowerment of the many for fear of losing historical advantages, we need the heroes who will stand on firm ground, who will stay rooted in righteousness despite the corrupt environment.

When we have heroes to point to, they become sources of light. I have found many in my life, a “barangay” [village] chairman here and there, a mayor here and a governor there, an honest treasurer, a determined teacher. They have been sources of light. The Church in the Philippines has her own heroes, even a few martyrs. There are those parish priests who defy their own poverty and always have something for the poorest in their areas. And who can discount the many religious orders of nuns who truly mother their flock as their way of life.

Treachery has brought poverty to a land of abundance. It is treachery against public duty, against morals and ethics. It is treachery against the teachings of Christ whose disciples in the Philippines have not been faithful reflections of. How can a godly gift of abundance be cornered by the greedy in a land where religion teaches love and sacrifice giving as its primordial virtues? But in the face of the worst distortion and perversion of democracy and Christianity, heroes have not been bullied to squat and be quiet. To those heroes we owe so much, maybe even everything thus far.

Thus far, only thus far. Heroism is not only for the rich, the powerful, the learned. Heroism is a birthright, a forgotten one for most, but always there as a choice for each of us. We have relied on our heroes for so long but mistook their roles as saviors when they served most of all as inspiration for our own heroism to awaken. Heroes save, but heroes inspire, guide and empower us to be heroes ourselves. This is the invitation of change – for us to be heroes in this moment of history. Change is not a call for higher incomes, for more economic opportunities. Change is a call for heroes to save their motherland. Change is a call to be brave, and then for the brave to serve as models of virtue, of generosity and courage, of faith and patriotism.

* * *

Confucius: “Cowardice is seeing what is right, and failing to do it.”

By Jose Ma. Montelibano
First Posted 23:54:00 01/29/2009

SC: Ban on ‘short time’ unconstitutional

Posted in Constitution, Constitutional Rights, Hotel, Judiciary, Jurisprudence, Laws, Legislation, LGUs by Erineus on February 1, 2009

MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court has declared unconstitutional a Manila ordinance banning “short time” admissions in motels, saying it violates the rights not only of motel owners but also of married couples.

The high court decision, penned by Associate Justice Dante Tinga, also overturned a Court of Appeals ruling that voided the original Manila regional trial court verdict that City Ordinance 7774 violated constitutional guarantees on personal liberty.

The appellate court had ruled that the ordinance was a valid exercise of the local government’s police powers.

In its ruling, the high court said even if the Manila City government’s claims that motels had become dens of “prostitution, adultery and fornication” were true, banning short time admissions would curtail “legitimate sexual behavior among consenting married or consenting single adults, which is constitutionality protected.”

It also said other legitimate activities, such as those of families seeking temporary comfort in case of power outages, travelers needing a place to wash up or rest in transit, or other persons or groups who merely need private space, would be curtailed.

The Supreme Court ruled on a case originally filed by the Malate Tourist and Development Corporation (MTDC), owner and operator of the Victoria Court chain, with the Manila regional trial court soon after the Manila ordinance was enacted in 1992.

The complainant was later joined by other motel operators White Light Corporation, Titanium Corporation and Sta. Mesa Tourist and Development Corporation (STDC).

By Tetch Torres
First Posted 15:54:00 01/29/2009

Vetoing openness

Posted in Budget, Constitutional Rights, Editorial, Right To Information, Tax by Erineus on February 1, 2009

In the 2007 budget law, a right-to-information provision was vetoed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. (In 2008, the provision did not even find its way into the budget law.) In the P1.4-trillion General Appropriations Act of 2009 that the President is about to sign, the provision is back. Will the President veto it again?

Sen. Francis Pangilinan is right to sound the alarm. “Mindless of the numerous corruption scandals that rocked the nation last year, the Office of the President once again did not include the Right to Information section in its proposed 2009 P1.4-trillion budget. It is not clear whether this was devious desire or just an oversight,” he noted in a press statement. He said a people’s organization, Alyansa Agrikultura, had alerted him to it.

What does the section say?

“Right to Information. Subject to limitations as may be provided by law, the right of the people to information on matters of public concern, guaranteed under Section 7, Article III of the Constitution as well as with the state policy of full disclosure of all its transactions involving public interest, every government agency shall, upon request by any citizen, make available the data under their possession for information, scrutiny, copying, or reproduction of all records of information, in any form whatsoever, pertaining to the implementation of the appropriations under this Act including but not limited to information on projects, disbursement of funds, reports, contract bidding and awards.”

This is a tonic provision that can help restore public confidence in the political process. It is also, after the passed budget was amended to accommodate a P50-billion “economic stimulus package,” a necessary one. Requiring “every government agency” to “make available the data” a citizen may request “pertaining to the implementation of the appropriations under this Act” will help counter inordinate greed in government spending – or at least supply concerned citizens with the legal ammunition to fight corruption.

But President Arroyo vetoed a similar provision in the 2007 budget. She did not include the provision in the 2009 bill. Now that it has been inserted into the budget and actually passed, will she veto it again? We can think of only one reason she would do so: to protect the corrupt.

* * *

Denying transparency

The use of bicameral conference committees to forge a legislative measure acceptable to both the House and the Senate is a longstanding practice – and one that, as we and others have pointed out more than once, is prone to abuse. It has, all too often, given rise to the so-called third chamber of Congress, a shadow (and shadowy) branch of government. The way the “bicam” on the 2009 budget has conducted its business, however, occasions deeper worry; the concentration of power that we know is unhealthy for democracy has become even more acute.

The substance of the “economic stimulus package” that is a feature of the 2009 budget as finally approved is crucial, of course. A pro-administration congressman said of the P50-billion package: “This could be construed as a way to bankroll the political ambitions of some people.” Or the political interests of the administration.

But it is the way the administration engineered the passage of the budget that is gravely troubling.

Members of the bicameral conference committee had authorized Rep. Junie Cua, the chairman of the House appropriations committee, and Sen. Edgardo Angara, the chairman of the Senate finance committee, to meet over the holidays to thresh out the differences between the respective bills. The members were wrong to do this: to concentrate the power of the purse in only two pairs of hands.

But Cua and Angara did meet; they did the work of reconciling provisions and amending the budget – and they did not bother to report to their members afterwards.

“I cannot recall any similar occurrence in the past when this has happened,” House Deputy Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora said. Oh, the bicam did meet, after the changes had been fixed. But only for 15 minutes. “This is farcical,” Zamora said.

That much is transparent.

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 23:23:00 01/29/2009

Commentary: The long road to social reform

Posted in Agrarian Reform, Justice and Peace, Social Issues/Concerns, Social Reform by Erineus on February 1, 2009

“[A] man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.” With these words US President Barack Obama in his inaugural address invoked – oh so gently – the long and bitter struggle for racial justice in his country: 625,000 dead in the Civil War, the lynchings, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, violence at Selma, the murder of Martin Luther King, and all the rest.

The wider meaning could be that social change does not come easily or cheaply when it runs up against powerful vested interests – a lesson that has been impressed upon us here in the Philippines time and again.

Take, for example, the recent failure of Congress to enact a reform or an extension of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL). Farmers’ organizations, committed lawyers, Church people and bishops had lobbied, marched, camped and fasted in the effort to move the nation’s lawmakers to do its duty as mandated by the Constitution, but all in vain. The landlords and their allies in Congress, including the family of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, were too powerful; thus what came out was a mere token six-month “extension” of the law, with its teeth – compulsory acquisition – removed. Here we have a classic example of elite democracy, in which political power is held by an economic elite and used to defend the interests of that elite – at the continuing expense of the non-elite.

The excuse of the congresspersons, that they need more time to consider the issues, inspires ridicule. As though the facts were not clear, for example, in the massive study of Arsenio Balisacan, which was discussed by Solita Collas-Monsod in her column more than a year ago. (“A look at CARP’s impact on poverty and growth,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, 12/1/07) While pointing out there and in other studies the many weakness and failures of CARP, Balisacan does show unequivocally that land ownership promotes both economic growth and poverty reduction.

Equally distressing for those concerned about social reform and social justice is the decision of the Court of Appeals in Cagayan de Oro City, declaring unconstitutional a Davao City ordinance prohibiting aerial spraying of fungicides on banana plantations in the city. For years, workers living on the plantations with their families, aided by non-government organizations, had lobbied against the spraying, which they say causes skin and eye irritations, tightness in the chest, and various other ailments. The lobbyists gathered impressive testimony both from the affected residents of the plantations and from medical and other experts, and eventually convinced the city council to pass an ordinance forbidding the spraying, with a three-month deadline for the companies to switch to other forms of spraying.

The powerful Philippine Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) took the issue to the courts, claiming that the fungicides are not hazardous to health (contrary, it seems, to a warning on their labels), and moreover that three months was not sufficient time for a conversion to other forms of spraying. The Regional Trial Court examined the facts quite thoroughly and affirmed the validity of the ban. Thereafter the PBGEA went to the Court of Appeals in Cagayan de Oro City, claiming among other things that the three-month deadline was impossible to meet and that the Davao City ordinance was therefore unconstitutional.

The Court of Appeals took more than a year to act on the appeal. At the same time, the NGOs kept up a steady drumfire of support for the ban and of pressure on the Court to decide the case and give the workers some relief from the poisons descending regularly on their homes, their workstations, their children on the way to school. They marched, held prayer rallies, obtained support from other NGOs, and from the Social Action Center of the Archdiocese of Davao. They came in a caravan to Cagayan de Oro City and camped out by the Court of Appeals even over Christmas. There was full support from Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro, Bishop Honesto Pacana of Malaybalay in Bukidnon province where aerial spraying is forbidden, from Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro and Rep. Risa Baraquel. The campers caroled before the Court of Appeals, fasted, shaved their heads and marched in a torchlight parade by night. The solicitor general, in response to a request from the appellate court, issued an opinion supporting the validity of the ordinance.

But all in vain, it seems. On Jan. 9, the Court of Appeals in Cagayan de Oro declared the ordinance unconstitutional, basically on the ground that the three-month deadline was impossible to meet. It could have, I am told, affirmed the validity of the ordinance while recommending that the Davao City council grant an extension if after sincere efforts by the banana producers to meet the deadline, this would turn out to be impossible.

The case will now probably go to the Supreme Court. In the meantime, it reminds social reformers of a significant fact. Having begun at the bottom, where many believe a campaign should begin, having organized, and lobbied local government successfully, having gained a victory at the legislative level, reformers may face another line of defense on the part of those clinging to their vested interests – the courts.

The courts also stood in the way of justice and equality for Obama’s father and American Negroes for two centuries before him. But in time, through dogged persistence and sacrifice, even this obstacle was overcome.

So let it be in the Philippines.

Shameful Culture

Posted in Graft and Corruption, Impunity/Indifference by Erineus on February 1, 2009

Generally, the term “culture of impunity and indifference” is used to describe a situation in which repeated human rights violations elicit very little public reaction or where the public outcry is totally ignored. The killing of journalists in the Philippines, with the authorities either unable or unwilling to identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice in spite of widespread public outcry here and abroad, would be a case in point.

But the term can just as easily be applied to corruption, or, for that matter, to other sins of omission or commission which are publicized but evoke nothing more than a ho-hum from our authorities, and worse, are justified and defended by them. Two recent examples illustrate the existence of such a culture and serve to show just how large a problem the Filipino people are faced with.

The first is the case in which the House of Representatives, after two committee hearings, cleared three Filipino contractors who had been banned (debarred), along with four Chinese contractors, by the World Bank from bidding for any project which it finances. The House claimed it found no evidence of collusive practices in any of the materials supplied them by the World Bank. And the contractors claimed that they were denied due process. The image conveyed is one of a foreign giant (World Bank) picking on helpless and innocent local firms.

Let’s look at the other side of the picture, as posted on the World Bank website. It turns out that between 2003 and 2006, the World Bank team identified excessive pricing and other signs of possible collusion on the part of the firms during three successive rounds of project bidding.

What process was followed after that? It is called the Sanctions Process, and here’s how it flowed: The team reported its observations to the Department of Institutional Integrity (INT) of the World Bank. The latter then conducted its own investigation, found that there was evidence, and prepared a proposed Notice of Sanctions Proceeding which it submitted to the World Bank’s Evaluation and Suspension Office (OES). The INT, by the way, also sent its investigation report (this, in November 2007, or 14 months ago) to our Department of Finance and the Office of the Ombudsman.

The OES reviewed the evidence, determined that it was sufficient to support a finding that an alleged sanctionable practice occurred. It then issued a Notice of Sanctions Proceedings to the firms/individuals mentioned above (which they received in May 2008), temporarily suspending them pending the final outcome of the proceedings. The latter contested the allegations, and the case went up to the so-called Sanctions Board, which is composed of external legal experts and senior WB officials. It is this board that studied the submissions of all parties concerned; and, had the firms also asked for a hearing, it would have been granted.

In other words, due process was observed, the firms involved given every chance to explain or defend themselves. This is an administrative and not a criminal proceeding.

Look at the time line: 2003-2006, the World Bank team thinks some hanky-panky is going on; from 2005 to 2007, INT conducts an investigation. End of 2007, INT sends its investigation report to the Philippine Ombudsman, and submits it to the OES for evaluation. May 2008, OES sends notice of sanctions proceedings to the firms, giving them opportunity to respond and ask for a hearing. January 2009, Sanctions Board debars the firms.

From end of the INT investigation to the decision of the Sanctions Board, it took 14 months. Does that sound like a kangaroo court to you?

And yet our congressmen, after only two hearings, saw fit to clear the firms of any wrongdoing. My information is that Roger Mercado, chairman of the House of Representatives’ public works and highways committee, was himself a contractor (still is?) before he entered politics, and that six of the committee members are also contractors. (By the way, Mercado’s brother, the governor of Southern Leyte province, is also a contractor.) Culture of impunity? Indifference to public opinion? The World Bank, by the way, is sticking to its guns.

The second case has not gotten the glare of publicity as the World Bank case, but it serves to show that the culture of impunity and indifference permeates everywhere, even in the academe. The case involves Godofredo E. Gallega, president of the Technological University of the Philippines (TUP). A case of sexual harassment was filed against him with the Civil Service by one of his faculty (Prof. Mila Espinosa) sometime in December 2007. It was in the course of the filing of this case that Mila discovered that Gallega had secretly married a member of the faculty, Dr. Evangeline Dayap sometime in May 2006. Dayap was later appointed as a dean, and then later — upon the strong recommendation of Gallega — as vice president for academic affairs. The two did not disclose their relationship until early 2008, after Espinosa filed her case. The Faculty Association of the TUP (headed by Dr. Juliet Catane, an alumna of the University of the Philippines) filed a case of corruption and nepotism against the couple with the Ombudsman last August.

Here’s where the culture of impunity and indifference comes in: The Civil Service placed him under preventive suspension last week, but he ignored it, reporting for work until yesterday. Meanwhile, some members of the faculty, as well as deans and directors, are signing a petition asking for an extension of his term, which ends this October. This, even after they were apprised of his behavior. Shameful.

Author:  Solita Collas-Monsod
Source: Philippine Daily Inquirer
Date: February 01, 2009