The kleptocrats never left

The kleptocrats never left

The recently released 2010 Global Integrity Report rated the Philippines “very weak” (57) in terms of governance and corruption. The overall rating was also “very weak,” a downgrade from the 2008 overall rating of “moderate” (71).

The report also rates the country “weak” (64) in the category of “Anti-Corruption Legal Framework, Judicial Impartiality and Law Enforcement Professionalism” and “Rule of Law.” Included under this category are the following sub-categories: “Anti-Corruption Law,” rated “strong” (89); “Judicial Independence, Fairness, and Citizen Access to Justice,” rated “weak” (62); “Anti-Corruption Agency or Equivalent Mechanisms,” rated “very weak” (53); and “Law Enforcement: Conflicts of Interest Safeguards and Professionalism,” rated “very weak” (52).

Global Integrity — a Washington, D.C.-based international non-profit organization that tracks governance and corruption trends around the world – rates the categories and sub-categories on a scale of 0 to 100. The 70 countries tracked by Global Integrity are divided into two groups – “even” and “odd” years — of 35 countries each; therefore, each report represents a biennial cycle. The “even year” group includes the Philippines.

Since the 2010 Global Integrity Report represents the years 2009 and 2010, it would cover the last 18 months of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s presidency, which ended on June 30, 2010, and the first six months of Benigno Aquino III’s presidency.

Indeed, the report is an “indictment” of Arroyo’s nine-year presidency than a reflection of Aquino’s fledgling administration. However, this will not absolve Aquino of culpability because, ultimately, the buck stops with him.

Double whammy
So, what is the report telling us? It is evident that the country has “strong” anti-corruption laws – and there is no doubt about it — but the government is “very weak” in enforcing them and “weak” in prosecuting the corrupt.

But Aquino claimed that his administration was stymied by the Office of the Ombudsman’s inability – or refusal – to prosecute corrupt officials, putting the blame squarely on former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, who resigned last May 6, 2011 to avoid a Senate impeachment trial. Now that Gutierrez is gone, Aquino doesn’t have any more excuses. He needs to jumpstart his anti-corruption crusade and fulfill his election promise, “Walang corrupt, walang mahirap” (No corruption, no poverty). And the sooner he appoints an honest and incorruptible Ombudsman, the better off he would be.

Arroyo years
In my article, “Reign of the Kleptocrats” (Global Balita, January 19, 2007), I wrote: “What we used to know as ‘good governance’ is now transformed into ‘kleptocracy.’ The public service-oriented government functionaries of yesteryears are gone. Although there are still those in government who are honest and incorruptible, what we have today is a breed of greedy opportunists who use their positions in government to enrich themselves. They are the ‘kleptocrats.’ ”
Indeed, things didn’t change much since Arroyo came to power in a sham people power revolution – EDSA 2 – in 2001. Arroyo’s ascension effectively stopped the momentum and progress made after the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos was ousted in the people power revolution of 1986. Sadly, the first documented case of corruption occurred within four days of her administration.

And what is very sad is that the government’s attempt to resolve or recover the sequestered assets and properties — including billions secretly stashed in foreign banks — failed only because the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) didn’t do a good job. Allegations of corruption, bribery, collusion, thievery, and ineptitude hounded PCGG to this day.

Corruption galore!
Just a few days ago, it was reported in the news that the new head of PCGG, Juan Andres Bautista, questioned his predecessor Camilo Sabio’s sale of a sequestered 3.6-hectare property owned by IBC-13 for a cheap price.

Another questionable transaction made during Sabio’s time was the anomalous sale of a sequestered company and its P4.2-billion property – with a fair market value of more than P6 billion – for only P900 million.

Bautista also questioned the sale of a 12.3-hectare prime lot in Pasig City for a measly P89 million in which he alleged that another PCGG commissioner, Peter Sabido, pocketed P20 million in “commission.” Bautista also questioned Sabido’s misuse of government funds, saying he hired six private lawyers, 41 consultants and 85 office-based staff.

It’s interesting to note that a Manila Bulletin article written by Edmer F. Panesa dated March 21, 2010, said: “The Supreme Court (SC) recently lifted the sequestration by the government of a 7,000-hectare cattle farm on Busuanga Island in Palawan believed to be owned by the late strongman Ferdinand E. Marcos. Considered one of the largest cattle stations in Asia, the Busuanga cattle farm was originally known as the Yulo King Ranch (YKR) controlled by suspected Marcos cronies Peter Sabido and Luis Yulo.” The question is: Was the suspected Marcos crony Peter Sabido the same person as PCGG Commissioner Peter Sabido? If so, that would be like appointing Mafia Don Vito Corleone to be Attorney General.

Another high-profile corruption case is that of former Rep. Prospero Pichay who was appointed by Arroyo as chairman of the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) after he lost his senatorial bid in 2007. Last month, the government filed a criminal complaint against Pichay and all the LWUA board members for LWUA’s questionable acquisition of a thrift bank in 2008, in which the government lost P480 million in the deal.

But the “circle of kleptocrats” was not the exclusive domain of those identified with Arroyo. Many of Arroyo’s former appointees managed to pass through Aquino’s vetting process and got appointed to plum positions. One of them is Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz. Former Solicitor General Francisco Chavez included her among those who were charged with Arroyo in regard to the alleged misuse of P551-million worth of funds from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA). According to Chavez, Arroyo violated the Plunder Law for allegedly misusing OWWA funds for questionable acquisitions and for her reelection campaign in 2004. Baldoz was then the chairman of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and was one of the signatories of the OWWA board resolution allowing the transfer of funds.

Tip of the iceberg
It did not come as a surprise then that the Philippines is rated “very weak” in governance and corruption. With almost 1,000 midnight appointments made by Arroyo and many more in fixed-term plum positions, the incoming Ombudsman will have work cut out for him or her. Many kleptocrats are still in government, alive and kicking… and continue to steal money from whatever they could put their kleptic hands on. Indeed, the kleptocrats never left.

If Aquino is truly sincere in fighting corruption and eradicating poverty, he has now a grand opportunity to rid the government of kleptocrats. It will be a daunting challenge for him; however, it is doable. The last thing he wants to happen is to fail without trying. But he should know that doing nothing is worse than failure in itself. For even in failure there is much to learn… and achieve, as well.

With Gutierrez out, it’s time for Aquino to walk the talk lest he would come to be known as “NATO” – that is, “No Action, Talk Only.”