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Statement of assets liabilities and net worth

Duterte piling up ways to score (and hide) more loot

in Countercurrent

President Rodrigo Duterte promised to reduce corruption to the barest minimum under his watch. But as he approaches the last months of his term, he is not only expanding ways and means to intensify corruption and centralize the power of bureaucratic looting at the Office of the President but also promoting various ways of sabotaging efforts previously pushed by the people for transparency and accountability.

Hiding SALNs

The Ombudsman, with its Memorandum Circular 1, has blocked public access as well as public inspection at reasonable hours of the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Networth (SALN), for the first time since the law mandating public disclosure of these records was passed in 1989. It blocked even the journalists. Duterte is the first president to have broken the annual tradition imposed by the law for government officials to disclose their wealth with or without media or public request. The last Duterte SALN made available to the public was in 2017. The Ombudsman is also proposing to do away with lifestyle checks. During the 2021 budget hearing, Ombudsman Samuel Martires said his office had stopped lifestyle checks on officials saying the RA 6713 set “unclear” standards. Martires is a two-time Duterte appointee.

Aside from The Ombudsman, trends under Duterte showed the House of Representatives, Senate and the Supreme Court keep SALNs a secret.

Shielding hidden wealth.

The Ombudsman is also rolling back gains from the Ill-Gotten Wealth Law (RA 1379) which put the burden of proof on government officials to show that wealth and assets not commensurate to visible sources of income were lawful.

Protecting allies involved in corruption.

Duterte, for all his rants and grunts against corruption, has actually protected his allies who were accused of looting the nation’s coffers. Worse, some were “recycled” by reassigning them in another government agency or some were even promoted. Those who were fired were not charged in court. Among his favourites were former military officers Isidro Lapeña, Allen Capuyan and Nicanor Faeldon. Both Lapeña and Faeldon were involved in a corruption and smuggling scandal at the Bureau of Customs but were only reappointed to several government posts after. Ex-colonel Capuyan was assistant general manager for the Manila International Airport Authority who was linked to the smuggling of ₱6.4 billion worth of shabu from China in 2017. Today Capuyan concurrently heads the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and the secretariat of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

Seizing more economic dictatorial powers.

Bills granting Duterte economic dictatorial powers are being railroaded in Congress. House Bill 7884 was passed on 2nd reading in mid- October 2020, following similar railroading of a counterpart bill in the Senate. Certified urgent by Duterte, the proposed law gave the president authority to override all existing processes and regulations that govern business permits and licenses. It covers all agencies of the executive departments, bureaus, offices, commissions, boards, councils and even government owned- and controlled corporations.

Increasing pork barrel funds, war chest.

The budget for health, education and social services barely increased despite the gargantuan need, but the Duterte administration increased the already huge funding for defense, surveillance and “infrastructure pork programs.” Its budget allocation revealed the armed forces are more hellbent to wage war against the people than project a minimum credible defense posture against external forces. The ground troops of the Philippine Army, which mainly make up the government’s attack force on armed and unarmed revolutionaries, got an additional P800 million this year in the budget. The Air Force and Navy got only P400 million each. The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) got the P19-billion it had proposed. Plus, it will manage the “Barangay Development Project” of the military which, like pork barrel, is at the discretion of NTF-ELCAC and local governments. As the Commission on Audit (COA) has lamented, it is unable to audit the president’s intelligence, confidential, and NTF-ELCAC funds.###

The Anti-Corruption Hypocrisy

in Editorial

Sometime in September, amid the coronavirus pandemic, a gargantuan corruption scandal of fund mismanagement and overpricing shook up the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation or PhilHealth, the agency tasked with helping finance Covid-19 testing and treatment in the country. Illegal or invalid fund releases were placed at P14.9 billion.

Looking back since 2003, however, fraudulent transactions have altogether cost PhilHealth P154 billion, putting it on the brink of financial collapse.

Too big was the scandal to gloss over that the Senate had to recommend the filing of corruption charges against the agency’s senior officials, including Health Secretary Francisco Duque III who sits as ex-officio chairperson of the PhilHealth Board.

Forced to respond to the scandal, President Rodrigo Duterte announced – as he was wont to – the forming of a multi-agency task force. Designating the Department of Justice Secretary as head, he ordered the task force to investigate not only corruption in PhilHealth but in the entire government, starting with the other corrupt-ridden Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

And for the nth time, Duterte vowed that he would focus on his anti-corruption drive in the last two years of his term expiring on June 30, 2022.

This empty boast came after Transparency International disclosed that the Philippines had fallen 18 rungs toward the bottom of the Corruption Index under Duterte’s watch, placing the country at 113 on par with Kazakhstan and Zambia.

But on the heels of his order to investigate, Duterte practically cleared Secretary Duque of any misconduct by publicly stating, “For the life of me I cannot really find a good reason to prosecute an innocent man.” He thus ignored the widely resonating call for Duque’s resignation as Health Secretary, even as there was evident conflict of interest on his part. That sparked outcries about tolerance of massive corruption emanating from the topmost seat of government.

Similarly, while hitting at corruption in the DPWH, Duterte has been vocal about his trust and confidence in the agency’s head, Secretary Mark Villar. “Si Villar mayaman na ‘yan. si Sec Villar maraming pera hindi na kailangang mangurakot,” he said, heaping the blame for deep-seated corruption on officials below Villar. “Ang problema sa baba… mga projects sa baba ‘yun ang laro d’yan.”

The oversimplified logic won’t hold water. Greed has no limit. The rich, powerful local elites enter government for private gain. This is nothing new. The difference between then and now is that no president had been as brazen and arrogant as Duterte in defending and protecting his corrupt cabal.

CPP Founding Chairman Jose Maria Sison has observed: “The corruption of the Duterte ruling clique is as gargantuan as its use of state terrorism. It includes enormous amounts of overpricing the military and civil purchases by government agencies, intelligence and discretionary funds beyond COA auditing, cuts in all kinds of contracts between government and the private sector, grabbing enterprises from opponents, reclamation projects, drug smuggling and casino operations.”

A case in point is the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). Created in 2018, it had a budget of P1.7 billion in 2020, but this was raised to a huge P19.13 billion for 2021. Even as the regime has been bragging that the CPP-NPA-NDF is already a “spent force”, Duterte and his military clique have designated the revolutionary organization as a “terrorist” organization to justify a larger share of the national budget and to employ more draconian measures that curtail civil liberties and grossly violate human rights.

With the other massive resources at his command, Duterte and his clique have become more prone to indulge in corruption.

Just how much wealth Duterte has personally gained since he assumed office remains a secret. In fact, attempts by media groups, particularly the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), to look into Duterte’s 2018 and 2019 SALN (Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Networth) have proved to be futile: blocked by the Office of the President, and by the supposedly independent Office of the Ombudsman, under his appointee. Under previous adminstrations, in the past 30 years, the Ombudsman had made available the SALN of the president and other government officials.

PCIJ has noted that based on Duterte’s 2017 SALN, the last to have been made public, his wealth increased from just about P1 million in 1998 to nearly P29 million in 2017. “Big spikes” were also seen in the wealth of Duterte’s children, Sara and Paolo Duterte, based on their SALNs. Duterte’s retort: “What we earned outside is none of your business actually.”

So there! It would not be surprising if Duterte follows after Marcos, not just in the annals of dictatorship but also of kleptocracy. Duterte’s famous line in the beginning of his term – not even a “whiff of corruption” – is all hot air, hypocrisy. The betrayal of public trust, shamelessly flaunted under every administration, will continue for as long as power resides in the hands of the ruling elite.###

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