By BENJIE OLIVEROS
It has been more than three years since Benigno Aquino III promised to stamp out corruption upon assuming the presidency. Actually, among the promises that Aquino made during the presidential campaign and his inaugural address – which include to stamp out corruption and work for good governance, to ensure transparency in government, to pursue justice, to stop impunity in extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances of political activists and killings of journalists, local job generation, social reform, social housing, among others – the campaign against corruption and for good governance is the one promise that the Aquino government is most vocal about. In fact, in President Aquino’s first three state of the nation addresses, he railed against the corruption of his predecessor Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her officials.
This is why the Social Weather Stations survey that showed that 56 percent of executives of corporations – an increase from 43 percent in 2012 – said they saw “a lot of corruption” in government is an indication that the administration’s “righteous path” is going nowhere. The fact that the survey was conducted at the height of the pork barrel scandal that resulted in a series of protests against the pork barrel system should have given the Aquino administration a clear understanding of what it has to do to move forward in the campaign against corruption. However, President Aquino is adamant about not abolishing the pork barrel system, especially his own discretionary funds. Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda was even quoted in the news today saying: “If I remember the Supreme Court decision, they did not say all out that lump sums were wrong– that is why there are lump sum appropriations.” The Aquino administration does not get the point: it is not merely a question of legality. It is a question of whether this administration is really serious in stamping out corruption and patronage politics, which lump sum appropriations perpetuate.
Also in the news today is Presidential Communications Operations Office head Herminio Coloma Jr. saying that Malacañang would not certify the Freedom of Information bill as urgent. Coloma said the administration would leave it to Congress if it would pass the bill or not. Well, the Aquino administration’s message to those pushing for transparency in government by enacting the right of citizens to access to government records is clear: “Bahala na kayo sa buhay niyo.” (You are on your own.) This is another blot in the Aquino administration’s claim that it is serious in its efforts at stamping out corruption.
What the Aquino administration is boasting about recently is its launch of Cashless Purchase Cards. But these cards as supposed to be used only in “low value” payments for a limited number of goods and services such as medical supplies, meals, airline tickets, and construction supplies for minor repairs.
Fine. This might curb petty corruption but not corruption of the bigger kind.
The Aquino government also launched “Open Data Philippines,” a government portal that would supposedly contain up-do-date national data “from the total enrollment in public secondary schools over a certain period of time, to the aforementioned budget and procurement data and everything in between.” – http://news.pia.gov.ph/index.php?article=1751389801934#sthash.QN4fBz8n.dpuf
This is well and good. But a database system is only as good as the data stored in it. It is still the government who will choose what data it wants the people to know. The people could still not demand for information that corrupt government officials would want to hide.
We are not saying that the abolition of the pork barrel system and the enactment into law of the Freedom of Information bill would stamp out corruption in government. That is too simplistic.
To put an end to corruption, there must be a radical restructuring of the whole political and electoral system. For one, how could we stamp out corruption when politicians spend millions, nay billions, of pesos just to get elected? How do you think they recoup their campaign expenses?
The abolition of the pork barrel or discretionary fund system and the enactment of a Freedom of Information law are but small steps in the fight against corruption. It would just make it more difficult for government officials to steal because there would be no funds that they could allocate as they please and citizens could trace the paper trail of government transactions. Moreover, this would show that the Aquino government is taking significant steps toward transparency, even more significant than the “open data” website.
If the Aquino government remains “firm” in refusing to heed the calls of the people for measures to ensure transparency in government and for somehow curbing corruption – we are still not talking about the strategic measures i.e. restructuring the political and electoral system – and insists on acting only according to its own terms, then corruption is here to stay.