Wanted: Volunteer Anti-Corruption Watchdogs

By Ermin Garcia Jr.


WHERE is our country headed to?

While President Duterte is bent on showing that corruption has no place in government under his watch, the massive vote-buying seen during the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK elections) was scandalous, to say the least.

If transparency is a key to governance, vote-buying was surely transparent. It was happening for everyone to see.

Ironically, it was happening right under the nose of Comelec, the body mandated to oversee, implement and enforce election laws.

One wonders why Comelec has not introduced a policy or a rule that will curb this corruptive practice of vote-buying that has been with us for decades. Vote-buying is the start of a corrupt public service. The candidate that wins through vote-buying can be expected to grab all opportunities that will offer a return on his/her “investment”.

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NO ACCOUNTABILITY. Opportunities for corruption in barangay officialdom today are innumerable.

Let’s start with offers to protect trade in illegal drugs and illegal gambling. Then there is the lack or absence of accountability in the management of IRA (Internal Allotment Fund) that allows for a lot of unexplained expenditures.

Judging by past “accomplishments” of many barangay chairmen, a 1 million spend to be elected as barangay kapitan initially then as president of the town/city federation can have a ROI (return on investment) within 18 months!

The SK election, on the other hand, may require far less in logistics because they are normally the beneficiaries of vote-buying.

Given what we are confronted with today, can we realistically even hope for better future if our young are already taught that public service is a business that guarantees illegal profit, and get away with it?

Unless Comelec adopts drastic measures to insulate the SK, Fourth District Rep. Chris de Venecia can kiss his hopes for dedicated public servants from SK, goodbye. Not even the newly instituted reforms for SK will help insulate them!

The only possible way to make the reforms work is to make SK officials imbibe the value of accountability for their actions. And it can be helped if government, particularly COA, realizes that corruption is much bigger at the local level than in the national level, if all the monies stolen in the LGU level are summed up.

As of today, I’ve not heard of any barangay kapitan being held accountable for the thousands of pesos entrusted to him/her. Have you?

It’s a job for the DILG’s local representatives, but they have not lifted a finger to make anyone accountable!

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FIVE REASONS. From where I stand, what I see as our only hope to check corruption in our midst today, from the barangay level to the town/city level, is for us to form volunteer groups as anti-corruption watchdogs. Here are five reasons for it:

First, as volunteers, you do not need the imprimatur of any government agency, especially not from the barangay officials who need to be watched! Registration of the group is not even necessary. A publicity in media about the group’s existence is all that’s needed to acquire public acknowledgement. (The PUNCH will be willing to do that for any volunteer anti-corruption group).

Second, anti-corruption watchdogs have a natural ally in our Ombudsman. It investigates reports of irregularities, including abuse of authority, at no cost to the watchdogs. The volunteers only need to point to the Ombudsman where they can find the suspected irregularity. And the best thing about it is, the Ombudsman can keep your identities secret and confidential.

Third, the knowledge that a volunteer watchdog is active in the community makes accountable barangay and SK officials more prudent in their decisions when utilizing public funds.

Fourth, as a reward, anti-corruption watchdogs can look forward to the disqualification/suspension of erring and corrupt officials at the cost of simply being observant and committed to the cause.

Fifth, their only tool is the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (R.A.3019). The law can easily be downloaded from internet and the volunteers ought to take time to study and learn each provision. The guidance of a volunteer lawyer will go a long way!

I can guarantee that the filing of just one case against an accountable official will already effectively serve as a deterrent to commission of more corrupt practices by others.

How big should the volunteer group be? I suggest at least 5 but the bigger the better. Organize like any other organization but I must caution against starting the group formally with a party. That will quickly erode the group’s integrity.

Oh yes, The PUNCH will only be too happy to assist in connecting the groups to the Ombudsman.

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OMBUDSMAN ACTS. Speaking of the Ombudsman, here are the latest update on some of the many cases it has resolved:

  1. Ombudsman indicts Mindanao exec for graft – The director of the Office of Finance and Administrative Services of the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) in Davao City for allowing her husband, a non-MinDA employee, to participate in a seminar, and paid 30,000.00 representing the registration fee for five participants, but only four employees attended.

  2. Ex-DA Secretary Alcala to face trial for graft over garlic cartel – Former Department of Agriculture Secretary and 23 others were charged for issuing import permits to selected suppliers.

  3. Ombudsman indicts Zamboanga del Sur mayor, 8 others for graft –The mayor and members of the Bids and Awards Committee were charged for the anomalous procurement of supplies worth 4,112,366.02.
  4. Sandiganbayan suspends hospital chief, 3 others for graft – The Medical Center chief and other hospital staff were charged over the procurement of a 44.9 million Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine for advancing payment of goods. 
  1. Leyte mayor suspended for refusing to comply with Ombudsman order -The mayor and two others were ordered suspended without pay for one month and one day simply for failing to comply with the Ombudsman order to comply with subpoena orders.
  1. NCIP director to face trial for unliquidated funds – Former Regional Director of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), Region IX, Pagadian City, was charged for failing to submit his liquidation reports despite the lapse of two years.  
  1. Sarangani provincial execs face 90-day suspension pendente lite.

The Provincial Agricultural Development Officer and two others were suspended for irregularities in the award and distribution of 15,000 pieces of ABC My Practice Book II worth 1,500,000.00 in 2003.

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