Corruption remains rampant; Duterte orders gov’t-wide probe

Dismayed with rampant corruption, President Duterte has ordered the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate anomalies “in the entire government” and prosecute erring public servants.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte talks to the people after holding a meeting with the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) core members at the Matina Enclaves in Davao City on October 26, 2020.

Apart from probing the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), the President directed the DOJ to expand its investigation to cover the corruption allegations besetting the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), the Department of Agriculture (DA), and other government agencies.

With the country still “plagued with corruption,” Duterte has committed to use the remainder of his term to clean up the government and hold accountable those involved in irregularities.

“I will concentrate the last remaining years of my term fighting corruption kasi hanggang ngayon hindi humihina, lumalakas pa lalo (because it has not ceased. Instead, it has intensified). Para na tuloy naging inutil ang mga opisyal ng bayan na wala talagang magawa with the onslaught of corruption (It's like the government officials have become inutile that nothing can be done with the onslaught of corruption)," he said in his taped public address Tuesday.

“Hindi po ako naniniwala na wala akong magawa. May magawa ako. Hindi naman siguro to eradicate corruption in its totality. But I think kami, Cabinet members, nandito sila nakikinig, in our own – not small – but in our dedication, you would come up a very strong stand against corruption (But I don't believe that I cannot do anything. I can do something about it. Maybe, not eradicate corruption in its totality but I think we, Cabinet members who are here listening, in our own not small but in our dedication, you would come up with a very strong stand against corruption)," he said.

The President read in part his latest memorandum to Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on the government-wide corruption probe during his address aired on state television Tuesday.

The justice department currently leads a task force probing the corruption allegations in the state health insurer.

“The DOJ is hereby directed to investigate allegations of corruption in the entire government,” Duterte said.

“In pursuit of this directive, the DOJ shall have the authority to decide which allegation to investigate taking into consideration the gravity thereof and their impact on the delivery of government service,” he added.

Duterte has authorized the DOJ to create as many panels as it deems necessary as well as invite or direct other state agencies to assist in the corruption probe.

The President directed Guevarra to expand the role of the task force which investigated anomalies at the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) to investigate corruption in the entire government.

“The DOJ shall prosecute and file appropriate charges against all those involved in the anomalies, whether against government or private persons, as may be warranted by the evidence gathered subject to applicable laws and rules,” he said.

Strike force vs corruption

Responding to Duterte’s order, Guevarra said he is considering having several "strike forces" that will investigate corruption-prone government agencies.

“Tentatively, I am thinking of creating several strike forces that will simultaneously attack various corruption-prone agencies,” Guevarra told reporters .

“Apart from my usual responsibilities as SOJ (secretary of justice), this new assignment is the toughest I have ever received from the President,” Guevarra admitted.

“I will need all the support and cooperation of the entire government machinery to achieve this singular objective of substantially reducing corruption in government,” he said.

Considering the breadth of this anti-corruption campaign, Guevarra said he intends to “immediately focus on the organizational set-up and mechanism that will carry out the president's directive until the end of his term, as well as the order of priorities.”

“It will help us a lot if government workers themselves and the people they deal with will come forward and provide us the necessary information to uncover corrupt activities and identify the perpetrators thereof,” he said.

“The new and expanded anticorruption task force will take it from there,” Guevarra added.

Guevarra formed Task Force PhilHealth on Aug. 7 pursuant to the directive of the President to investigate corruption at the health state insurer.

The investigation resulted in the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) filing before the Office of the Ombudsman last Oct. 1 a criminal complaint against 10 former and current PhilHealth officials concerning the implementation of the Interim Reimbursement Mechanism (IRM). More complaints are expected to be filed.

Aside from the NBI and the Department of Justice (DOJ), the task force is composed of the Office of the Special Assistant to the President (OSAP), the Presidential AntiCorruption Commission (PACC), the National Prosecution Service (NPS), the DOJ’s Office of Cybercrime (OOC), and the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).

Erring officials face suspension

Duterte also said he will order the suspension of officials implicated in corruption.

He noted that the resignation of an official will not save him/her from criminal or administrative liability.

“I will order your suspension. I need not go to court. Sabi ko nga itong presidency hindi naman inutil kasi kung inutil ako, aalis na ako dito, ibigay ko na sa iba (As I said, the presidency is not inutile because if I am, I will leave and give it to someone else),” he said.

Duterte made it clear that the power and authority of the DOJ under existing laws and previous directives to investigate the commission of crimes and prosecute violators shall not in any way be diminished by his latest directive.

“The directive shall remain in effect until June 30, 2022, pag-alis ko (when I leave), unless sooner lifted or revoked,” he said.

Senator Christopher “Bong” Go lauded President Duterte for heeding his call for an expanded and bigger task force to combat all forms of systemic corruption in government.

“The President has just signed an order to the Department of Justice (DOJ) to head an investigation of all government agencies that are tainted with anomalies and corruption. We will spare no one, whoever that person is. Those liable must be charged. Toward the last one year and eight months of this administration, we must not hesitate in our quest to eradicate corruption,’’ Go said.