‘Tokhang’ of the corrupt
With less controversy, President Duterte is carrying out the equivalent of his original Oplan Tokhang in the executive branch.
And if Filipinos could look the other way when bodies began piling up in his brutal campaign against the drug menace, Filipinos are openly cheering on the brutal purge of crooks in government. This war is easier to embrace because it’s bloodless and long overdue.
The correct description is “suspected crooks,” since prosecution has not been completed and no one has been convicted. Innocence is presumed until guilt is established.
In reality, we know it takes forever in this country before guilt can be established beyond reasonable doubt and a crook can be convicted. The exception to snail-paced justice is when eight Supreme Court justices rewrite the Constitution and work with the solicitor general to kick out a chief justice they dislike. But this is another story.
Worse, an equally crooked magistrate might clear a defendant in a corruption case, citing the “inordinate delay” in filing the case in court or some technical infirmity in the preliminary investigation.
So we rely on media reports and other sources of real-time information, form our own conclusions and render judgment. The court of public opinion, although unreliable, is swift and far more ruthless than any court of law.
In the ongoing purge in the executive branch, we’re taking the President’s word that his probers have the goods on the crooked officials, and it would be better for them to resign or else they would have “fired” on their resume.
* * * Like Tokhang, a purge as drastic as this one can be easily undermined by many factors.
One is the perception that the purge is selective, with those who butter up to the right persons spared. If Cesar Montano keeps his post as tourism promotion chief, for example, people will think all you have to do when you are accused of anomalous deals is to stage a pro-Duterte rally. Retaining Montano will be the first blow to the credibility of Berna Romulo-Puyat as a reform-minded secretary of tourism.
Another factor that can undermine the purge is the recycling of those who have been told to quit. The warning should then be changed, from “resign or get fired” to “resign and get a new assignment.” The game of musical chairs is no way to conduct an anti-corruption campaign.
A third factor is the appointment of underwhelming replacements. The appointment of Puyat has been widely hailed. This should encourage President Duterte to pick more officials of such caliber and reputation, instead of confining his recruitment to a pool of individuals whose principal qualification is hailing from Davao, or being his former schoolmate, or supporting his 2016 campaign.
Then there’s the fourth factor, which is the credibility of the probes and those in charge of it.
Some of these persons are notorious for grandstanding. Their mistakes and malicious persecution of the innocent will taint the campaign and reflect badly on the President.
The other night in a joint press conference with Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, Duterte read some of the names of public officials suspended or facing suspension while under investigation on accusations of corruption.
The names are contained in at least two folders with two to five pages each of bond paper. One of those on the list was erroneously identified as a former Marawi mayor. Until our newspaper was printed, no one among our reporters in Mindanao had found out who he was.
Yesterday the probers said the names mentioned by Duterte are facing charges for involvement in a smuggling ring at the NAIA. The “escort service” at the airport has been there for decades so the story is plausible. One of the officials who recently resigned in fact used to be among the “tulak boys” at the NAIA. It would be something akin to a revolution if Toughie Rody could put an end to this escort service.
But the list of corruption suspects could be similar to the first edition of the narco list, which had to be revised after several of the officials protested or appealed or threatened to raise hell for the unfair stain on their reputation.
In our land where jumping to conclusions is preferred to waiting for eternity for justice to be rendered, inclusion in any s*** list could end careers and destroy lives.
* * * One final factor that could ruin the anti-corruption campaign is Duterte’s selection of anyone with questionable qualifications as ombudsman.
Some of the names mentioned as possible replacements are cringe-worthy, but certain applicants are seen to be clean and capable enough to take on the challenging job.
The Office of the Ombudsman must dig deeper into all the cases thrown its way by the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission, to make sure that there is evidence beyond reasonable doubt to pin down those on the list and send them behind bars.
Convicting even one big fish is a challenge, especially if the defendant enlists one particularly influential lawyer as counsel. Prosecutors need to unearth documents to corroborate witness testimonies and follow the money trail. These are not as simple as they sound.
Such tasks call for a lawyer of formidable competence and integrity. And no, Mr. President, gender has nothing to do with it.
A war against corruption is only as good as those waging it. In his unprecedented tokhang of the corrupt, the President must choose his warriors wisely.