‘Tokhang’ of the cor­rupt

The Philippine Star - - OPINION -

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Philippines

© PressReader. All rights reserved.