Saturday, February 04, 2006

Get Real : Teaching citizens to fight corruption

By Solita Collas-Monsod, Inquirer

NO longer can anyone plead ignorance or helplessness or hopelessness as an excuse for not taking an active role in the fight against corruption. An “Anti-Graft Guidebook” has just come out, written by Sofronio B. Ursal and published by Good Governance Books, Quezon City (E-mail: And it is a must-read for all of us, whether legislator, government bureaucrat, or ordinary citizen -- because just the act of reading the book is an empowering experience.

The author is someone I’ve admired for a long time. Although I may have met him only once or twice, I know him by reputation as a man of integrity and competence, whether in government (50 years) or in civil society. On the issue of corruption, he knows whereof he speaks: he served with distinction as a commissioner of the Commission on Audit, and after his retirement from that position, he has kept active in the fight against corruption through his directorships in Transparency International-Philippines, the Philippine Society for Public Administration, Sinag ng Bayan Foundation and other anti-corruption groups.

Why is reading the “Anti-Graft Guidebook” an empowering experience? The titles of the eight chapters (all well-researched and discussed exhaustively) give us a clue: “Understanding Graft,” “The Role of Government Agency Heads,’ “Basic Graft Prevention Tools,” “Experimental Typology of Graft” (classifying graft, rules of thumb as to preventability of graft), “Survey of Philippine Anti-Graft Laws,” “Profile of Anti-Graft Agencies,” “Citizen’s Remedies Against Official Abuses,” and “The Remedy in Extremis.” By the time one finishes reading it, one is not only raring to go graft-busting, one is provided with all the legal weapons to do so. Essentially, he has done all our homework -- enough for us to draw our own conclusions and apply them—and even then, he makes it easy: those of us who want to put our money where our mouth are told what buttons we can push to break the “cycle” of graft. There is also a primer on how organizations can be accredited as a corruption-prevention unit by the Office of the Ombudsman.

The chapter on the typology of graft is particularly instructive. Here, Ursua classifies the graft by mode (administrative, policy, arbitration and political graft), by branch of service and rank of officer (career, non-career; lowest to highest), and by preventability (EP -- Easily Preventable, P -- Preventable, HP -- Hardly Preventable, and NP -- Not Preventable). The good news is that graft among the clerical and sub-professional workers in the career service is EP, while among the professional/technical up to division chief it is EP to P. Still as one goes up the ranks, it becomes harder to prevent graft. Ursal’s matrix indicates that among the Career Executive Service, policy and political graft may be P, but administrative graft goes from P-HP and arbitration graft is HP-NP. By the time you get to heads of agency and members of the judiciary, the graft, where applicable, is classified HP-NP.

The really bad news is that graft by government officials in the non-career service, i.e., impeachable officials, executive officials, and officials of Cabinet, is considered by Ursal to be either HP-NP, or totally NP. Which is why it is so important for the appointing power (the President) to choose people not only with competence but also with integrity, and why even then, her choices should be scrutinized closely by the Commission on Appointments. Unfortunately, historical experience tells us that the President’s choices and the vetting by the Commission on Appointments are, more often than not, politically motivated. No wonder there is so much corruption.

After surveying the anti-graft laws of the country (and listing them), it is clear that there are more than enough of them—in terms of quantity, if not quality. Ursal, however, suggests one more: a Whistleblower Law, similar to that of the United States, that will protect government employees denouncing anomalies committed within their agencies (he uses Acsa Ramirez and General Gudani as examples of employees penalized for whistle-blowing).

He also lists some very urgently needed amendments to existing laws. For example, the provisions in the revenue laws authorizing tax assessors to reduce their own tax assessments or to grant compromise settlements should be changed. These open up graft-prone situations where tax assessments are initially set unreasonably high and then reduced after “negotiations.” Also, there is need to amend the Ombudsman’s Act so as to authorize the Ombudsman to have access to and examine bank records in connection with anti-graft cases pending before his office, without need of a court order.

The most relevant portion for the ordinary citizen is the chapter on “Citizens’ Remedies Against Official Abuses.” It turns out that there are so many venues for filing complaints against a government official or employee. And there are so many grounds for filing administrative charges (at least seven) as well as criminal complaints. Ursal describes the procedures involved and tells us how to go about it. He exhorts us to fight back corruption by invoking our rights under the law instead of folding our arms and relying on people in government agencies to rediscover their sense of morality and those in anti-graft agencies to prosecute crooked officials.

Let’s do it.

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