Duterte orders probe on corruption in gov’t: DPWH, DA first to undergo investigation

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    President Duterte. (ROBINSON NIÑAL / PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO)

    PRESIDENT Duterte has directed the Department of Justice to investigate allegations of corruption in the entire government as he renewed his commitment to address the problem and remove corrupt officials from the bureaucracy.

    He said corruption in the country continues and has even intensified.

    The President, in a recorded message aired on Tuesday, said he had a memorandum prepared tapping Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra to lead the probe which would also give special focus on the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). Duterte recently said corruption is in every transaction and project of the DPWH.

    Guevarra said the President’s latest order is the “toughest” assignment he has received from the chief executive.

    “Considering the breadth of this anti-corruption campaign, I will immediately focus on the organizational set-up and mechanism that will carry out the President’s directive till the end of his term, as well as the order of priorities,” Guevarra said.

    Duterte in August formed a DOJ-led task force that investigated alleged corruption in the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth). The task force in its report, recommended the filing of charges against some officials. Several PhilHealth officials have resigned from PhilHealth but the President said their “resignation will not save your neck.”

    “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. It may create as many panels as it deems necessary and may invite or direct other bodies and agencies of the government to assist or be a part of such panel,” he said in reading the latest memorandum.

    He said the DOJ shall also prosecute and file charges against all those involved in anomalies, regardless if they are from government or the private sector.

    The additional function of the DOJ will be in effect until June 30, 2022.

    The President said Guevarra’s team will start its probe with the DPWH, to be followed by the Department of Agriculture.

    He warned erring government workers of suspension orders in the coming days.

    Duterte said if he suspends officials, it means he suspects them of irregularities. He said he does not suspend anyone without basis or, who did not commit any wrong.

    He reiterated he has nothing against Public Works Secretary Mark Villar but “accomplishments alone, to me, should not suffice.”

    The President last week said corruption usually involved DPWH projects handled by department engineers and those involving right of way issues.

    FUNCTION OVERLAP

    Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Guevarra’s group, which he described as a “mega task force,” is expected to include members of the National Bureau of Investigation, Office of the Ombudsman, Civil Service Commission, and Commission on Audit.

    Roque also said Guevarra’s group will not have overlapping functions with the Ombudsman and other government agencies like the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) which he said may also be invited to join the mega task force.

    PACC Commissioner Greco Belgica said he sees a strengthening of the anti-corruption drive of the government, not an overlapping of functions. He said PACC is limited to investigating presidential appointees while DOJ can investigate other members of government.

    STRIKE FORCES

    Guevarra said he will create several strike forces to spearhead the anti-corruption campaign and investigation.

    “Tentatively, I am thinking of creating several strike forces that will simultaneously attack various corruption-prone agencies, but as I have said, the first order of the day is to organize the main task force and determine the overall strategy,” he said.

    Guevarra also said it would help if government workers would come forward with information to uncover anomalies and their perpetrators.

    Justice Undersecretary Emmeline Aglipay-Villar, wife of the DPWH chief, said she will not take part in any investigation on alleged corruption at the agency.

    She said her assignments at the DOJ usually involve the review of contracts and other matters assigned to the legal staff.

    Speaker Lord Allan Jay Velasco welcomed the President›s order.

    “While we are saddened that some congressmen and the institution have been dragged into this controversy, we welcome such probe by any government agency, as an investigation by the House would be self-serving and would only create a cloud of doubt,” he said in a statement.

    Velasco said the House leadership understands that the President issued the order «out of his frustration over chronic corruption in government.

    “The House leadership is one with him in his desire to rid the bureaucracy of corrupt officials and employees in the remainder of his term. It is also important to note that the President issued the directive following incessant attacks against the House due to alleged involvement of some of its members in corruption activities in the Department of Public Works and Highways,” he said.

    Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Michael Defensor earlier said accused lawmakers should be identified because it is unfair for the whole institution to be dragged into the controversy.

    He said all congressmen will be suspects in the court of public opinion as long as the accusers refuse to identify the House members who are and have been allegedly pressuring DPWH officials to conspire with them. — With Ashzel Hachero and Wendell Vigilia