BY WENDELL VIGILIA and RAYMOND AFRICA
BAYAN Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate yesterday pooh-poohed President Duterte’s order for the Department of Justice to investigate corruption in the entire government, saying he does not expect much from the probe because the President is known for clearing allies accused of corruption even before they are investigated.
«Little or nothing will come out of this especially since President Duterte himself has a penchant for absolving his people,» said the deputy minority leader who belongs to the left-leaning Makabayan bloc. «As it is, if sacred cows and patronage politics remain in the Duterte administration, then no amount of corruption drive will succeed. They are all bound to fail.”
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, in an online interview Wednesday, welcomed the move but questioned what he said were “exemptions” in the President’s order for Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra to investigate all government agencies linked to corruption. He said the probe body might not be able to reach its goal of ridding government of corrupt workers.
He noted Duterte has expressed in public that he does not believe that Public Works Secretary Mark Villar and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III would be involved in corruption as both belong to rich families.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo and presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the trust and confidence of President Duterte on a person or the closeness of an individual with the Chief Executive does not exempt them from investigations, especially over alleged corruption, and does not mean they are being absolved from for any wrongdoing.
Lacson said Duterte has “effectively” exempted some officials, like Duque and Villar. Duterte has been defending the two officials.
«The move [to create a mega task force] is good. The problem is, at the outset, the mega task force will be created to address all [forms] of corruption, and in the same announcement, there were already exceptions. The message here is don’t include them [in the investigation] because they are not involved [in corruption]… the investigation should cover all, including lawmakers,” Lacson said.
Zarate also pointed to Duque and Villar, and added Metro Manila police chief Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas «and many others before them.»
Sinas hogged the limelight last May after he was heavily criticized for allegedly holding a birthday celebration which violated quarantine protocols, an allegation the police official has strongly denied.
Zarate questioned the need to create another body under the Executive department to investigate corruption when, he said, it is the job of the Office of the Ombudsman to go after corrupt government officials.
«Why create another body under the executive? Now what happens when the Ombudsman and the DOJ reached the opposite findings on their investigation of the same agency? Is Malacañang saying that the Ombudsman is useless or is this anti-corruption drive is just for show?» he said.
Lacson clarified he not saying that Duque and Villar are involved in corruption but for the President to say that there are certain officials who must not be included in the investigation is not good.
«How can efforts to curb corruption succeed if at the outset there are certain officials who must not be included [in the investigation]? Shouldn’t everyone be included?,” Lacson said.
Panelo said if the President says he trusts a person, then he really trusts the person because he knows the person but it does not mean that he is absolving the person.
He said the President also usually orders an investigation, which is done secretly, to verify allegations before he states in public that he has confidence in an individual.
He added that Duterte also always demands proof before he would believe allegations against any individual.
Roque said the President has proven in the past that his trust in a person or even his connection or closeness with an ally is not a hindrance to investigations, or even the relief of a person once proven to be involved in irregularities.
He cited as example resigned PhilHealth chief Ricardo Morales. He said Duterte had full trust and confidence in Morales but he had him investigated over alleged irregularities in the state insurance agency.
Roque said Duterte is a lawyer and former prosecutor and knows that proof is important in any allegations.
Lacson said he still believes in the integrity of Guevarra based on what he has shown during the investigation on anomalies at the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation.
Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon said Guevarra chose well to prioritize investigation on five government agencies which were the “usual suspects” in corruption.
“The list of five agencies is a good start,” Drilon said, adding that the public can expect positive results of the investigation before the term of President Duterte ends on June 2022 “if they (task force) are serious.”
Guevarra on Wednesday announced that the first agencies to be investigated are the DPWH, PhilHealth, Bureau of Customs, Bureau of Internal Revenue, and the Land Transportation Authority.
President Duterte has called out the DPWH for continued reports of corruption in agency but was quick to absolve Villar, saying the secretary is rich and does not need to steal.
The same was said by Duterte about Duque despite calls for the health secretary to be sacked for incompetence in handling the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the irregularities at PhilHealth of which he is board chairman.
Lacson earlier said corruption in the DPWH was due to congressmen using their influence on department engineers so they can have full control in the implementation of pet projects in their respective districts funded by “insertions” in the General Appropriations Bill.
He said the secretary of public works and highways, in general, cannot stand up to the pressure exerted by congressmen and that is why corruption persists in the DPWH. — With Jocelyn Montemayor