By Catherine S Valente/Manila Times
In a soliloquy reminiscent of deposed president Joseph Estrada’s inaugural promise “no friend, no compadre, no relative,” President Rodrigo Duterte also issued a stern warning that his fight against corruption would spare no one, not even his “friends, close friends, closest friends.”
Delivering on a promise to dismiss anyone on “just a whiff” of corruption, the president said he had several friends and former political allies whom he chose to dismiss or pushed to resign.
“I don’t have to remind you. I will not hesitate. Friends, close friends, closest friends, I’m sorry. You’ll just have to shape up,” Duterte said in his recent speech Malacanang.
In his two years in office, the president sacked more than 30 officials suspected of graft and corruption since he assumed the presidency in July 2016.
However, all those accused of corruption, excessive travel and accepting bribes have so far gone unpunished or have been rehired.
So far, only former immigration officials, Al Argosino and Michael Robles have been put on trial for plunder in connection with the P50mn bribery scandal at the Bureau of Immigration.
In a chance interview, Palace spokesman Salvador Panelo defended the reappointment of officials whom the president fired amid suspicions of irregularities.
“It’s not true. Those who are involved in corruption were not reappointed. What they are referring to are those who are not involved. Perhaps the position that they previously occupied do not fit them that’s why there’s a need for a transfer,” Panelo said.
“The president is relentless in fighting corruption. In fact, he has been dismissing left and right officials of the government who are allegedly involved in corruption,” he added.
Panelo also said that firing by the president was a warning to all government officials that “no person is exempted from the administration’s high and exacting standards of honesty in public service.” “Their termination also underscores that the president remains resolute in stamping out corruption in the bureaucracy, which includes offices which are specialised in particular fields of governance. Like the war on drugs, the war on corruption must be fought unremittingly,” Panelo said.
When asked whether the Executive department is looking into the liability of the dismissed officials, Panelo said Malacanang is leaving it to the Department of Justice to look into the allegations.
“You know filing a case is not a simple thing, you have to gather evidence because if you file it without positive evidence, it might be dismissed. It’s useless so you have to really prepare first,” he said.
“The fight against corruption is relentless until the end of his term. It will not stop,” Panelo said.
Some political analysts attested to the seriousness of the tough-talking Duterte insofar as his campaign to get rid of corruption is concerned.
But they also wanted want to see courts and anti-corruption institutions strengthened to go after corrupt officials.
“The president is doing his best reacting quickly to corruption reports by dismissing officials without delay. There is, however, still bothersome talk about Cabinet members favouring their business interests in the conduct of their duties,” Antonio “Butch” Valdes, who heads the ‘Save the Nation Movement,’ told Manila Times in an interview.
Valdes cited issues hounding the Bureau of Customs, which the president considers a “corrupt-ridden” agency.
“The Customs issues seems to be most problematic for the president. He has to realise that unless the system of processing imports is changed, the practice of corruption will continue. He needs to enjoin the Philippine embassies from countries of imports to participate in pre-audit activities. Furthermore, there is need to create a parallel Customs organisation which takes over from the old organisation on a phase by phase basis,” Valdes said.
Overall, Valdes said he would give Duterte a grade of nine out of 10 for his effort to cleanse the government of corruption, but only a grade of seven for its results. In a separate interview, Perlita Frago-Marasigan, political science professor at University of the Philippines Diliman stressed that “due process must be served” as Duterte tries to fulfil his promise to rid his administration of corruption.
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