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Winnie Monsod

A nation of whistleblowers

September 4, 2009 3:17pm
(Following is the transcript of the segment "Analysis by Winnie Monsod" which aired on News on Q on August 31, 2009. Prof. Winnie Monsod is the resident analyst of News on Q which airs weeknights at 9:30 p.m. on Q Channel 11.)

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her husband Mike Arroyo are driven to their destinations after arriving at Japan’s Narita airport for a four-day visit in June 2009. The President’s net worth more than doubled between 2000 and 2008, according to her statement of assets and liabilities. AP Photo
Weeks after the PCIJ report on the President's Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth came out, the President still has not explained, as she must, why her net worth has more than doubled between 2000 and 2008 – from P61.9 million to P144.5 million.

Certainly her salary as President, which is P60,000 a month or P720,000 a year, cannot justify such an increase.

One should also eliminate from the equation possible gains from stock market trading because unless she or her stockbroker are trading geniuses, making the kind of killing she would have to make to justify her net worth increases would be very improbable because of the stock market decline in 2008.

Thus, she would have to show very large increases in her other income which would be most naturally attributed to the income of her spouse. This, she still has not done.

Actually the Philippines has very strict laws that if implemented properly, would show unexplained wealth and possible graft and corrupt practices by government officials right away.

Our 1987 Constitution mandates it.

And previous to that, there is RA 1379, passed way back in 1955, which provides that... “Whenever any public officer or employee has acquired during his incumbency an amount of property which is manifestly out of proportion to his salary as such public officer or employee and his other lawful income and the income from legitimately acquired property, said property shall be presumed prima facie to have been unlawfully acquired.”

Note that the burden of proof is on the public officer: he has to show that he has lawfully acquired the property.

The presumption of innocence does not apply here; and if the judge is not satisfied with the explanation, he will declare the property in question forfeited to the State.

Then there is RA 3019, passed in 1960 and known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, which requires every government officer and employee to file every year a SALN, including a statement of the amounts and sources of his income, the amounts of his personal and family expenses, and the amount of income taxes paid for the next preceding calendar.

Finally, there is RA 6713 passed in 1989 also known as the Code of Conduct for government employees which gives all the details for filing the SALN, when and where to file, who to file it with, who is supposed to be the repository agency, and what are the penalties for non-filing; and this law includes the fact that the SALN is public information available to any taxpayer.

In spite of all these safeguards and laws, however, we all know that the Philippines' performance with regard to reducing corruption has been miserable.

The very fact that it was a media organization, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, that researched and analyzed the President's SALN, instead of the Office of the Ombudsman, gives us a clue.

Another clue is given by the data shown in a paper presented to an international conference in Jakarta in 2007 by Deputy Ombudsman Pelagio Apostol: Between 2002 and 2007, the average number of complaints filed yearly with the Ombudsman for failure to file a true and detailed SALN was 27; the average number of complaints filed for forfeiture of unexplained wealth was 15.

Compared with the 1.4 million employees who file SALN yearly, the proportion is negligible.

The message that comes out loud and clear in all this is that the agencies that are repositories of the SALN, particularly the Ombudsman, don't seem to know what to do with the reports they get, or don't have either the time or the inclination to do what must be done.

The Office of the Ombudsman should be monitoring the President and Vice President, as well as the chairmen and members of the Constitutional Commissions.

Why didn't it blow the whistle on the President's seemingly unexplained wealth?

The Ombudsman created a much-publicized SALN data bank three years ago – and the public should be told exactly what is being done to all these computerized records.

Instead, they just seem to wait for complaints to be filed by the public and act only then.

What a pity. Can we do anything about this? Yes.

First, we can make sure that the persons we elect to leadership positions have no reputation for “kurakot.”

Second, that they do not choose cronies to fill up important positions, but rather choose the most qualified for the job.

And third, we must also make sure that we are ready to file complaints against government officials who are living beyond their means – we have to be a nation of whistleblowers.

That is what the times call for. We must heed that call.

In other words, it is really up to us.