GOPAC

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By Neil Honeyman

An Independent View

Monday, February 4, 2013


AN EXPRESSION of regret is not an apology. A regret is when we feel sad over something that has happened. We all regret the fact that the USS Guardian, a US Navy minesweeper ran aground the Tubbataha Reefs on 17 January.

An apology is a regretful acknowledgment of an offense or failure. The US authorities, contrary to PNoy's assertions, have not apologized for the Tubbataha Reefs incident.

US Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr., stated: 'On behalf of the US government, I wish to convey to the Philippine government and people my profound regret over the grounding of the USS Guardian on Tubbataha Reef. This was an unfortunate accident....'

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This is not an apology. There is no acknowledgment of any failure or wrongdoing on the part of those responsible.

We believe that in parallel with the efforts to extricate USS Guardian from the reef, there should be a full and independent public inquiry as to what happened and why it happened. The US authorities have, we believe, already made their investigations but are not making the results known to Filipinos.

It was a week after the grounding before Ambassador Thomas made his bland statement of regret. Why was this? Was it because he was waiting until the cabinet was in Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum?

There was talk by the captain of the minesweeper that the maps given to him were faulty. Is this true? We need to be told.

Perhaps, we should not be too hard on Thomas. The last time he said anything of substance was in October 2011 when he was buried under an enormous heap of righteous indignation. He made his own interpretation of “It's more fun in the Philippines” by making the outrageous assertion that joint investigations by the NBI and the US authorities showed two out of five male foreign tourists visit the Philippines for commercial sex.

“Offensive and demeaning” was the spluttered response of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and others.

A nation does not go from nowhere to being the eleventh largest economy in the world in five decades, as Korea has done, without its people being energetic and resourceful. So it seems.

The energies of our recent Korean visitors were not all consumed in long waits at Cebu airport and on the golf course. Anecdotally, we are told, some pumped more money into the local economy by engaging in commercial sex activities. Hopefully, all parties were satisfied. We hear of local sex workers speaking of Korean customers in terms of the 'three threes'. 'What are the three threes?' I asked. 'Three inches, three minutes, P3, 000' was the pert reply. Whatever can she mean? Thomas' preposterous two out of five allegations does not seem to be far from the truth.

*** *

Last week, the Philippines hosted the fifth Global Conference of Parliamentarians Against Corruption' (GOPAC).

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile stated that no President would be able to stamp out corruption within a six year term. In the case of the Philippines he is demonstrably correct. I believe, however, that a policy of gradualism towards corruption prevention will never be particularly successful. Backsliding is prevalent. In preference to backsliding, it is possible to make radical changes. Some years ago, Botswana implemented radical improvements which worked.

Radical changes are more feasible at the organizational level. NYPD was horrendously corrupt in the early 1970s but the Frank Serpico memoirs and the whistleblowing of others resulted in dramatic improvements.

In 1974, there was a similar reduction of corruption of what was then called the Royal Hong Kong Police Force. The reduction was due significantly to pragmatic negotiations between the Hong Kong Government and representatives of Cantonese police officers. The Government agreed to substantially increase salaries if corrupt practices stopped. This largely worked.

The GOPAC conference was enhanced by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte. 'We cannot rely solely on anticorruption laws and we should aim for prevention by undertaking changes in government structures and processes.' We agree. Constitutionally, these changes can be recommended by the Ombudsman but her department seems to be overwhelmed by a large number of comparatively trivial cases. The Ombudsman's office needs to bring in more consultants, not lawyers, in order to meet its Constitutional mandate.

Belmonte referred to the recent Transparency International data in which the Philippines moved from 129th in December 2011 to 105th now.

But the Philippines still 'remains at high risk for corruption' he warned.

***

'O wombe! O bely! O stynkyng cod fulfilled of dong and of corrupcion!' [Printed as received from Geoffrey Chancer c. 1343-1400. The Canterbury Tales 'the Pardoner's Tale l. 534]

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on February 04, 2013.

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