Justice

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By Neil Honeyman

An Independent View

Monday, January 13, 2014


OVER the past four years the Philippines has shown a steady improvement in Transparency International’s corruption league table. In 2010, the Philippines was 134th (which meant that 133 countries were deemed to be less corrupt than ourselves), to 129th in 2011, 105th in 2012 and 94th in 2013. An improvement of 40 countries in four years is good, although the level of absolute corruption is still very high. On a scale of 0 to 100, where 100 is squeaky clean and 0 is the opposite, we are now at 34 – well short of satisfactory.

The fight against corruption is an attrition process whereby, hopefully, the strength of the corrupt ones can gradually be reduced through sustained attack or pressure.

Are there grounds for optimism? I believe there are. There is a sense that people’s views are being listened to which encourages a more vigorous discussion as to what is going on. Vigor causes greater "heat" to be applied against those who may be involved in questionable activities.

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Last year’s rallies drew attention to some dysfunctions affecting our society and to affirm that any factor, such as the manifest cheating associated with some Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) projects, is unacceptable.

The Supreme Court (SC) is playing its part in dealing with allegedly anomalous situations that can arise from our imperfect governance. Recently it found that PDAF is unconstitutional. Although the eradication of PDAF may not prevent an unscrupulous president from buying support from Congress by allowing favored legislators access to funds without properly accounting for them, it does make this process more difficult. For example, the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) has loopholes which creates opportunities for "projects" to be implemented without properly accounting for the funds. The SC is currently deliberating on the DAP issue. If PDAF is deemed to be unconstitutional, then DAP may be unconstitutional as well.

The SC is also wrestling with the problems faced by a quarter of the Nation’s electricity consumers whereby in November and December 2013, Meralco was unable to obtain electricity at reasonable prices. It used the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM) (previously hailed by former Energy Secretary Almendras as being a mechanism in which electricity could be obtained at reasonable prices) but due to a shortage of electricity was forced to pay enormous costs, reportedly up to P62 per kilowatt hour.

Was there collusion amongst electricity suppliers to create an avoidable shortage?

Obviously! We reply. But "obviously" does not cut it with the SC and collusion is notoriously hard to prove as it depends on circumstantial evidence. We salute those who petitioned the SC in this case, especially Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares who is spearheading the representations.

The SC has also included the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) as well as six electricity suppliers who need to answer the petitioners.

The SC is setting a rapid tempo for this case. This should enable the truth to emerge. One of the problems found in highly corrupt nations is that it takes too long for cases to be resolved which creates opportunities for the nefarious ones to bury the truth.

Last week, it was announced that the SC had upheld the dismissal of the robbery with intimidation case against former Justice Secretary Hernando Perez accused of extorting US$2 million from Mark Jimenez in February 2001. Apparently, the Ombudsman investigators spent five years conducting a preliminary investigation before the case was filed in the Sandiganbayan in April 2008.

The SC mentioned the respondents’ rights under the Constitution to the speedy disposition of their cases. I suppose that depends on who is responsible for the delay. If the respondent is responsible, presumably he waives his right to speedy disposition.

Which brings us to Monico. In January 2008, Bacolod City Regional Trial Court was hearing the case involving alleged overprice of computers supplied to some local schools. At this stage there was some fingerpointing between Monico and local Department of Education officials as to who was responsible.

The case was then referred to the Ombudsman. We have heard no decisive news since. What is happening? Is it possible for Mayor Puentevella to say that if the case against Nani Perez was dismissed because Constitutionally he is entitled to a speedy disposition, then so is he?

Why is the Ombudsman taking so long? The Ombudsman, Conchita Carpio Morales has spoken of "zero backlog." We wish her well with this laudable aim but we have to question whether the annual P1 billion investment in the Ombudsman’s Office is producing value for money.

“Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.” - Reinhold Niebuhr 1892-1971; Children of Light and Children of Darkness (1944)

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on January 13, 2014.

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