PNoy's reforms in governance cited

By David Dizon,

Posted at Apr 07 2011 01:40 AM | Updated as of Apr 07 2011 09:40 AM

But more transparency needed in Comelec selection process: TAN

MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino deserves praise for appointing whistleblower Heidi Mendoza to the Commission on Audit but should shed more light on the selection process for other government agencies such as the Commission on Elections, a transparency watchdog said Wednesday.

Vince Lazatin, executive director of the Transparency and Accountability Network (TAN), said he welcomes the appointment of Mendoza as COA commissioner.

"We are very happy that Heidi Mendoza is back in the Commission on Audit. She is the type of person that we need at these kinds of agencies like the COA. I think President Aquino's appointment of a person like Heidi is a message that he does appreciate...Heidi's dogged determination. We've seen that in her Senate testimony. She really does not give up and follows the paper trail," he said in an ANC Headstart interview.

PNoy's reforms in governance cited 1He said Mendoza gave up a dream job in the Asian Development Bank to speak up about the corruption scandal involving former military comptroller Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia, whom she investigated during her time in COA.

Lazatin said Mendoza's appointment and that of former human rights chief Leila de Lima as justice secretary are "parts of a larger puzzle" in President Aquino's campaign to rid the country of corruption.

He said moves to impeach Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and dismiss Deputy Ombudsman Emilio Gonzalez III are also part of the President's anti-corruption campaign.

"We are seeing moves here by the Aquino administration to reformat the frontline agencies tasked with ferreting out corruption, prosecuting corruption, filing cases, etc," he said.

He dismissed criticism by some sectors that Malacañang should focus less on digging up skeletons and do more to create jobs instead.

"Governance is a very important part of our future and looking forward we have to look at putting a good governance structure and this begins with quality appointments to key posts such as Ombudsman, COA, DOJ and Supreme Court as well. I don't buy the line that to move forward, we forget the past. We can't move forward unless we rectify the mistakes of the past. It's all about justice...not a vendetta, and holding people to account for their misdeeds," he said.

Next Ombudsman

Lazatin said they have received various reports about a possible replacement for Ombudsman Gutierrez in case she is removed through the impeachment or retires at the end of her term. He said some of the names being discussed are not well known except in legal circles.

"These are people who have a reputation of either being advocates or of being upright. That will be crucial. As we look to replace Ombudsman Gutierrez, we need to conduct a deep search and not stick to headline names, names that are in the news. Go a layer or two deeper to find these people like Heidi. Her profile was very low," he said.

He said the next Ombudsman should be a person with independence, competence and integrity and not necessarily close to Aquino.

He also noted that the President will only be able to appoint 4 Supreme Court justices before his term ends in 2016, which means that his influence in the country's highest court would be very limited.

Comelec appointment

On the other hand, Lazatin questioned the basis for President Aquino's selection of Sixto Brillantes and Christian Robert Lim as Comelec chairman and commissioner, respectively. Brillantes is Aquino's former election lawyer while Lim served in the anti-ballot fraud team of the Aquino-Roxas campaign.

Lazatin said the group has been pushing the President to make the selection process for Comelec posts more transparent by describing the process on how he accepts and evaluates candidates before making the appointment. "It really should be a system where you do a decent search for qualified people," he said.

The TAN director said his group has urged Aquino to refrain from appointing election lawyers to the Comelec because of possible conflicts of interest.

He cited as example Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano's accusation that Comelec Chairman Brillantes tried to blackmail him to confirm Brillantes' appointment before the Commission on Appointments in exchange for a favorable decision on the election case of Cayetano's wife.

"That's the problem with appointing election lawyers. They become vulnerable to these kind of accusations. If Comelec rules for or against a politician, the loser will say there was bias. Those discussions bog down the commissioner to do their job. Now they have to have a press conference instead of doing their job," he said.

Lazatin said a Comelec appointee need not be an election lawyer to know election law. He said the 1987 Constitution allows that 3 Comelec commissioners, except for the chairman, can be non-lawyers.

He also said that given the country's experience in the nationwide automated polls in 2010, the Comelec should get a commissioner who has expertise in information technology and management.

Lazatin said that to make Comelec more transparent, the poll body should implement a simple access to information policy on which information could be made available to the public automatically even without the approval of the commission en banc. This includes information on disclosures on campaign contributions to candidates, he said.