UNDP lauds Aquino gov't's anti-corruption drive

By Caroline J. Howard, ABS-CBN News Channel

Posted at Dec 09 2010 02:56 PM | Updated as of Dec 10 2010 04:32 PM

Despite SC ruling on Truth Commission

MANILA, Philippines - The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has lauded the Aquino government's renewed commitment to fight corruption.

"The Executive Order [No. 1 on Truth Commission] is a statement of how committed they are," said UNDP Country Director Renaud Meyer on ANC's The Rundown. "We welcome this renewed commitment of government despite the Supreme Court ruling. It won't change the commitment."

The statement comes amid President Aquino's open defense for Executive Order 1 (EO 1) which created the Truth Commission, a body tasked to investigate alleged corruption under the Arroyo administration.

On Tuesday, it was disclosed that the Supreme Court junked the EO, saying the decree was "unconstitutional" and violated the Constitution's provision on equal protection of the law.

Despite the obstacle posed by the High Court's ruling, the UNDP said that it stands by the Palace's decision to investigate abuses in government.

"We stand ready, that as soon as the Truth Commission would be up and running, we would be available to provide technical support and knowledge of other countries' experiences with truth commissions."

Saying the success of any country's efforts in fighting corruption rests on the commitment of its leaders, the UNDP urged the Philippines to remain committed to its anti-corruption campaign.

UNCAC compliance

But aside from the Truth Commission, Meyer noted that President Aquino should look at the graft-busting performance of other government offices in efforts to meet the country's compliance to the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC).

"We will not, as the UN, take a view on the ruling of the Supreme Court. We welcome any effort, whether the Truth Commission or any other traditional method the administration would like to use to foster those efforts in anti-corruption. There's an Ombudsman's office that was created as part of the country's commitment to UNCAC. This is an institution that, as we all know, also has a history, given its role in the previous administration, Nevertheless institutionally, it's the body of the government to spearhead its anti-corruption efforts."

Unlike many countries like Latin America and Chile that established truth commissions after undergoing political regime change, Meyer said the Philippines has its own set of challenges. Under a government that won on an anti-corruption campaign, today, Meyer noted that the issue of corruption bears political color.

"President Aquino represented that change, and there are a lot of expectations out there, and I would imagine there's a lot of pressure, despite the Supreme Court [decision], to find a way of moving forward with the Truth Commission but also with all other initiatives that his administration has launched on anti-corruption efforts," he said.

Major strides

The UNDP said the Philippines has made major strides in its fight against corruption since the country ratified the UNCAC in 2006. In 2003, The Philippines was one of 140 countries that signed the UNCAC in Mexico, a treaty designed to help member countries deter corruption.

"There has been major progress in terms of the policy, practices," Meyer said. "We're not wanting to be complacent with the administration, but there is progress made and that's very encouraging for all of us."

Meyer cited efforts by the country's lawmakers to uncover ethical violations in various government processes, as well as a peer review mechanism in the UNCAC.

In the peer review, countries like Fiji and Cambodia looked at the progress made by the Philippines in aligning national legislation with the UNCAC principles. It also made recommendations along the lines of reviewing existing laws and policies and improving the legal environment.

Holistic approach

As the world marks International Anti-Corruption Day on December 9, the UNDP urged the Philippines to remain committed to its anti-corruption campaign.

Guided by the UNCAC, Meyer said the country should have a holistic approach to corruption and rally all sectors towards the collective fight against the crime.

"What we have to expect from the government is not only to provide the legal environment, the rules, laws that will enable individuals and the private sector to flourish without this spectrum of heavy corruption. There's also a very important role for civil society to play, but they need to be empowered, be given a voice and space in the political landscape on educating the public on integrity issues and the rights of individuals,” Meyer said.

"There's a role for everybody in society to make sure corruption is eliminated. It gets embedded in the day-to-day practice of individuals and requires a lot of effort and the genuine commitment of a majority of citizens who say enough is enough," he said.

In a message to mark International Anti-Corruption Day, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon urged all leaders worldwide to denounce corruption, strengthen integrity and transparency by adopting anti-corruption policies, promote accountability and thoroughly investigate cases of corruption.

In the 2010 report of global watchdog Transparency International, the Philippines remains among the countries considered as "highly corrupt," with a rank of 134th out of 178 countries in the group's Corruption Perception Index, even as it improved from a 139th rank its 2009.