Noynoy urged: Appoint good people, form independent anti-graft body

By Caroline J. Howard, ANC

Posted at Jun 12 2010 10:44 AM | Updated as of Jun 15 2010 04:41 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Having won the race to the presidency on an anti-corruption campaign, President-elect Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III will soon need to put his money where his mouth is. He will have to follow through on his promise to investigate allegations of corruption against prominent personalities, including outgoing President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

But Vincent Lazatin, executive director of the Transparency and Accountability Network (TAN), speaking on ANC’s “Rundown” Friday night, believes Aquino has his work cut out for him.

"A lot of work has to be done in rebuilding our democratic institutions especially those tasked with providing the checks and balances and accountability in our form of democracy: the Supreme Court, the Office of the Ombudsman, Civil Service Commission. All of these have to be looked at and see how they can be brought back to the institutions they were meant to be," Lazatin says.

TAN is a coalition of multi-sectoral organizations seeking to help reduce corruption and promote good governance in the Philippines.

An uphill battle

But with an uncooperative Ombudsman in Merceditas Gutierrez, and Renato Corona as Supreme Court Chief Justice, one known to have ruled in favor of the Arroyo administration in many controversial cases, Lazatin believes Aquino may face an uphill battle in fulfilling his campaign promise.

"Senator Aquino will have a rough going initially," Lazatin says. "There are weakened institutions. In the Philippines, it is very well known that corruption is a low-risk high-reward endeavor, and the equation is, it has to be shifted back to the balance of being a high-risk low-reward endeavor."

While the judiciary has an action plan for judicial reform, Lazatin says, a lot has to be done to continue programs to clear out corruption within the judiciary, weed out corrupt judges, and ease the huge case backlogs and fill in vacancies within the judicial system.

Lazatin, however, believes despite the seemingly rocky start between the High Court and the executive branch over Chief Justice Corona's appointment, wounds might still heal over time.

Independent commission

In addressing calls to form an independent commission to pursue corruption cases, Lazatin says, Aquino must make sure it is beyond politics.

"It would be important to create an independent commission that would not be perceived to be, as Senator Angara said, presumed a witch hunt against the outgoing administration. If an independent commission is created that would offload that burden on Aquino and he can focus on rebuilding institutions, he won’t have to focus on chasing after some of the cases that will be filed against Mrs. Arroyo. That would be the best way to go at this point," he says. (Click here for story on Sen. Angara’s proposal).

Lazatin adds pursuing corruption cases must be undertaken alongside parallel efforts in judicial reform and rebuilding the country's democratic institutions.

"I don't think President Arroyo will be the only piece of his anti-corruption drive. It's about rebuilding a lot of these institutions, it’s about setting the example from the highest levels, sending the message all the way down that corruption will not be tolerated," he says.

Setting the tone

Lazatin says, to make his anti-corruption agenda clear in his first 100 days, Aquino will have to set the tone by closely studying his official appointments.

"People will be looking closely at his own appointments. People want to see corrupt people behind bars. That's a strong signal to the extent the President-elect can do that, but his own example will set the tone for how he will deal with corruption going forward," Lazatin says. "If President-elect Aquino can put someone in justice who’s well-received, well-respected, a person of integrity, that would be a strong signal and a very good step forward in terms of going hammer and tongs against the social cancer of corruption," Lazatin says.

By taking anti-corruption efforts in earnest, Lazatin says, Aquino can begin delivering his campaign the promise of change.