6 aspirants share what they gave up for public service

by Lala Rimando, abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak

Posted at Jul 17 2009 01:22 AM | Updated as of Jul 17 2009 09:37 AM

MANILA - Six current government officials shared in a Makati forum on Thursday how they have led by example, and thus, are worthy of being elected to a higher position— potentially the presidency—in 2010.

The forum, entitled “Six-year Socio-Economic Peace Program,” was part of a lecture series by the Ramos Peace and Development Foundation led by former President Fidel V. Ramos.
Gracing the event were Senators Richard Gordon, Manuel Roxas III, Loren Legarda, and Francis Escudero; and Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro, and Metro Manila Development Authority chair Bayani Fernando.

During the open forum, the audience—composed of businessmen, diplomats, government officials, students, among others—asked several questions. One, sent through a text message, asked the panel to “give an example where you have fought corruption and sacrifice relationships, money, power and even voting support.”

Below are the potential 2010 president’s answers.

Gordon: Leading by example

Senator Gordon said that he set a vision for his subordinates and constituents, and followed this up by making decisions that showed them he is not above board.

He cited his experiences of having to let go of people, even relatives, during his stint as administrator of the Subic free port, and as mayor of Olongapo City. In addition, he also cited the positions he has taken now that he is a senator, and as the current chair of the Philippine National Red Cross.
“There was no smuggling during my time in Subic. I think because we brought in a lot of young people who came to volunteer. I made sure everybody was honest, made sure that if someone turned sour or did something wrong, even if he’s a fraternity borther, we made sure he was out,” he shared.

When he was Olongapo mayor, he said a cousin “who could not handle” his requirements, which included being courteous and honest, ended up in jail. “People knew it because I announced it in radio so that they know we lead by example.”

He said there is also a pending case against him at the Supreme Court filed by someone he once worked with in the Red Cross, which he chairs. “Somebody violated the principle of integrity in the Red Cross. I made sure that he was out of the Red Cross along with the entire board because…integrity is the most important part of the Red Cross activities.”

Besides giving the boot, the senator also shared that he had to take positions, no matter how harsh, on delicate issues. He touched on how the Arroyo administration handled the Estrada and Bolante cases, and gave his insights about a peer, Senator Antonio Trillanes, who is now serving jail time for being part of a coup attempt.

“Even if it cost me what they call the Estrada votes, I am the only senator who said he should have never been pardoned by the President (Arroyo). He should have taken a vacation then gone out after 2 years. I was open about it,” he said, adding that the Koreans, who jailed their erring government and corporate officials, served as a good example.

“I think it is important that we put closure on respects,” he said. The audience gave him a loud applause.

He said another case that he tried to put a closure to is the case of former Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyin 'Jocjoc' Bolante, who was alleged to have been behind a multimillion fertilizer scam. 

“I cannot put him in jail because the Ombudsman is there,” he said. “The Ombudsman should no longer be appointed by the president. He should be elected.”

He also said he stood up against Senator Trillanes, whom he described as one who “violated his oath” when the latter led a siege of posh Manila Peninsula Hotel. The siege, though bloodless, added to the country’s tainted image internationally. 

“He (Trillanes) violated his oath not just once but twice. That’s why I stood up against him in the Senate because when you take an oath, you take it seriously. You’ve got to be responsible. You’ve got to be accountable.”

Legarda: What matters is character

Senator Legarda underscored the importance of “integrity in public service” since, according to her, “corruption is the biggest problem of our country.”

Citing her stints in media and the Senate, she claimed she had lived and practiced integrity by example. She said she had never accepted a bribe nor had personally benefited from any government projects. 

“I am proud to say—and I hope I don’t sound immodest—that in my 20 years in television as anchor and producer, and in my 11 years as public service as a senator, I have never accepted a bribe.”  She said she made this declaration when she first ran for public office in 1998. 

She said that in her position as a senator, she was able to “withstand the temptations of public office.” One of her staff in her Senate office, however, was not able to do that. “I fired that staff immediately” because “she accepted a bribe from a project.”

The lady senator also shared that when she was the majority floor leader for 3 years, she had to deal with a lot of lobbyists for franchises. “I am proud to say that I was able to pass the test.”
She stressed, “I have no relative in government. I have never put my finger in any government contract. I have never used my position, influence or power for political or personal gain.”

The discipline of saying no to temptation has nothing to do with material wealth, she concluded. “Not because you’re rich, then you (can say you just) become greedy. Not because you are poor and you (can give the excuse that you just) need it. It is a matter of character.” 

Fernando: Saying no to millions

The chair of Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) had only one thing to say: “I could have earned millions” from allowing the status quo to continue, but he opted to implement existing laws instead.

He cited the case of sidewalk vendors who, for years, had been occupying portions of the major and minor roads in Metro Manila, thus contributing to traffic and road congestions. 

“There is big money in just tolerating sidewalk vendors. You can earn millions from it,” he revealed.

However, since he imposed that the roads are for vehicles, not vendors, “I lost the support of the sidewalk vendors, and (I strained my) relationships with my people who used to take seed money from these vendors.”

He also shared that the decision to substitute technology for manual apprehension of traffic violators came at a price.

“We are apprehending people with surveillance cameras (installed in strategic areas). We’re now catching about 4,000 a day. It could have brought in money for me,” he said. 

As a result, he said he sacrificed the loyalty to him of traffic enforcers who used to get bribe money from the apprehended drivers. “Whatever is the right thing to do (must be done),” he previously said during his presentation.

Teodoro: Sunlight is the best disinfectant

The defense secretary said that “sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

He was trying to share how he has been able to fight corruption, which is blatant, especially in the procurement process in government.

“All proceedings of acquisitions in the department are open to the public, unless an item is top secret. Fortunately, I have not had an occasion where I have to purchase a top secret item,” he said. 

He gave two examples. One was the bidding for night-capable attack helicopters. “There were some irregularities in the bidding,” which is why he cancelled it.

Another was the bidding for the acquisition for ammunition. “I recently cancelled the bidding for an acquisition for ammunition because of a false entry made by the bidder.”

In these cases, he said it was just the right thing to do. Those decisions, however, came with a price.

He shared that some of the bidders involved in the cancelled biddings went through the normal route usually taken by people who want to do business with the government: Go to a lawyer who may know the secretary who is also a lawyer, or go to a person who may be close to people who know that secretary.

Teodoro said he had to refuse talking to lawyers who went to him to lobby for the above cases. Instead, he depended on the department’s Bid and Awards Committee (BAD) to handle the procurement process. After all, he stressed that there are already procedures in place for these kinds of issues.
The personal cost of shying away from his former peers? “These have cost me some friends, particularly in the legal profession.” 

Roxas: BPO was off-limits to family

The key in being an authentic public servant, Senator Roxas stressed, is “being incorruptible.”

That included making sure his family, who is in the real estate business, does not profit from his positions in government.

“(You may be wondering) why only now are call centers being put up in Cubao,” he told the audience. His family holds valuable commercial and residential properties in that part of the metropolis.

Call centers, which are ubiquitous in various central business districts in Metro Manila, make up the bulk of businesses categorized as business process outsourcing (BPO). Roxas, who used to be the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) secretary, played a major role in putting the Philippines on the global map as a major BPO destination for Western clients. 

“I told my family I will not allow them to enter into call centers. They have to pay that price because they have a relative who is in public service. I told them that our family name cannot afford to be tainted. So it’s not just saying no to friends, I also had to say no to family.”

During his 4-year DTI stint, he said he had to make sensitive decisions, especially in the case of the garments industry, the tariff rates for imported products, like cement, and incentives for investors. “There were always winners and losers (in these decisions), and a lot of money was involved (for those who were affected).”

He stressed that “no one can say I asked (for) or implied in any way that there has to be a bribe.”
Escudero: Lifestyle check

Senator Escudero, the youngest in the panel, focused on checking a public servant’s lifestyle to test if he or she is, indeed, incorruptible. 

“If you want to catch an erring public official, don’t put a camera in his office. Look at his and family’s lifestyle,” he said.

The former 3-term representative of the first district of Sorsogon said that he was still living in his parents’ house when he was first elected into office. He moved out only after he got married. 

In a previous ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC) leadership forum, he said his family now lives in a modest townhouse.

“My kids, who are twins, are not used to running and walking on grass because there is mostly cement in our townhouse.”
He said in jest that he would ask former President Ramos if Malacañang has a wide lawn because, “If I cannot (afford them to) buy (a house with a lawn), then I can give as a gift (Malacanang Palace’s) playground with grass.”

Escudero has spent 11 years in public service: 9 years as congressman of the 1st district Sorsogon, and 2 years in the Senate.