MANILA — Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Tuesday came to President Rodrigo Duterte’s defense following his admission during his final State of the Nation Address that corruption was “endemic” in the government.
“The President was honest enough to admit that corruption is nearly impossible to eradicate," Guevarra said in a message, responding to queries from the media.
"I agree with him. There is not a single country in the world where corruption in one form or another does not exist."
“The challenge is to create a framework where corruption will be difficult to thrive, such as adopting electronic transactions, reducing red tape, streamlining legal processes, and imposing stiffer penalties. This is not the responsibility of the government alone; this is equally the moral duty of every citizen to ensure that corruption is not abetted, but is rather exposed and prosecuted,” he added.
Duterte, in the middle of his nearly 3-hour-long speech Monday, suggested that the next President would have to declare martial law and fire all government workers to solve corruption.
Corruption is not one of the grounds for declaring martial law under the 1987 Constitution.
In 2016, the President had vowed to eradicate corruption within 6 months in office.
That promise was “completely unrealistic” even for a 6-year term, according to Dr. Edilberto De Jesus, a non-resident fellow of the Ateneo School of Government, who was part of a group assessing Duterte’s 5 years in office.
De Jesus told ANC Rundown Monday that the promise to solve long-standing problems like corruption, criminality and illegal drugs within 6 to 7 months was “not credible.”
Senator Manny Pacquiao had earlier claimed corruption under the Duterte administratioin was three times worse compared to previous administrations, triggering a series of verbal attacks against him by the President.
But the President himself has been criticized for his failure to publicize his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs), seen as a tool to detect corruption.
The non-filing or failure to disclose properties in the SALNs has led to the ouster of 2 chief justices — one of them under Duterte’s watch.
"The President, who has declared himself as a champion against corruption, is putting himself at a disadvantage. He can take the lead by providing his own SALNs to the public,” De Jesus said.
Critics have also slammed the President for reappointing government officials linked to allegations of corruption like Nicanor Faeldon and Isidro Lapeña.
“All his braggadocio of going after corruption has miserably failed. He keeps on repeating that he has what, 200 government officials fired because of corruption but as he said, it is systemic and endemic. But the problem is, his approach is a dictatorial type by declaring martial law by, overthrowing this government…The buck stops with him. And his failure to address corruption is an indication of a failed administration,” BAYAN MUNA party-list Rep. Ferdinand Gaite told ANC Rundown Tuesday.
Duterte has created several bodies to go after corruption such as the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC), the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) and the DOJ-led Task Force Against Corruption (TFAC).
For Guevarra, the task force "will exert greater efforts to help the President in his anti-corruption drive in the remaining months of his administration," even though he admitted, the TFAC was created only through a memorandum and not by an executive or administrative order which has the force of law.
Guevarra said the TFAC will sign, by next week, a memorandum of agreement with the Office of the Ombudsman to assign DOJ prosecutors and COA auditors as resident ombudsmen in "various graft-prone agencies of the government,” in an attempt to weed out corruption.
The task force reported Sunday that they have endorsed 20 complaints to the Ombudsman. Ten of these were for appropriate action or investigation, while the remaining 10 were for follow-up.
In all, DOJ Usec. Emmeline Aglipay-Villar said, the TFAC has reviewed 240 complaints while the Ombudsman is now evaluating complaints against local government officials which include mayors and registrar of deeds.