MANILA (UPDATE) — Hours after the President said he wants the Senate to stop its probe on the health department’s pandemic spending, the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission on Friday launched a flagship project creating a 49-member inter-agency coordinating council.
Dubbed "Project Kasangga: Aksyon Laban sa Korapsyon,” the campaign will include the creation of the National Anti-Corruption Coordinating Council, which will have presence in every level of government, said PACC Chair Greco Belgica.
Duterte himself will serve as chair of the council, while Belgica, as PACC chair, will sit as vice-chair.
“The signing of Project Kasangga seals the President’s firm commitment to really fight corruption the best that he can by institutionalizing anti-corruption committees in all levels of government. We have not seen this in any government,” he said.
“Bawat opisina, hanggang sa barangay, merong PACC na lumalaban at itinatag na institusyon para labanan ang korapsyon,” he added.
(Each office, even in villages, there's PACC to fight corruption.)
The President sent a short taped message, where he pledged his support for the campaign.
“The fight against corruption allows us to serve the public with utmost excellence and integrity as well as regain the trust and faith of our people in our institutions. Let us work together to fully realize our dream of a corruption-free Philippines,” he said in his message.
The message appeared to have been taped Thursday night because the video showed him wearing the same clothes when he ranted in Malacañang against the Senate’s investigation into contracts entered into by the Department of Budget and Management and the Department of Health.
Among the subjects of the Senate investigation is the multibillion-peso deal to buy allegedly overpriced personal protective equipment and other medical supplies from a company whose executives are supposedly wanted in Taiwan.
Duterte denied overpricing in the purchase of masks and face shields.
“Do not, kayong lahat, Senate, do not investigate programs which are on-going. You will derail it, you will delay it by your incessant penchant for investigating government offices,” he said.
Four senators earlier said they would back investigations into Sen. Bong Go's links in the Pharmally's deals with the DBM.
Go himself also sent a taped message during the launch saying, “Kapag sangkot ka sa korapsyon, yari ka talaga.”
(If you are involved in corruption, you are finished.)
HOW WILL IT WORK?
Belgica likened the Anti-Corruption Coordinating Council to the government’s approach in its drug war and anti-insurgency campaigns— by creating presence at the barangay level.
Barangay anti-drug abuse councils were activated in the drug war, Meanwhile, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict was created in the anti-insurgency campaign.
But both approaches have been criticized by rights groups for resulting in thousands of deaths of drug suspects and activists.
Belgica, however, said the anti-corruption committees at the barangay level would speed up solving corruption.
"With the anti-corruption committees, maibabato mo kaagad ang mga information na naririnig mo na hindi naman validated para malaman po ang katotohanan nito. Kung totohanan po ito, naa-address kaagad ng committees,” he explained.
But won’t the work of the anti-corruption committees conflict with those of the resident auditors of the Commission on Audit and the Department of Justice-led Task Force Against Corruption?
Belgica said the Anti-Corruption Coordinating Council’s work will complement the work of resident auditors who have investigative functions. The ACCC, he said, will have preventive and educative functions, though, he did not detail how that will work.
The DOJ task force is the stronger investigative body, according to Belgica, but he stressed the coordinating council will complement the task force's functions.
WHY THE NEED FOR A COORDINATING COUNCIL?
Belgica acknowledged that the powers of the PACC, created by virtue of an executive order, are limited and its mandate only applies to presidential appointees occupying top posts in government.
He said there’s a need to bring the fight against corruption to the lowest level of government and hopes for a law expanding the powers of his agency.
Once the PACC’s mandate comes from a law and once funds are given, all offices will have anti-corruption committees, he said.
It is not clear if the Anti-Corruption Coordinating Council, created through a memorandum of agreement, will have more teeth than the PACC itself.
The PACC has been quiet about the Senate probe and the findings of the Commission on Audit although Belgica said Friday they are monitoring Congress' public probes so they could also send their own subpoenas.
But Belgica did not categorically state if they are launching or have started their probe on the pandemic contracts and what the scope of the investigation might be.
He earlier told the media he will wait until the government agencies flagged by COA are able to submit their justifications.
Belgica was no longer able to answer one more question ABS-CBN News posed in the brief moderated press conference: “How will he reconcile the President’s latest statements telling the Senate to stop investigations on the pandemic contracts with the Anti-Corruption Coordinating Council’s and his office’s goal of eradicating corruption?”
For militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), the creation of the new council is "all for show" and is unlikely to uncover anything "meaningful."
"The PACC won't go very far because it is an office under the President and created by the President. The issues being raised in the Senate hearings may even reach the President. The PACC is not expected to investigate the President, hence this is all for show. We doubt anything meaningful will result from this so-called council," Bayan Secretary General Renato Reyes said.