Unsurprisingly, corruption is again an election issue. Understandably. First, because Ending Corruption came only second to Ending Criminality in Mayor Duterte’s promised 15-Point Legacy Agenda. Not only did he confess failing on this goal midway in his term, the last leg of his administration showed that the scale of corruption had grown worse with the opportunities provided by the urgent need to cope with COVID-19. Recall PhilHealth, Pharmally, the Bayanihan Heal-As-One ayuda programs. Second, because Marcos Jr. is leading the presidential polls.
Corruption has come up in the presidential debates, in which Marcos Jr. has refused to participate. No loss. We do not really need to hear him speak on the issue of corruption, unless he is willing to come clean on the corruption that took place when the Marcos family controlled the government. It is clear enough where he stands. He denies that the Marcos family had ever engaged in corruption during a period described as the country’s golden age, though Marcos Sr. had secured second place in the Forbes all-time list of the world’s most corrupt leaders.
Marcos Jr. was not simply a passive bystander during the Martial Law regime. He served as the governor of Ilocos Norte, although an absentee official, as he was supposed to be attending courses at Oxford. He was convicted for not paying his income tax liabilities when he was governor, which should have led to ruling him ineligible to run for the presidency. But corruption has been such a chronic and pervasive problem that it has become difficult to keep track of cases, especially when they remain unresolved.
Who remembers, for instance, the P205-M plunder case filed in 2016 against Bongbong Marcos Jr. by a group calling itself iBBM – iBalik ang Bilyones ng Mamamayan (Return the Citizens’ Billions) — for his alleged participation in the Napoles pork barrel scam? iBBM presented documentation showing that Marcos Jr. channeled his share of the development assistance funds given to senators to bogus non-government organizations formed by Janet Lim Napoles to support bogus projects from which the senators would get a kick-back. Among the documents presented by iBBM was a statement from the office of Marcos Jr. advising the mayor receiving the assistance to use the services of a Napoles NGOs. Whatever happened to that case?
Political scientists stress the importance of deterring corruption among public officials by holding them accountable to their colleagues in public service across other agencies of government. It is the government that bears primary responsibility for subjecting suspected transgressors to investigation and prosecution. Obviously, the mechanisms for “horizontal accountability” have not demonstrated their effectiveness in the case of Marcos Jr. and the Marcos family.
With elections less than a month away, the Comelec has not yet settled the issue of whether Marcos Jr. can legitimately run for the presidency, because it has yet to rule on the protests that his certificate of candidacy should be canceled. Marcos Jr. also faces the public demand for the payment of the Marcos estate taxes that the Supreme Court had already ruled as final and executory. What, then, can he possibly say on the issue of corruption?
Sara Duterte, Marcos Jr.’s running mate, has also declined to participate in debates among vice presidential candidates. But what would she be able to contribute to a discussion on controlling corruption? Is it likely that a Marcos Jr.-Duterte presidential team would deviate from the pattern established during her father’s administration?
PNoy blamed poverty on corruption. Kung walang kurap, walang mahirap, suggesting that it is the corrupt among the wealthy class that promotes poverty. His administration, with former Supreme Court Justice Conchita Carpio Morales, brought to court wealthy and powerful politicians implicated in the Napoles scam, availing of whistle-blowers and SALN documentation, key instruments for horizontal accountability.
Duterte recognizes the link between corruption and poverty but takes a different premise and perspective: ang mayaman na, hindi magiging kurap – suggesting that it is the poor who succumb to corruption, not the rich, in whatever manner they amassed their wealth. His Ombudsman, Samuel Martires, retiring early from the Supreme Court for the new office, also takes a different approach from Morales. His concern appears to focus on protecting politicians from public inquiry. Duterte had promised in 2018 that he would release his SALN, at the time Sara and Paolo, who is now a congressman, were also facing questions about their SALN. These documents have remained hidden.
Martires has made it more difficult for the media and the public to gain the access prescribed by law to the SALN of government officials. It is the Ombudsman’s obligation to ensure the demand of citizens for disclosure of their SALN. This information, especially on those contesting national offices and aspiring to assume the country’s leadership, would provide voters with a more meaningful basis than campaign promises for choosing their leaders.
Marcos Jr. and other politicians have so far successfully evaded horizontal accountability. But the key to maintaining the impunity this success provides is by evading the “vertical accountability” that comes when voters have a chance to reject their election to public office. Marcos Jr. has carefully conducted a political campaign of generalities and lies, avoiding any occasion when he might be forced to explain his past record and that of his family.
Marcos Jr. wants people to forget about the real historical record, including the issues of human rights abuses, corruption, and plundered wealth. He does not want the electorate to make the connection that a vote for Marcos Jr. is a verdict of not-guilty. This was also the hope of Marcos Sr. in 1972 and 1985. – Rappler.com
Edilberto de Jesus is a senior research fellow at the Ateneo School of Government.