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Anti-corruption takes the back seat

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THE GOVERNMENT’S anti-corruption effort has been obviously  pushed aside by the ravaging onslaught of the pandemic and the continuing incursion of China into Philippine territories in the South China Sea. Existential, security and sovereignty issues get the front seat of this Administration’s agenda.

The Al Capones in government must be having a  party.

Even the dismissal of the impeachment complaint against Supreme Court Justice Marvic Leonen for allegedly failing to file his statements of assets, liabilities and network (SALN) didn’t get much public attention because of the bigger headlines. Besides, there wasn’t much really to the case, as the House of Representatives determined the case suffered from lack of substance and form.  The lawmakers had better things to do indulge a supporter of a disappointed vice presidential bet who lost his bid.

But Leonen isn’t off the hook yet, as one lawyer friend confided. There’s still the quo warranto way to “ disinfect and rid” the High Court of ineligible justices, stressing the Constitutional provision on integrity  for any member of the judiciary.

The House dismissal of the impeachment is only one  way, he said, and it’s basically political.  The quo warranto approach, which her peers applied to eject  former Supreme Court Justice Lourdes Sereno from her post, is not; it’s judicial, although hers also essentially  boiled down to the political because  she didn’t see eye to eye with  the Duterte Administration. Her political color also didn’t help: she was a dyed-in-wool ‘dilawan’.

Leonen’ case was thrown out without the public knowing whether,indeed, he filed his SALN as required by the Consitution. As reported, there was no smoking gun, partly because the state university didn’t provide the document to prove or disprove the case.  The innocent stays innocent until proven otherwise.  Apparently, the one who filed the impeachment case against Leonen didn’t quite do his homework in getting the evidence to prove his point. As noted, only xeroxed copies of newspaper clippings were attached to his case.

The quo warranto strategy as mulled may also face some rough sailing as the House is insisting that when it comes to making high public officials like Supreme Court justices accountable, it should call the shot by impeachment.  The Sereno precedent may not be invoked.  Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban has likened quo warranto  to the sword of Damocles, and pushed that it must be put back into its sheath.

The filing of the SALN is covered by statutory laws, specifically  R.A. 3019 and R.A. 6713 which require all public officials and employees to submit declarations, under oath, the assets, liabilities, networth and financial and business interest, and the amount of income taxes paid for the next preceding calendar year.

R. A. 3019 has explicitly stated that the public has the right to know a public official’s record in this regard, providing for ways by which these documents can be made accessible to the public.

My lawyer friend believes that these laws are honored more in the breach. So much about the oath, and so much about the Constitution.  Even more so, after the Office of the Ombudsman has made it harder for anyone to get the SALN of public officials.  His reason: these are just being weaponized to harass public officials, especially politicians for partisan purposes.

The Ombudsman new stance came after incessant calls for President Duterte to reveal his SALN. Ombudsman Samuel Martirez is an appointee of Duterte, a fact that made his position self-explanatory.  As it is now, the sauce for the goose should also be the gravy for the gander.  Solicitor General Raul Calida and his ilks have been amply warned that  the High Court may not be as cooperative as it was in the Sereno case to quo warranto another sitting justice.

With the 2022 elections just around the corner, a lameduck president may find it of less political value to rock the boat in the Supreme Court or any other branch of the government for that matter.  Politics is supposed to be addition, and his Teflon-like popularity need not be put to risk. Besides, a quid pro quo, not quo warranto, may be the right tack given that the anti-terror law is facing    tough scrutiny in the High Tribunal. Prudence is the better part of valor.

Those who have a moist eye for election or reelection in the coming polls should feel  confident. Can the government be more creative in ferreting out who are cheating the public on their SALNS?

Al Capone, the most wanted person In America  in his time, was able to run around the laws and avoid being arrested using his money, political and judicial connections, not to mention liquidation.   Until one woman prosecutor came up with the idea of pinning him down on his tax payments.  That did Capone in, and from there, it was a slippery slope for the notorious criminal who ended up with a psychiatrist finding that he only had the intelligence of a 12 year old.

The British philosopher John Mills had warned that in a representative government, there is always the risk of electing leaders with low intelligence.   Coupled that with the Ombudsman ruling that the SALN is basically out for all intention and purposes in the meantime, the anti-corruption effort against public officials may turn to be just a lip service.

And yet, the SALN route appears to be the simplest way for the public to know who is honest enough to be entrusted the people’s money. The pandemic and China’s giant shadow in Philippine affairs, from politics to business, have given rise to nagging suspicions that corruption continues to rear its ugly head in the corridors of power.

No less than Sen. Panfilo Lacson has said corruption today in the Philippines is worse than ever before. What does the future look like for a pandemic burdened and a China- harassed country?

Not so bright, according to a lawyer who thinks the Constitution is a sacrosanct document.

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