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  • 2001.01.31
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The Philippines : Civil Society-Oriented Measures for Enhancing Transparency and Accountability in Governance and the Civil Service
Segundo E Romero, PhD 
Senior Consultant, Development Academy of the Philippines 
 
Executive Summary 
 
The Philippines has a comprehensive legal and organizational infrastructure for instilling transparency and accountability in governance. There is a Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, as well as a Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees. There are three constitutional oversight bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman, the Commission on Audit, and the Civil Service Commission. Yet, Corruption Continues to be rampant, estimated at US$48 Billion over the past 20 years. Up to 21 percent of the national budget is estimated to be lost to corruption. Top political leaders and judges themselves are charged with corruption, cronyism, and undisclosed wealth. Under these Circumstances, there is an increasing demand, and recourse to civil society-oriented measures for enhancing transparency and accountability. A proposed program by the Development Academy of th Philippines features civil society oriented measures such as key appointments watch, lifestyle checks, civil society watchdogs, report cards, citizen charters, open public documents, and integrity pacts. 
 
The Transparency and Accountability Situation 
 
According to Social Weather Stations surveys, Filipinos perceive the following to be the main forms of corruption: (1)general bribery / gift-giving, (2)diversion budget away from projects, (3) no transparency in bidding, (4)overpricing procurement, (5)doing substandard project, (6)underreporting tax collection, (7)tax and tariff evasion, (8)pork barrel, and (9)cronyism. 
 
The Office of the Ombudsman has estimated that US$48 billion has been lost by the Philippine Government over the last 20 years on account of corruption. This exceeds the present foreign debt of US$40.6 billion. The Commission of Audit(COA) has estimated that corruption costs the Philippines about PhP2 billion(US$44.5 million) each year. It is estimated that some 20% of the annual budget is lost to corruption. 
 
There is public perception that the anti-graft bodies and the judiciary have been ineffective against graft and corruption and, worse, are involved in it. In a survey by the Social Weather Stations, 62 percent of respondents believed there were significant levels of corruption in the judiciary. Some 65% believed many lawyers could be bribed, and 57% believed even judges could be bribed. 
 
Only one out of every 20,000civil servants gets reported for corrupt acts in the Philippines, compared to 16 in Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region of China. 1998/1999 surveys show 20-22 percent of the public has been asked for bribes in government transactions. Only 4% in 1999 bothered to report the solicitation. Those sho did not complain reasoned that (1)it was futile to campaign(51%); (2)the amount involved is too small(21%); there could be a retaliation(15%); and they did not know where to file the complaint (10%). 
 
Three notable structural sources of corruption are (1)that candidates must finance their own electoral campaigns, owing a debt of gratitude to many sponsors who call in the favors when the candidates are elected, (2)the incredibly poor compensation and reward system for civil servant, and (3)the poor enforcement of anti-corruption laws that renders corruption a low risk, high reward activity. 
 
The Estrada Government is undertaking bureaucracy-wide reforms to streamline government procedures, overhaul the procurement system, remove overlaps and redundancies, and using information and communication technology for efficiency, transparency, accountability. Several oversight bodies are undertaking punitive, preventive, and developmental approaches to instilling accountability and transparency in the Civil Service. 
 
The international community is offering assistance, support, and best practices and models against corruption. International and foreign donor agencies are exerting pressure on government to undertake a credible and effective anti-corruption campaign. They are also assisting in the formulation and implementation of anti-corruption projects in government and civil society. 
 
The Infrastructure for Accountability and Transparency 
 
The Philippines has good laws for instilling accountability and transparency. The 1987 constitution itself has a section on 'Accountability of Public Officers'. The Revised Penal Code has a section on 'Crimes Committed by Public Officers.' The Administrative Code of 1987(EO 292) sets forth the organization and procedures by which the bureaucracy should operate. 
 
There are two main anti-corruption laws: RA 3019, 'Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act' passed into law in the late fifties and is the first and most comprehensive Philippine law aimed against corruption in government. The law enumerates eleven corrupt practices in addition to acts or omissions already penalized by existing criminal laws. 
 
RA 6713, enacted in 1988 is 'An Act Establishing a Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees to Uphold the Time-Honored Principle of Public Office being a Public Trust, Granting Incentives and Reward for Exemplary Service, Enumerating Prohibited Acts and Transactions and Providing Penalties for Violations Thereof and Other Purposes.' 
 
Three agencies are constitutionally mandated to exercise oversight over government personnel. These are the Civil Service Commission, the Commission on Audit and the Office of the Ombudsman. 
 
The Civil Service Commission(CSC) is the central personnel agency of the government. It is mandated to safeguard the merit system in the public service by ensuring that only the fit and qualified enter its ranks. It is engaged in standard setting, in human resource development; test administration; personnel record management and adjudication, functioning as the administrative court of the Philippine public service. 
 
The Commission on Audit is the fiscal watchdog of the government. It hans the power to review and regulate disbursement of public funds and the use of government property to prevent irregular, unnecessary, or extravagant expenditures or usage. Like the CSC, it has quasi-judicial powers. 
 
The Office of the Ombudsman is the Philippine"s primary anti-corruption agency. It is a special prosecutor, distinct and independent from the national prosecution service under the Department of Justice, which is a part of th Executive Branch. The Ombudsman has the mandate to investigate and prosecute the criminal liability of public officials and employees involved in graft and corrupt practices. More proactively, it is also mandated to conduct a continuing campaign aimed at preventing graft and corruption. This is cone mainly through information and re-education to instill proper moral values among government officials and employees. 
 
The Transparency and Accountability program of the Filipino People Under the Estrada Administration 
 
In November last year, the World Bank issued a report on combating corruption in the Philippines, recommending a 9-point approach: (1)Reducing opportunities for corruption Through policy reforms and deregulation, (2)Reforming campaign finance, (3)Increasing public oversight of government and transparency in its operation, (4)Reforming the budget process, (5)Improving meritocracy in the civil service, (6)Targeting selected departments and agencies, (7)Enhancing sanctions for corrupt and illegal behaviors, (8)Developing partnerships with the private sector, (9)Supporting judicial reform. 
 
Comprehensive Anti-Corruption Program 
 
In response to the World Bank report, President Estrada ordered the Development Academy of the Philippines(DAP) to come up with an anti-corruption program. Studying the Philippine case carefully and undertaking multisectoral consultation, the DAP formulated what might be considered a civil society-oriented program for transparency and accountability in the Civil Service. 
 
DAP identified the following condition for the success of the program; (1)Strong leadership and management, (2)a multi-sectoral advisory group, (3)a sequenced action program of priorities chosen from 9-pt anti-corruption strategy, (4)Immediate launching of programs in priority agencies, (5)Upgrading capacity of anti-corruption institutions, (6)Launching joint intergovernmental and inter-institutional efforts, (7)Seeking donor assistance for the government"s anti-corruption program. 
 
The following elements were identified as crucial to the program: (1)Make corruption a high-risk activity, (2)Increase certainty the corrupt are caught and convicted, (3)Shift from penalty-based to prevention-based approach, (4)Use partnerships, (5)Obtain commitment of top political leadership, (6)Enlist internal reformers, (7)Go for a comprehensive strategy, (8)Use supply-side measures, (9)Selectively adopt best practices, (10)Consider the cultural dimension, and (11)A maintain and "open architecture". 
 
The criteria for prioritizing activities under the program are (1)Action can be done immediately, (2)Visibility and impact of results, (3)Presence of change sponsors, (4)Responsiveness to wide public clamor, (5)High return of the reform efforts, and (6)Contribution to increase in government resources. 
 
The vision of the program was: A graft-free and corruption intolerant society. The goals were(1)efficient collection and use of public funds and (2)an efficient bureaucracy and accountable civil service. 
 
Results were targeted in five areas: (1) Streamlining government transaction(through transaction re-engineering, information feed-forward, and public service accountability measures), (2)Enforcing anti-corruption laws and policies(by enhancing the administration of justice, and improving executive and legislative branch processes), (3)Promoting Integrity in the Civil Service (through vanguards of public service and integrity, improving the compensation and rewards system, and integrity-building measures), (4)Mobilizing Citizens Against Corruption(by policy reform, strengthening anti-corruption agencies, and sustaining the anti-corruption effort). 
 
The Jumpstart Program 
 
The launching of such a comprehensive program needs a strategic 'jumpstart' to generate quick success and mobilize wider and longer term support. Based on a careful reading of the dynamics of bureaucratic and social change in the Philippines, the DAP program recommended the following: 
 
(1) Key Appointments Watch: Establishment of a transparent and participatory process for generating nominees for Presidential appointments in critical government offices(such as the Constitutional and regulatory bodies); 
 
(2) Random Lifestyle Checks: Conduct of random checks on the lifestyle and compensation packages of public officials; 
 
(3) Fast Track High Profile Cases: Mobilization of investigative and prosecutorial resources for pursuing graft and corruption cases; 
 
(4) Open Public Documents: Full disclosure of public documents such as budget documents, financial reports, government contracts, proceedings of public hearings, etc.; 
 
(5) Citizen Charters; Publication by government agencies of citizen guidebooks on how to access government goods and services; 
 
(6) Transaction Re-engineering: Simplification and streamlining of processes and procedures for availing public goods and services; 
 
(7) Report Card System; Periodic measurement of public satisfaction with the delivery 
 
and availment of public goods and services; 
 
(8) Civil Society Watchdogs: Utilization of civil society organizations as partners of government agencies in advocating for improvements in organizational and individual integrity as well as ensuring transparency; 
 
(9) Integrity Pacts: Entry into 'integrity pacts' between public offices and private firms to eliminate environments conducive to and courting bribery, price-fixing and non-transparent procurement practices; and 
 
(10) Anti-corruption Legislative Agenda: Identification and pursuit of anti graft and -corruption legislative. 
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