Grassroots & Governance

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque has defended Solicitor General (SolGen) Jose Calida’s family security services firm having contracts worth over P150 million with four government agencies as not a case of conflict of interest. Of course, Calida claims that he had resigned his position as President of Vigilant Investigative and Security Agency, Inc. (Vigilant) when he became SolGen.
However, it is at least weird that he was of course succeeded by his wife; and that other key executive positions in the firm are occupied by his children.
In the September 2016 (latest available filing) at the Securities and Exchange Commission, Rappler reveals that all of the stocks in Vigilant belong to Calida’s family; and that he himself owned 60% at the time. While it’s a good thing that presidential spokesperson Harry Roque qualified his defense of Calida with an “I could be wrong” line, this only demonstrates how blurred the lines have become between right and wrong. Calida does not belong in that sensitive post which certainly demands the highest standards of public ethics. Anyway, this leaves room for the President, if he has to, to wash his hands off the lame Roque defense.
Nonetheless, the Calida fiasco is just one in a series of cases manifesting the decline of delicadeza (remember this?) in our public services, in which lines are increasingly being blurred between what is ethical and what is unethical.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales’ recent forceful speech before the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) in which she emphasized the importance of the Rule of Law and not of Men, is very timely. IBP has a key role to play in the screening of applicants (thru the Judicial and Bar Council) for positions of justices in the Supreme Court. President Duterte will be appointing a total of up to 15 Supreme Court justices during his term in office.
We have a Supreme Court that has gone against the Constitution by allowing SolGen Calida’s case of Quo Warranto (what right?) as reason to unseat its own Chief Justice over a minor SALN technicality. It was obvious that the compliant House of Representatives was ready to send its impeachment complaint to the Senate, which is the constitutionally provided method of ousting a Chief Justice.
Why the rush? I can only think of two reasons.
An impeachment proceeding would entail opening up the issues for debates in the Senate which would be covered by mass media; and would take too long. A third possible reason is too gruesome to mention. Again, why the rush?
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court, acting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal has decided that in its proceedings on the appeal filed by losing vice-presidential candidate Ferdinand “BongBong” Marcos, Jr., the threshold for rendering votes valid would be 50% shading of ballots. This goes against the Commission on Elections’ (Comelec’s) own threshold for validity of 25% shading in the actual vote counts in the election of 2010. The Comelec is after all the official government agency tasked with governance and conduct of elections. In raising the threshold for the electoral protest after the fact, it seems to me that the Justices have overstepped their boundaries and violated the law!
If the resistance to these ethical and legal violations are just a whimper and not a bang, there is much reason to be concerned for our country now and in the future.
The President has to be consistent in his decision making concerning the fight against corruption, which he constantly talks about as one of his key jobs. The firing of Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo for conflict of interest and several sub-cabinet officials should have no exceptions, once evidence against erring officials is found. The Ombudsman has also ousted Congressman Antonio Floirendo from his post due to conflict of interest.
Newly appointed Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra seems to be off to a good start with his reversal of controversial decisions of his predecessor Vitaliano Aguirre, i.e., the dismissal of cases against alleged drug lords Peter Lim and Kerwin Espinosa, and the lifting of the Witness Protection Program benefits granted to alleged PDAF plunder mastermind Janet Lim Napoles. Guevarra has announced to his DoJ staff that he is bent on cleaning up to department. He has a huge job on his plate, given the shady reputation of two agencies under the DoJ (The Bureau of Immigration and the National Bureau of Investigation). Let us give him our full support, which he certainly needs.
The law is the law and exceptions made by the authorities cannot be based on a rule of men. A rule of law will enable predictability in policies and consistency in decision making because the norms will be clear.
The Department of Education has announced a partnership with the Central Bank to launch a program of financial literacy for our children in K-12. This is a positive step in enabling our children to become more responsible stewards of their allowances, future earnings, and inherited assets. However, I wonder if DepEd still requires lessons on civics and social ethics?
When I was in grade school, I still remember such lessons being taught by our civics teacher-Scoutmaster, who was so impassioned about his subject. He shared the same passion with the Scouts (boys and girls) under his care. Values such honesty, trustworthiness, reverence, and obedience made such a deep impact on my young mind, even though I really joined the Girl Scouts in order to participate in overnight camping events.
In fact, I used to call my best-behaved sibling Noel who passed away at the age of 60 “Boy Scout.” And the whole family agreed. I guess he picked up his values from his Boy Scouts training and from my Dad who was a classic Boy Scout when it came to social and ethical values.
Perhaps the Catholic Church, if it can veer a bit away from its seeming obsession on family planning methods as the be all and end-all of morality, could make a more lasting impact on our social and civic norms and values. Many of our government officials and leaders are supposed to be products of Catholic school education. And yet, where are we going? If we don’t raise consciousness about this serious problem, our country and our people are really going downhill and faster.
Teresa S. Abesamis is a former professor at the Asian Institute of Management and an independent development management consultant.