by Perry Diaz
On day one of his presidency, President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. issued Executive Order (EO) No. 1, which was to abolish the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) as well as the Office of Secretary. Marcos’ reason for the abolition was to achieve “simplicity, economy, and efficiency.”
In his EO, Marcos stated that to achieve “simplicity, economy, and efficiency” in bureaucracy without affecting disruptions in internal management and general governance, “the administration shall streamline official processes and procedures.”
Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said there was no need to retain the PACC, saying that its powers and functions are “not in line with streamlining.”
“First of all, its nature is investigative, which can also be conducted by the Office of the Ombudsman. So, usually, what they do is they gather evidence on presidential appointees and file the case with the Ombudsman,” she said.
Also, lawyer Tony La Viña, former dean of the Ateneo School of Government, said Marcos’ decision to deactivate the PACC was needed, saying that its work “can be done by the Office of the Executive Secretary (OES).”
Weaken fight against corruption
But Greco Belgica, PACC head in 2021, disagreed with La Viña’s assessment. He warned that the move could weaken the fight against corruption. He said that PACC played a key role especially when the Deputy Secretary for Legal Affairs (DESLA) has its hands full of cases to investigate.
“Without PACC,” Belgica said, “no one would know what is happening, most especially on corruption issues.”
He reasoned that when people are not aware of corruption in the government because cases are not resolved, “corruption will proliferate because no one gets penalized.”
Indeed, without the PACC, “DESLA shall make recommendations on matters requiring its action, to the executive secretary for approval, adoption or modification by the President,” Marcos’ EO No. 1 said, which doesn’t really streamline the process.
On the contrary, it adds extra steps to the process. It adds another level of administration by including the DESLA to the equation. EO No.1 shall promulgate rules of procedure in administrative cases under its jurisdiction, provided that those promulgated by the PACC “shall remain in force.”
But while DESLA works against corruption, it is also handling the “external and internal legal issues of the President. It then becomes a question of priority. The DESLA has to prioritize its workload – corruption investigation versus legal issues.
Ultimately, the President would have to intervene, whether to put more effort in fighting corruption or handling external and internal issues.
In an attempt to justify the abolition of PACC, Cruz-Angeles said in a press briefing: “Basically the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission… is not in line with streamlining. First of all, its nature is investigative, which can also be conducted by the Office of the Ombudsman.”
Cruz-Angeles said that the PACC gathers evidence on presidential appointees and then files a case with the Ombudsman. However, she pointed out that a complaint could directly be filed with the Ombudsman even without the PACC.
However, according to former PACC Commissioner Manuelito Luna, the PACC is not a mere duplicate of the Office of the Ombudsman because they have differing jurisdictions. He said there is coordination between them and the Ombudsman regarding the handling of cases.
“If a presidential appointee with a salary grade 26 or up, the case is usually referred to the Ombudsman; otherwise, PACC handles the case,” Luna said. “However, the president retains the power to administratively deal with his own appointee. When it comes to presidential appointees, the president has the power to appoint as well as to remove or discipline.” And that’s where it becomes political.
Belgica said that from October 2017 to June 2022, the PACC addressed 13,000 complaints and that 154 criminal and administrative cases had been filed, 24 individuals were sent to prison and 800 government employees were removed from office.
That’s a lot of workload and the results were impressive, which begs the question: Can the DESLA handle the workload without assigning additional personnel to handle them? I doubt it.
And this could lead to further delays and backlog in investigating corruption case. It could then lead to a repeat of the old system before PACC was created: cases piled up from three administrations before President Duterte took over. It was only when Duterte created PACC on October 4, 2017, that the backlog eased and corruption cases were investigated.
The PACC, which was created by Duterte’s EO No. 43 in 2017, had the mandate to “directly assist the President in investigating and/or hearing administrative cases primarily involving graft and corruption against all presidential appointees.”
The EO stated, “there is a need to create a separate commission […] solely dedicated to providing assistance to the President in the investigation and hearing of administrative cases and complaints.”
It likewise had the mandate to conduct lifestyle checks or fact-finding investigations concerning presidential appointees and other public officers allegedly involved in graft and corrupt practices.
Going back to old problem
Belgica stressed that he respects the decision of Marcos, he said he is hoping that the government will strengthen the fight against corruption: “If DESLA will not get a boost, like enough staff, we will go back to the old problem.”
“If the government will strengthen the Ombudsman, it’s better. Whatever it is that the government will boost, resources should be increased, jurisdiction should be widened, and there should be enough staff,” he said.
Duterte’s EO provided that the PACC shall “have the power, on complaint or motu proprio (on its own), and concurrently with the Office of the Ombudsman, to hear, investigate, receive, gather, and evaluate evidence, intelligence reports, and information.”
It’s sad that Marcos had to abolish PACC, which had done a terrific job in pursuing corruption cases against presidential appointees.
In effect, what Marcos did was to go back to the days when corrupt presidential appointees would remain untouchable only because of a slow system of investigating corruption cases, which makes one wonder: Why did Bongbong abolish PACC? I can only surmise that he probably wanted his friends to know that happy days are here again.
PERRY DIAZ is a writer, columnist and journalist who has been published in more than a dozen Filipino newspapers in five countries.
by Perry Diaz