A great deal of disbelief and skepticism was generated by then-presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte when he promised that, if elected, he would “put a stop to drugs, crime and corruption” within three to six months. The disbelief and skepticism were generated by Duterte’s announced intention to go hammer-and-tongs against drugs and crime; they were generated by his inclusion of corruption among his list of to-be-destroyed evils.
To be sure, destroying the drug trade – the manufacture, pushing and use of drugs – is a tough job. But the drug trade is physical and above-ground: the laboratories where the drugs are concocted, the shipments and deliveries of the banned products, the runners and pushers with sachets of shabu on their persons and the locations where they conduct their illegal activities are determinable.
In far too many cases, PNP (Philippine National Police) personnel and local officials know who are engaged in the manufacture, sale and use of banned drugs and where they carry on their unlawful operations, but either look the other way or are participants in them. President Duterte undoubtedly knows – after all, he has his Davao City experience to go by – that many of the extrajudicial killings that have taken place since June 30 are cases of PNP personnel silencing their ‘assets’ and partners in crime to prevent them from being unmasked. At the rate that people are being extrajudicially killed – the total as of last week was close to 200 – Rodrigo Duterte’s job-completion timeline of three to six months may well be met.
The physical and visible character of the drug trade has rendered easy the identification of the breakers of the drug laws and the determination of the character and extent of the scalawags’ operations. This, coupled with the fact that the war against drug trade is being waged by people with arms, explains the large measure of success that the war has achieved, which is best manifested by the extrajudicial killings of alleged drug manufacturers and users and the ‘surrender’ of thousands of confessed drug users all over the nation.
If widespread disbelief and skepticism greeted Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration that he would eliminate corruption within three to six months, it was because corruption is a far tougher nut to crack than the drug trade and violent crime. In contrast with the drug trade, corruption involves no visible manifestations, such as manufacturing laboratories and distribution infrastructure. Corruption is practiced quietly and subtly. Corruption is difficult to detect and even more difficult to stop. And unlike the war against illegal drugs, the war against corruption is waged not with policemen brandishing weapons, conducting noisy raids and making loud threats.
The Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (Republic Act No. 3019) embodies a list of practices characterizable as corrupt. It is not an all-encompassing list; other practices could be added to it. What they have in common is the causing of loss of disadvantage to the government. Examples of the kinds of official acts that are disadvantageous and damaging to the government’s interest are to be found in the list of charges against former vice president Jejomar Binay. The acts include the awarding of contracts without public bidding, overpricing of projects and releases of payments without adequate documentation. Other corrupt practices provided by R.A. 3019 are payments for ghost projects, payments to ghost payees and unauthorized diversions of funds. Still other corrupt practices of public officials are bribery and extortion in connection with the grant of public benefits and services.
Although the Revised Penal Code includes offenses committed by public officials, R.A. 3019 represents the frontline in the government’s program for holding public officials accountable for their acts. Given the size of the bureaucracy, there should be a multitude of cases of official malfeasance and misgovernance every year; the fact that there are not too many prosecutions under RA 3019 is a good indication of the difficulty with which instances of official corruption are brought to light. Yet, President Duterte believes that his administration can eradicate corruption within three to six months.
The prospects of success are not bright, but it is to be hoped that President Duterte will succeed in his drive against corruption. In this hope, the 16 million Filipinos who voted for him are joined by the 34 million who did not vote for him.