IN one of those sudden and seemingly impulsive moves over the weekend that we have now all come to know, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered more than 6,000 presidential appointees to vacate their offices because corruption persists in government agencies.
A memorandum circular released Monday shows that the President’s order will cover those appointed by him as well as holdovers from the Aquino administration who had earlier been asked to stay on the job beyond July 31—arguably the real target of the sweeping shakeup.
The circular ordered all presidential appointees to tender their unqualified courtesy resignations within seven calendar days and “in view of the President’s desire to rid the bureaucracy of corruption… to give him a free hand in achieving this objective.”
Subsequently, Communications Secretary Martin Andanar clarified that the order does not cover members of the Cabinet, and that the only ones appointed by Duterte affected by the order were the chiefs of the Land Transportation Office and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board, agencies that the President had singled out as being riddled with corruption.
We applaud the President’s desire to clean house and his need for the occasional bold gesture to signal that true change is coming. Like him, we too are impatient for good government to take root in our public agencies.
We also have no argument with his singling out of the LTO and the LTFRB as agencies rife with corruption. After all, mere incompetence alone would not have been enough to cause the kind of breakdown in transportion services that became a hallmark of the Aquino administration.
We do prefer, however, that such major changes be accompanied by some semblance of order and coordination.
For example, immediately after the President announced the massive shakeup from Davao City, his officials in Manila seemed to be scrambling to determine exactly who were and were not covered by his latest order.
One spokesman said the order covered only holdover appointees from the Aquino administration, but the memorandum circular stated that it covered all appointees, including those that Duterte had named.
This kind of confusion takes some focus away from the goal of cleansing the government of corruption and diminishes public confidence in the administration’s ability to pursue this objective with resolve and efficiency.
Certainly, the need to speak with one voice is an art this administration must still master.
More importantly, however, is that there seems to be no master plan for eliminating corruption outside of firing people.
Singapore, for instance, which grappled with corruption during the colonial period up until 1945, overcame it with the help of draconian laws—and the political will to enforce them.
Without a systemic approach to reducing corruption such as this, who is to say that the officials fired today won’t be replaced by others with the same propensity for corruption as those who came before them?