To Jun Asuncion:
The issue about the Bulan Integrated Bus Terminal and the Bulan Municipal Slaughterhouse particularly the audit findings of the Commission on Audit is not a political issue. It is an issue about public accountability and graft and corruption. To quote from the comment of PIO-Bulan (Mr. Tonyboy Gilana) to the Bulaneño Blog (www.bulaneno.wordpress.com), he posted: “The Terminal issue is a justiciable issue which only the courts of the land can finally adjudicate. This battle can go on up to the Supreme Court, and by then we shall know who speaks the truth. Only then can one or the other party say that he is vindicated. There is no Pandora’s Box here. No one among us can impute guilt against anybody, unless proven by the Court. Again, this is a constitutionally-enshrined provision.”
Though it is a “justiciable issue” the Municipal Information Officer of Bulan should be reminded that the accountability of public officials is also enshrined in the Constitution of 1987, as it has been in the Malolos Constitution of 1898, the Commonwealth Constitution of 1935 and then the Constitution of 1973, the Martial Law period. Article XI of the 1987 Constitution, entitled “Accountability of Public Officers”, states the fundamental principle of public office, as public trust. It requires full accountability and integrity among public officers and employees. The President, Vice-President, members of the Supreme Court, members of the Constitutional Commissions and the Ombudsman may be impeached for violations of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, and for betrayal of public trust. Other public officials committing such acts can be investigated and prosecuted through the regular judicial process provided by law.
The Philippine government is directed to maintain honesty and integrity in the public service, and to take action against graft and corruption (Section 27, Art. II). It is also directed to give full public disclosure of all transactions involving the public interest (Section 28, Art. II). This provision is complemented by the Bill of Rights within the Constitution, which gives people the right to information on matters of public concern, including official records, documents and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions or decisions, and to government research data used as the basis for policy development (Section 7, Art. III).
The 1987 Constitution established special independent bodies to support the principles of honesty, integrity and public accountability. These are: (i) the Office of the Ombudsman as the people’s protector and watchdog; (ii) the Civil Service Commission as the central personnel agency; (iii) the Commission on Audit as the supreme body responsible for auditing the government’s expenditures and performance; and (iv) The Sandiganbayan as a special court that hears cases of graft and corruption. To ensure that these organizations and their commissioners can fulfill their duties without fear of reprisal from other agencies of the government, the Constitution grants them fiscal autonomy7 (Section 2, Article VIII). Their actions are appealable only to the Supreme Court.
The Commission on Audit, while primarily regarded as an evaluator of the government’s performance in handling funds, also has as a function on the input side, as it conducts audits on the income and revenues of government. Aside from ensuring financial accountability, the Commission may also inquire as to the effectiveness and impact of programs, and not alone into the economy, efficiency or the legality and regularity of government operations. The COA, being the watchdog of the financial operations of the government, is empowered to examine, audit, and settle all accounts pertaining to the revenue and receipts of, and expenditures or uses of funds and property under the custody of government agencies and instrumentalities. It promulgates accounting and auditing rules and regulations for the prevention and disallowance of irregular, unnecessary, excessive, extravagant, or unconscionable expenditures, or use of government funds and properties.
As government officials, the local chief executive and her subordinates must not be onion-skinned in addressing valid queries on the efficiency, legality and regularity of local government operations such as the operations of the bus terminal and slaughterhouse. As public officers and employees, they must at all times be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty and efficiency, act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives. They must refrain from invoking that the findings of COA involve questions of law that must be addressed only in a court of law. Some of the findings of COA involves questions of facts such as: (a) failure to submit monthly report of official travels and report of fuel consumption of government vehicles; (b) failure to secure or apply for land use conversion and exemption clearance from the Agrarian Reform Regional Office; (c) failure to strictly observe and conform to the policy, standard and guidelines in the establishment, construction, improvement, and operation of Bulan Slaughterhouse; (d) failure to post a procurement opportunity with the PhilGEPS, to mention a few. These are clear facts that were discovered during the COA audit that the LGU had neglected or failed to perform in the implementation of the projects.
It should be noted that corruption poses a serious development challenge. In the political realm, it undermines democracy and good governance by flouting or even subverting formal processes. Corruption in elections and in legislative bodies reduces accountability and distorts representation in policymaking; corruption in the judiciary compromises the rule of law; and corruption in public administration results in the unfair provision of services. More generally, corruption erodes the institutional capacity of government as procedures are disregarded, resources are siphoned off, and public offices are bought and sold. At the same time, corruption undermines the legitimacy of government and such democratic values as trust and tolerance.
Corruption also generates economic distortions in the public sector by diverting public investment into capital projects where bribes and kickbacks are more plentiful. Officials may increase the technical complexity of public sector projects to conceal or pave way for such dealings, thus further distorting investment. Corruption also lowers compliance with construction, environmental, or other regulations, reduces the quality of government services and infrastructure, and increases budgetary pressures on government.
Thus, as a citizen of the Republic of the Philippines, or as an ordinary citizen of Bulan, I recognize that the struggle for preventing and fighting graft and corruption in government is a task entrusted not only with the government, but also with the civil society. It doesn’t need a citizen belonging to the local political opposition of Bulan to understand the social implications of the audit findings of COA to the ordinary Bulaneños. Corruption distorts access to services for the poor, results in local government’s poor performance and, consequently, low public confidence in government. The culture of corruption in Bulan breeds the vicious cycles of poverty and underdevelopment. /