HOWIE SEE IT: The Cycle of Corruption

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By Atty. Howie Calleja

As the commencement for filing of candidacy draws nearer, and certain personalities begin to announce their intent to run for office, perhaps no one candidate is more controversial than the one who has dominated headlines with their antics since 2015. This is, of course, none other than President Duterte. Though his announcement for his run for the Vice-President spot is rife with unconstitutionality and a blatant power-hungry play, before we struggle for the next eight months with his empty promises, sexist comments, and the comedy hour he calls his address to the nation, we cannot forget the past five and a half years of corruption and incompetence.

We can certainly expect a spectacle of a campaign season, but this cannot overshadow the mess the country has been put in over the past five and a half years. While of course issues of human rights should remain front and center, and this author has written about them consistently in the past, we must remember that the promises made as early as 2015 were not about to protect life – as it seems that was never Duterte’s priority – but rather, money. His infamous timelines set him apart from other candidates, including his promise to rid the country of corruption “in three to six months.” Five and a half years later, here we stand worse than ever. Thus, we round up President Duterte’s most notorious examples of his failed promise to remove corruption:


    First on the list is probably the most disturbing; it can be remembered that two of the biggest promises in Duterte’s campaign were to rid the country of corruption and of drugs, all within a couple of months. Yet, he failed on both fronts with his first choices to head the Bureau of Customs (BOC).

In 2017, a total of P6.4 billion worth of drugs were discovered in Valenzuela City warehouses – shipped from China under the watchful eye of Commissioner Faeldon, who later became Director General. The next year, a total of P11 billion worth of drugs were found in Cavite under the supervision of the next-in-line Isidro Lapeña, who Duterte later appointed Secretary of TESDA. Both shipments having gotten past screening from the BOC, and going through Senate investigations that clearly established their involvement, President Duterte seemed to forget his hard stance against drugs and corruption for his friends as he continued to laud their previous work in the military. Despite an NBI complaint in 2019, Lapeña continues to enjoy Duterte’s good graces, along with Faeldon, as his stamp of approval comes in the form of reminders of past military achievements. Apparently working in the military means one is incapable of corruption.


    In May of 2018, the appointed Secretary of Tourism Wanda Tulfo Teo was engulfed in a scandal that cost the government P60 million when she ran an advertisement scheme on a show her brothers produced – without any contract. The Commission on Audit (CoA) later found that Teo had withdrew luxury items from Duty Free stores (as the Corporation is a government-owned and controlled corporation (GOCC) under the Department of Tourism), allegedly for corporate giveaways, and found at least P6.7 million in questionable transactions.

As early as 2019, newspapers began to report that Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) was embroiled in allegations of corruption, due to reports of the loss of P154 billion through a multitude of fraudulent schemes, including making reimbursements for “ghost dialysis” – meaning officials had approved and released payments for some patients who had already passed away, or even those who hadn’t completed their treatments. The replacement of Morales by Duterte that same year lost us a total of P15 billion, and CoA went so far to state that there was a total lack in annual, or even periodic, reviews which allowed fraud to run rampant. The link of Health Secretary Duque in this scheme was clear, as ex-officio head of the Board of Directors, but, before the Department of Justice had even began their investigation, President Duterte declared that Duque remained to have his full trust.


    In 2019, perhaps the biggest highlight of the year for our country was the Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games). Though the Philippines came out on top as overall champions, this was largely overshadowed by the purchase of a P50 million cauldron that held the games’ flame. The wildly costly cauldron, mixed with the Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee’s (PHISGOC) P1.5 billion in funds that were not were doled out without public bidding (given to PHISGOC because the Philippine Sports Commission did not have capacity to undergo bidding), shifted the public’s view of the SEA Games from what should have been a point of pride to another corrupted mess. Of course Duterte, once again, defended Allan Peter Cayetano of any corruption but went so far as to say the military should’ve handled the athletic event.
    The cherry on top (so far) of the multitude of corruption scandals under the Duterte regime would have to be the “deficiencies” found by CoA by the Department of Health (DOH) throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in the use of a total of P67.3 billion. The Department Secretary has found flak from the lack of documents surrounding a fund transfer to the Procurement Service-Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) in the total of P41 billion, which CoA found led the delay in delivery of medical supplies. This author recently wrote a column surrounding the Pharmacy Pharmaceutical Corp, which was rife with irregularities in fund use – to the tune of P8 billion. And what else can we expect from Duterte but words of admiration for Michael Yang.

Of course, even with all of these reoccurrences of corruption and incompetence, who bears the brunt of Duterte’s ire? The Commission on Audit, frontliners who dare challenge the current COVID-19 response, and any critics of this regime. The promise of Duterte to “stamp out even whiffs of corruption” apparently comes with a selective sense of smell. Only those who are not his friends are reek of the odor and are cast out, while his appointees remain flawless.

While, of course, there remains to be a number of human rights abuses, including the infamous extra-judicial killings, as well as a complete lack of capability in defending our sovereign rights against China (and this author has documented these occurrences in past columns), no citizen can say he kept any of his campaign promises. In 2019, the Philippines dropped a total of 16 places in the Corruption Perceptions Index reported by Transparency International, falling from 95th place in 2015 to 113th of the least corrupt nations out of 180 countries. That same year, Deputy Ombudsman Cyril Ramos estimated that the government lost a total of P1.4 trillion to corruption in both 2017 and 2018.

Of course, this author cannot deny that the COVID-19 pandemic brought the entire international community to its knees but every one of our neighbors has found its footing, either mitigating or completely containing the virus. However, we have not only not contained this virus, but corruption as well. It has kept spreading and taking over our country, and is not only a pandemic of duplicity but is proven to be endemic to Philippine leaders. This administration made corruption its lifeblood, and it has created havoc to our economy; from a P5 trillion debt at the start of the Duterte administration, to now a P12 trillion debt, and growing credit, all to the tune of an unstoppable appetite of this administration for money and power. We expect that the truth is not totally uncovered, but what we’ve seen is the rise of cronies once again.

In the middle of this despicable pandemic response, and now the noisy election fever, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Maybe we even forget the numerous instances that the current leaders have failed us, but I implore us all to go into our respective precincts remembering the lives lost to a lack of due process, the fear in the hearts of those who engage in the precinct, the rightful territories were taken from us by a partner of our President, our countrymen waiting and hoping for a single dose of a vaccine that will save their lives, and especially the Filipinos thrust deeper in poverty despite the trillions of pesos in the pockets of the powerful.

As we look forward to May 2022, we must not forget those who have been involved in the scandals. We must reject them, or anyone connected to them, and hopefully regain back of country and our democracy. A change of leadership is not enough, more importantly, it must carry with it a change in the people around it. As we shift our focus from voter registration, we now look to voter’s education – and we should start our research now to look for candidates with the proper skills, merit, and proven to be honest and with integrity. As we have seen, Duterte not only failed to put corruption in check by stopping mere whiffs, he allowed it to run rampant.