By Fr. Rolando V. Dela Rosa, O.P.
What do we do if our leaders turn out to be misleaders?
In Canada, if any corporation misleads people through false advertising, it takes only a letter of complaint signed by six people to compel an appropriate government agency to investigate the corporation and impose corrective measures or penalty when necessary. Out of their desire to extend this policy to politicians and government leaders, Canadians came up with a people’s initiative called “Honesty in Politics Coalition.”
In the Philippines, there seems to be no need for such a people’s coalition in as much as we have the Office of the Ombudsman, an independent constitutional body that investigates complaints against government leaders and recommends the filing of cases before appropriate courts or administrative bodies. Such complaints need not be limited to corrupt practices, but also to bad administrative practice due to incompetence, bias, error, or neglect.
The Office of the Ombudsman has disciplinary authority over all elective and appointive officials in the government, except members of Congress and the judiciary and those who may be removed only by impeachment.
This exception, often invoked by suspected officials, is one of the main causes of the dismal success rate of this agency. This is aggravated by the Ombudsman’s reliance on judicial courts and Congress to enforce its decisions. In the study conducted by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the judiciary and Congress are shown to be the weakest among the Ombudsman’s institutional partners in combating corruption because both are perceived as also highly corrupt and are prone to protect their own members. Also, both are hesitant to strengthen an agency that would pursue them for corruption.
This prompted the UNDP to declare that the competence, professionalism, and integrity of judges and members of Congress are critical to the success of the Office of the Ombudsman and other anti-corruption agencies.
In his excellent research paper, Emil Bolongaita, compares Indonesia’s Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (KPK) or Corruption Eradication Commission with the Philippines’ Office of the Ombudsman.
KPK successfully reached a 100% conviction rate against corrupt officials in all major branches of the government within a period of only five years since its establishment. It has also made extensive efforts at preventing corrupt practices and recovering ill-gotten wealth from convicted government leaders.
In contrast, the Philippines’ Office of the Ombudsman has come up with only a few convictions after more than 20 years of existence. In 2002, out of the 738 cases that the Ombudsman had filed at the Sandiganbayan, only 43 cases ended with a guilty verdict. Also, many of its decisions did not become executory because the Supreme Court reversed these for “lack of merit,” or the Ombudsman himself withdrew the cases, or those convicted invoked the exceptions prescribed by law. In all of these dismissals or reversals, astute lawyers played a major role.
We take pride in having a democratic government where the rule of law is paramount. But Aristotle warned that if the majority of people are ignorant of legal intricacies, the rule of law will deteriorate into the “rule of lawyers.” So today, parroting the rule of law like a mantra, many corrupt government leaders simply hire top-notch lawyers to bend the law in their favor.
In a society where lawyers and judges have become the absolute arbiters of right and wrong, where government leaders and politicians listen more to judicial courts than their conscience, democracy has been reduced to a dance of fools. Perhaps a people’s initiative, something like Canada’s “Honesty in Politics Coalition,” is needed in our country.