Ombudsman launches anti-corruption primer in Mindanao

A technical working group prepared the 70-page English language primer based on 20 multi-sectoral focused group discussions held nationwide. Launched on Aug. 4 in Manila and Aug. 9 in Cebu, it aims to educate and encourage more citizen participation in the government's anti-corruption drive, lawyer Rodolfo M. Elman, officer-in-charge of the Ombudsman Mindanao told MindaNews.

It would be made available to all, Elman said, especially to organizations that could partner with the Office of the Ombudsman in combating corruption.

Fr. Albert Alejo, whose congregation, the Society of Jesus, teamed up with the Ombudsman on the project said the primer does not only guide how but also explains the need to counter corruption.

Whistle blowing is an act of exposing corrupt practices commonly referred to in Filipino as "pagsisiwalat" or "pagbuking ng katiwalian". The TWG report defined it as disclosure of information and making people aware of the occurrence of fraudulent activities.  Others call it squealing or "piyait" and "pahibalo" in Cebuano as a form or type of feedback.

It will embolden people to combat corruption in such a way that would not make reporting it a hopeless act, Elman told MindaNews.

He said they will hold public accountability fora with partner agencies to explain the primer to the public.

Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez said the primer is a big step for whistle blowing and tipping. In her foreword to the primer, she said whistle blowing is not easy to do amid hazards. "But one's duty as citizen is a much higher interest and can defy all fears," she said.

The primer contains both substantive and procedural discussions on, among others, classification of whistleblowers and their respective roles, guide to laws on graft and corruption, common malpractices and corrupt acts, flow charts of procedure, commonly needed forms in the preparation of complaints and reports, directory of concerned institutions, and tips and pointers in whistle blowing.

The Ombudsman sees whistle blowing as a means to make corruption a low-reward, high-risk action. The primer will encourage more watchdogs, tipsters, complainants, squealers, witnesses and reporters against corrupt practices, Elman said.

In the open forum, lawyer Alberto Sipaco of the Commission on Human Rights said the effort would encourage good governance via more transparency, participation and value formation.

But lawyer Gomer Dy of the Land Transportation Office said it should be teamed up with a "strong and effective justice system that could dispense justice well and fast".

"The fact-finding investigation and the case decision take so long. Government officials sued for corruption could commit more cases in the process," he said.

"Whistle blowers should also be protected," he added.

Another lawyer said the prosecution of cases should also be improved.

Dr. Ronnie Amorado, the project's coordinator, said the whistleblower's primer is only part of the whole range of government’s anti-corruption mechanisms.

Fr. Kim Lachica, SJ, relayed his experience when asked to bless a newly constructed building in a town in Zamboanga Sibugay where he used to be a parish priest. "As I was leading the prayer, the ceiling of the new school building collapsed and injured two people. It was a case of substandard project," he said.

"Whistle blowing should and can be done, especially with the support of the community," he said.

Lachica helped a dying person report the corrupt practices in the local government. He said they stood the risk of losing support to the parish with the move.

"But the parishioners extended support instead. People just need a leader or someone who will initiate in combating corruption. It's not really just a problem of our justice system.  Much of it is also about our individual morality and dignity," he said.

Alejo said corruption is a very serious problem of violence that should be addressed.

"It takes away food from the mouth of the poor. It takes away land from the people who till it. It takes away the books and the school buildings from the school children. It takes away good roads from our highways. It takes away the medicines from the sick," he added.

"So those who fight corruption, fight for peace too," he said.

"Stop being part of the problem, start being part of the solution," he told the audience, most of them government officials from around Mindanao. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)