COMMMENTARY: On reorganizing Government

QUEZON CITY (MindaNews / 18 Dec) — One function the Constitution performs is to organize government. Hence, I am certain there are now robust debates between parliamentary or presidential, bicameral or unicameral, federal or unitary, and all the possible permutations in between.

There are serious concerns that need to be threshed out in these debates.

Accordingly, it is incumbent upon respective advocates to prepare their clear and coherent positions. Memes and catchphrases will not be enough.

But there are current constitutional bodies which also need to be assessed to determine what their status should be in the new constitution. For instance, the Commission on Human Rights (Article XIII, Sections 17 & 18).

Presently, the CHR functions as the official forum for human rights issues. It was intended to keep government respectful of the rights of all Filipinos. But lacking in any substantial authority (i.e. prosecutorial and contempt powers), the CHR has become a toothless watchdog.

And given how majority of Filipinos continue to tolerate all the glaring human rights violations being committed by state security forces in the name of the war on drugs, then it may be wise to reconsider the very existence of the CHR itself.

For if the most powerful Filipino now genuinely believes that he is not duty-bound to respect due process, a core tenet in human rights law, then what is the good of maintaining a constitutional agency that is supposed to uphold due process as well as other basic human rights?

The new constitution may be better off without establishing a CHR so as not to embarrass the country, which arguably still has difficulty understanding what respecting human rights entails. Maybe it would be more appropriate to allow our human rights sensibilities to evolve organically first before a new constitutional CHR-type of agency is organized again.

Indeed, maybe we can enlist civil society first to facilitate the internalization of human rights principles within the community before we bestow upon a constitutional office the authority to enforce human rights laws. This way the new CHR can be the foundation of a genuine and more engaging human rights framework in the country.

Another constitutional body that needs to be reconsidered is the Ombudsman. The Constitution describes this office as “protectors of the people”.

Accordingly, it is endowed with substantial investigatory and prosecutorial powers to basically enforce the constitutional tenet, “Public officers and employees 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.” (Article XI, Sections 12 & 13).

In evaluating anti-corruption efforts, the standard to consider is Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). The latter demonstrates the extent of public sector corruption in nation-states. For the CPI of 2015, the Philippines ranked 95th out of 168 nations. Hence, we are perceived to be one of the most corrupt nations in the world.

On the other hand, for many years now Singapore has consistently been perceived as the least corrupt country in Southeast Asia. Thus, making its anti-corruption framework the most logical benchmark for the Philippines to follow.

Fortunately, Singapore’s anti-corruption strategy has been widely studied by scholars and policy-makers alike. And a common insight they have is that maintaining only one independent anti-corruption agency has proven to be very effective in curbing corruption in the public sector.

In Singapore, the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau is the only state office mandated to investigate corruption in government. This agency prides itself on the unimpeachable integrity of its personnel. However, the most critical quality of this institution is its insulation from politics.

Notably however, every Philippine President elected since 1992 has each created an anti-corruption office. Therefore, instead of just having one agency to tackle this problem, we have multiple agencies. And many anti-corruption experts believe this is precisely the reason why the Philippines has failed in the battle against this heinous problem.

Therefore, the new constitution can explicitly spell out that there is only one agency tasked with investigating and prosecuting corruption in government to the exclusion of all others and that is the Ombudsman. Additionally, it can also provide that all other anti-corruption offices within the executive branch shall be immediately abolished.

The anti-corruption narrative in the drafting process must now be re-framed this way. Should we adopt a strategy which is already a proven success? Or should we insist on one whose effectiveness is debatable at best?

There are a lot more questions about reorganizing our government that we need to mull over as Congress shifts to Cha-Cha mode. And, it cannot be emphasized enough that we want the new constitution to be more reflective of the times and responsive to the needs of all Filipinos. So, we all really must do our homework.  (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, a practicing lawyer, is the author of the book “Rethinking the Bangsamoro Perspective.” He conducts research on current issues in state-building, decentralization and constitutionalism.”)