Buencamino does political affairs analysis for the NGO Action for Economic Reforms. This piece was published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Talk of the Town section on “Will a commission on values formation work?”, page A16, 23 May 2004 edition.

Executive Order No 314 created the Presidential Commission on Values Formation. It is President Arroyo’s recognition of “the Filipino’s
strong desire to see the establishment and institutionalization of just and moral governance.”

It is also her response to the “imperative that there be a continuing and intensified drive against graft and corruption, patronage politics, apathy, passivity, mendicancy, factionalism and lack of patriotism as a stated purpose and critical lynchpin of the success of this administration.”

There are doubts about this new commission—whether it will work, if it’s for real, or just another bone thrown to reform-oriented groups. The only way to settle those doubts is to find out if the commission has the means to do what it’s supposed to.

The commission has two tasks. One is to conduct value formation “seminars and congresses directed to the purpose of inculcating values such as honesty, modesty, integrity and good work ethics in the government bureaucracy.” The other is to go after crooks.

Reforming the bureaucracy through seminars is achievable but it’s not going to be easy. In fact, it is a formidable mission that could take away from the equally important task of sending crooks to jail.

Skeptical public

The commission should begin with a pilot project before going full tilt
into seminars and congresses. The Lakas-ATM party would be a good place to start, because if the commission succeeds in “inculcating values” among those people, reforming the bureaucracy will be a breeze.

The other mission, going after crooks, is just as difficult, if not more so, because the President must first convince a skeptical public that she is not a crook herself. Thus, she must put to rest the lingering question about the Jose Pidal account.

She must square her claim that the Jose Pidal deposits came from unspent campaign contributions with her election spending report that showed no unspent campaign contributions. The contradiction can be resolved by admitting, “I thought that’s where the money came from.” A skeptical public will readily accept an honest mistake if she tells her brother-in-law to clear up the issue once and for all—by opening the Pidal account for public scrutiny. She should trust the public to make a correct judgment.

Once she clears Pidal, she should amend her executive order to give real teeth to the commission, which needs credibility. But how can it be credible when the appointing power is an interested party? This predicament calls for a conflict rather than a harmony of interest.

It can be fixed by letting others appoint the commission’s members. Allowing Joseph Estrada, Panfilo Lacson and Raul Roco to choose the commission’s members will dispel misgivings about who will keep her administration on the straight-and-narrow path. Besides, why should the President burden the public by asking them to trust her choices? The public prefers trustworthy situations.

Independent body

Secondly, the phrase requiring “the written approval of the President” as a prerequisite for filing cases must be dropped. Why should the President keep the prerogative to pick and choose who will be charged? Such prerogative is suspicious at best.

Third, once formed, the commission must become an independent body within Malacanang. The phrase “shall be subject to its supervision and control” does not encourage independent inquiries. It’s as suspicious as the retained prerogatives cited above.

Finally, the phrase “The funds to support and implement this Order shall be taken from source as may be identified by the Department of Budget and Management” must be replaced by an earmarked budget. A committed amount tells the public how much money the President will spend to back up her words.

An honest administration has nothing to fear from a truly independent in-house commission. The public can tell the difference between persecution and prosecution. Estrada, Lacson and Roco appointees looking over the administration’s shoulder is a good thing. It won’t become just another layer of fat in the bureaucracy. It will ensure that no one gets fatter in her administration.

But if Fernando Poe Jr. wins, GMA can take Estrada’s place—not as a tenant in Tanay, don’t be silly—but as an appointing power.