Thursday, February 18, 2016

Ombudsman: Stronger forfeiture powers to 'paralyze' corrupt officials

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MANILA, Philippines – To keep up its campaign against corrupt public officials, the Office of the Ombudsman wants to push key legislative measures that could enhance its Constitutional powers, functions, and structure.
Among these measures is the proposal to allow the anti-graft agency to directly file a petition for forfeiture of suspected ill-gotten properties even while preliminary investigation has not yet concluded. (READ: How to catch a thief, the Ombudsman way)
"We can't just file for forfeiture proceedings until after the preliminary investigation is conducted. So we're advocating the passage of bills that would at least come up with provisional remedies while the preliminary investigation is being conducted," Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said.
"We are asking Congress to allow us, in the case of real properties, to register adverse claims, to prevent the owner from disposing of the property and alerting would-be buyers that this property is in danger of being confiscated because it appears to be ill-gotten," she added.
Morales said strengthening the Ombudsman's capacity for asset recovery of suspected ill-gotten properties will "paralyze" corrupt public officials "where it hurts the most."
The proposal is one of several measures that Morales highlighted in her lecture on anti-corruption efforts delivered at the Ateneo Professional Schools in Makati City on Tuesday, February 16.
The former Supreme Court associate justice was awarded the 2016 Metrobank Foundation Professorial Chair for Public Service and Governance.
Campaign against corruption
The agency tasked to probe and prosecute erring public officials faces a heavy workload. As of December 31, 2015, a total of 11,056 administrative and criminal cases remain pending with the Ombudsman. Based on figures from the first half of 2015, it receives an average of 390 complaints every month.
"Because of this heavy workload, we work on Saturdays. Sometimes even Sundays," said Morales, who has been heading the anti-graft body since late July 2011.
These numbers, Morales said, can be read two ways: the pessimistic view – that corruption persists despite government's efforts – and a more optimistic perspective, which suggests that more people have become aware of corruption and are trusting the Ombudsman to investigate complaints.
"I lean towards the optimistic side...but the Ombudsman needs to do more to really create a significant impact," she said.
Last year, the anti-graft office resolved a total of 6,707 administrative and criminal cases. While it also registered a 2% increase in new cases filed, the Ombudsman reduced its year-end docket by 16%.
But to be more effective in its campaign against corruption, Morales said her office needs more powers.
Aside from strengthening its forfeiture powers, the Ombudsman is also pushing for access to bank records of public officials, the authority to enter public premises and seize public property for evidence gathering, and an exemption from the regulated use of wiretapping for investigations.
Her office is also seeking the allocation of at least 30% of successfully recovered assets as additional funding to the Ombudsman.
Additional funding would also help the Ombudsman attract a skilled workforce by providing an attractive compensation and retirement package.
Public cooperation needed
In her lecture, Morales also outlined the various systems put in place by her office to speed up the resolution of cases, such as the setting up of a complaint and case monitoring system and the prioritized disposition of high-profile cases.
But she also stressed the importance of involving citizens in the anti-corruption campaign.
"Without the support and cooperation of the people, the office won't have the ordnance to wage the war against corruption. We seek to actively engage the people's involvement, not only to make them aware of the anti-corruption programs but to make them vigilant," Morales said.
She added, "They have a choice not to become victims of graft and corruption. A paradigm shift is needed. One does not have to be a member of civil service to be a public servant. One needs only to bear in mind the best interest of the public, and to put it above one's own if conflict arises."
Morales said that having the best systems, personnel, and technology in place will "amount to nothing" if people do not have one simple virtue: honesty.
"A society of honest people will be intolerant to corruption. Honesty is the most sustainable cure to corruption that must be passed on from generation to generation. We don't need a revolution to be honest, we only need an evolution of mindset," she said. –
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