Cost of Corruption


Cost of corruption

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:43:00 02/12/2008

The failed attempt of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration to prevent Rodolfo Noel Lozada Jr., former president of Philippine Forest Corp., from testifying on the $329-million National Broadband Network project has once again focused public attention on the perennial problem of corruption.

Graft and corruption has been a fact of national life since post-Liberation days. Almost every administration has had its big and sensational graft cases. At every presidential election, one major issue that is always raised is graft and corruption. Opposition leaders denounce the graft being committed by the administration, but once they take over the reins of government, they also commit graft. It’s just a case of different sets of people pigging out at the trough that is the national treasury at different times.

Economist Alejandro Lichauco has said the Philippines is perennially in crisis because of “the mortal mix of corruption and poverty and a consequent loss of popular confidence in government and the electoral process as instruments of change.” The fatal mix, he said, is poverty so massive and so intense as to have degenerated into a problem of mass hunger, and corruption that is as massive as the massive poverty. A deadly mix, indeed, that is killing tens of thousands of people.

Starting with the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship, the Philippine crisis has been characterized not only by corruption and poverty but also by human rights abuses and a culture of impunity. Bruce Van Voorhis, a member of the Asian Human Rights Commission, said that these aspects of the life of the nation are linked: “People are poor to a large extent because of widespread corruption; those who wield political power violate people’s rights to attain and maintain that power; a lack of judicial punishment in the courts ensures impunity that permits corruption and human rights violations to continue. The cycle has sadly repeated itself for years.”

Corruption retards economic and social development, lowers the quality of public services and infrastructure and raises the prices of goods and services. In all these aspects, it is the poor who suffer the most because they cannot avail themselves, for instance, of the services of private doctors and hospitals or buy expensive goods. In some cases, corruption literally kills: for instance, a ship sinks and hundreds of people die because a coast guard officer was bribed to allow the overloaded, non-seaworthy vessel to leave port.

In 2000, the World Bank estimated that corruption was costing the Philippine government $47 million (about P1.92 billion) a year or a massive $48 billion (P1.968 trillion) over the 20-year period through to 1997. Think how many kilometers of roads and bridges and how many schoolhouses and hospitals that money could have built. Think of the other public infrastructure and public services that could have been improved with that kind of money. But all that public money went into the private pockets of corrupt, greedy government officials.

Graft and corruption flourishes because of the culture of impunity. Have you heard of any big fish being convicted of corruption and plunder, except deposed president Joseph Estrada? Yes, Estrada was convicted of plunder, but he did not spend even a day in a real prison. Only six weeks after his conviction, he was pardoned by President Arroyo. Was that any way to set an example for the other grafters in government and to would-be grafters and plunderers?

And so the graft and corruption continues. But from time to time a ray of light pierces the darkness and gives the nation hope that we might yet be able to start punishing the grafters. Such a ray was Lozada, whose courageous and forthright testimony at the Senate may yet save the nation from the grip of scandalous, graft-ridden deals.

But whistleblowers like Lozada cannot, just by themselves, ensure a successful campaign against corruption. Graft and corruption has become so ingrained in the national life that it is considered “normal.” Even people like Lozada are ready to consider a 20-percent “commission” on government deals acceptable. But that should not be acceptable. A 20-percent “commission” is an illegal and immoral “tax” on a poor and overburdened people. They have to realize this, watch every government transaction that may be tainted with graft, and denounce officials who are stealing taxpayers’ money — their money.


SC’s show-cause order

SC’s show-cause order

There are newspaper reports that I will be required by the Supreme Court to show cause why I should not be cited for contempt, presumably for writing several items about a lady justice who allegedly took a bribe.

Officially, I have not been served any such order.

I beg the indulgence of the Court if I say I find the order rather premature. There has been no investigation, at least not yet. In which case, I believe the matter should be referred to Congress so that, without necessarily suggesting that this might happen, the tribunal will not be accused of protecting its own.

I know that only Congress can investigate an impeachable officer. I do not believe that the Supreme Court has the power to investigate a sitting magistrate. Precisely because it could be accused of protecting its own.

No power to exonerate

There were newspaper reports that Justice Consuelo Yñares Santiago demanded that an investigation be conducted since she felt alluded to in the many items I wrote about the alleged bribery. I had wanted to appear before the Court myself. And I want to appear if a show-cause order is issued, if only to substantiate my belief that only Congress can investigate an impeachable official.

While I repeatedly hinted at investigation, and there just might be one, I now dare say that the Supreme Court has no power to exonerate or punish the lady justice. It does not have the authority precisely because, in my belief, only Congress can investigate a sitting member of the Court.

My case

I cannot imagine how the name of Associate Justice Consuelo Yñares Santiago came up. I never mentioned her name. Neither did I know that the staff officer – Cecilia Munoz Delis – worked for her. A source told me that she did but the lady justice fired her.

Then Cecilia executed an affidavit on Sept. 24 which states, among other things, “I am executing this affidavit to allow Justice Consuelo Yñares Santiago to defend her honor before she is actually named in the articles of Mr. Macasaet that have been appearing daily at the Malaya newspaper since Sept. 18, 2007.”

What would Justice Santiago defend herself from? I did not identify her. I just reported that a lady justice took a bribe and expressed the wish that an investigation be conducted. I thought that the Court would find it its duty to find out the identity of this lady justice

Cecilia Munoz Delis named her. So court spokesman Midas Marquez who told Newsbreak online, presumably on behalf of Justice Santiago – that Ms. Delis had been fired. The word used was “terminated.”

In an earlier letter to me on Sept. 21, Ms. Delis said she voluntarily resigned. I got confused when she mentioned in the same letter that “the fact that you corrected your information today (Sept. 21) regarding the date of my termination of my employment does not cure the defect in your time line.”

In the second paragraph of the same letter she declared that “I was an employee of the Supreme Court until my voluntary resignation on March 15, 2007.” Did Cecilia resign or were her services terminated? Marquez said she was terminated. Cecilia said she resigned but also stated “the date of termination of my employment.”

The lady must be identified!

I dared Cecilia to divulge everything she knew about alleged five gift-wrapped boxes. I reported that she opened the fifth believing that it contained perishable goods but found money instead.

Neither the letter to me which is not sworn to nor the affidavit denies that Cecilia opened the fifth box which I reported contained money. I supposed that is inferred in her statement “the attempted bribery never occurred while I was a judicial staff officer of the PET (Presidential Electoral Tribunal).

Of course, she cannot know whether or not there was bribery after she left. There was none when she was at work.

Newsbreak online which identified the lady justice as Consuelo Ynares Santiago reported a source privy to the discussion (presumably among the magistrates), it is (my columns) unfair especially to the lady justices.”

I agree it is unfair because all of the five lady justices have become suspects. It is precisely for that reason that I thought the identity of one who allegedly took a bribe be established.

Helping the Court

I quote Newsbreak as saying that a former Supreme Court justice said “it (presumably an investigation) will strengthen the institution and the Supreme Court will overcome this. But it will depend on what the Court will do.”

Newsbreak Online continued: “(But) there is a brewing constitutional issue. The Supreme Court has power to discipline appellate court justices but not its own. It is Congress which has the power to impeach justices. It is a Constitutional issue.”

Newsbreak further reported, quoting “a lawyer with access to the Supreme Court”: “Should the Supreme Court or Congress investigate?”



In her memory, Cecilia

In her memory, Cecilia

The last thing I would do is to desecrate the memory of a brilliant, brave and staunch defender of the Constitution like the late Associate Justice Cecilia Muñoz Palma.

But her niece, Cecilia Muñoz Delis, thinks I am dragging her family into the alleged bribery. You are wrong, Cecilia. I am not. On the contrary, like I said, you should tell the Supreme Court en banc all you know about the bribery to protect her unsoiled name. And yours too, even if I do not know you personally.

You said in your letter to me of Sept. 21 that you did not have anything to do with what might have happened. Then, please so tell the Court if you are asked.

In the letter, you declared: “I vehemently deny that I received for my boss—a lady justice you say—a box, let alone five boxes which I inadvertently discovered to contain P10 million.”

In the same letter you told me that the “only truth you can get from me is that the attempted bribery never occurred while I was employed as Judicial Staff of the PET.

May I ask you then, if you know or think that there might have been bribery before or after you voluntarily resigned?

Incidentally, do you make a distinction between termination and resignation? I ask the question because you declared in your letter that “the fact that you corrected your information … regarding the date of my termination of my employment does not cure the defect in your time line.”

My question: Did you voluntarily resign on March 15, 2007 or were your services terminated?

The affidavit

It surprises me no end that in your sworn statement you declared “I am executing this affidavit to allow Justice Consuelo Ynares-Santiago to defend her honor before she is actually named in the articles of Mr. Macasaet that have been appearing daily at the Malaya newspaper since Sept. 19, 2007.”

Your affidavit admits of two things. That the lady justice I have been writing about is Associate Justice Consuelo Ynares-Santiago. That statement is a conclusion you made yourself.

I never mentioned the name of the lady justice.

Your statement “before she is actually mentioned in the articles of Mr. Macasaet” is another conclusion that I will divulge the identity of the lady justice. It was you who identified her. Not me. How did you know I might?

In the sworn statement, you said you are executing the affidavit to allow Justice Consuelo Ynares to defend herself. In this sense I am grateful to you for obliging me in asking you to divulge the truth.

As Voltaire said in some many words, I may not agree with what you are saying but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

Tabloid journalism

You charged in your letter that I am in tabloid journalism. That is opinion, not fact. But you are entitled to say it.

I must tell everyone that my instinct tells me that I might help serve the ends of justice if the Supreme Court can find it necessary to conduct an investigation to get at the truth.

I have no other intention.

I do not have one word about how good or bad I have been as a journalist. That’s for the likes of you to say.

I have always maintained that I will never extol my virtues. Maybe I have none.

I have no quarrel with anybody, not even the lady justice.

I said you were fired. You said you voluntarily resigned. Can I have a copy of that resignation letter?

The spokesman of the Court said your services were terminated by the lady justice. (I will not repeat the spokesman’s statement that she was “terminated.” Cecilia is alive and obviously well).

My hope as I said in my previous piece is the court will produce the two contradictory letters. One in which you say you “voluntarily resigned” and the other showing you were dismissed by your boss. If my request does not serve the ends of justice, then I have proven to myself that, indeed, there is no justice in this country.

Not Cecilia’s job

In her letter of Sept. 21, Cecilia Munoz Diaz explained that “(third) as a matter of procedure, I would not have been tasked to receive those boxes, our male utility personnel would have been assigned to do that.”

The matter of who picked up the boxes is not as important as the delivery of the boxes.

It is my assumption, knowing how tightly the premises of the Supreme Court are secured, that all deliveries to the Supreme Court and its magistrates are recorded or logged by the security guard on duty.

Might we now ask the Security Department of the Court to produce the logbook which, as a matter of security, should have recorded the receipt of boxes—all five of them—on different occasions, according to my source.

In whose name were the boxes given? The logbook should also show who sent them.

Cecilia replies


Cecilia replies

Following is the text of a letter Cecilia Munoz Delis, niece of the late respected jurist Cecilia Munoz Palma, wrote to me on Sept. 21 regarding a lady justice who is suspected of taking a bribe:

“I write in response to the series of articles that has been appearing daily in the “Business Circuit” since September 18, 2007, the last one of which came out today, September 21, 2007. I am writing on the assumption that I am the Cecilia Muñoz Delis you named today, in view of some statements in your articles that cannot be merely coincidental.

“I am the niece of the late Justice Cecilia Muñoz Palma. I am a Bicolana and I was an employee of the Supreme Court until my voluntary resignation on March 15, 2007. These are the facts. Now, for your baseless reports.

“You said in your September 18 blind item that, “A lady justice did not report for a day last week. Her secretary (whom you positively identified today as me) received a gift-wrapped box (which later turned out to be five boxes) about the size of two dozen milk cans. Believing that the gift might be something perishable, she opened the box. Indeed, it was a gift—estimated at P10 million. Posthaste, the secretary informed the magistrate about the gift. She thought she was doing her job. The lady justice fired her instead. x x x.” You went on to conclude that “since the employee was fired for opening the box which she thought contained perishable goods but turned out there was an estimated P10 million in it, she should be loyal to her duty of telling the truth.”

“On September 20, you implored “Cecilia” to “tell the (Supreme) court en banc everything you know about the money that was sent in five boxes to your boss … Not in retaliation for your dismissal, but for no other reason that as a duty to your country and, I must again say, to honor the memory of your late illustrious aunt.

“In today’s paper, you reiterated you plea, and even suggested that “the Chief Justice himself should find out where she (Cecilia) could be sent an invitation to appear before an investigation group in the Court.”

“Allow me make some clarifications.

“1. I was not a secretary but a judicial staff officer of the Presidential Electoral Tribunal.

“2. Assuming I was the secretary you named with certainty in your articles, I vehemently deny that I received for my boss—a lady justice you say—a box, let alone five boxes, which I inadvertently discovered to contain P10 million.

“A. In the first place, if this bribery attempt was made last week when the lady justice did not report for work, that would mean that it was made between September 9-15. As I said earlier, I resigned from the Court as early as March 15, 2007. The fact that you corrected your information today regarding the date of termination of my employment does not cure the defect in your timeline. The alleged bribery attempt still took place only last week, long after I left the court.

“B. In the second place, I was not fired; I voluntarily resigned.

“C. Third, as a matter of procedure, I would not have been tasked to receive those boxes; our male utility personnel would have been assigned to do that.

“D. Fourth, it is highly unlikely for something as blatant as that bribery attempt to have been done right in the front doors of the Court, with its increased security, and teeming with people – both employees and the general public.

“3. In other words, the scenario you painted and continue to paint is improbable and could only have emanated from a polluted source, who unfortunately chose me to be a part of this fictional charge.

“4. I am not making this denial to protect anyone. If that were the case, I should have more reason to come forward, as you insist in your articles. But if it is the truth you seek, the only truth you can get from me is that the attempted bribery never occurred while I was employed as a judicial staff officer of the PET. If you wish someone to come forward to prove this allegation, it will not be me because I was never a part of it, nor do I possess any knowledge of such ever occurring.

“My family and I have been suffering ever since your article came out last Tuesday, because I was being alluded to. This suffering has increased because the name of my beloved aunt – it is true that she was a “legal luminary and staunch defender of the Constitution” – has been drawn into a controversy that should not have involved me or any member of my family in the first place.

“And so, I ask you, Sir, to please cease from mentioning my name or any of my relatives, living or deceased, in order to promote your tabloid journalism.

“If your source is a reliable as you believe, I suggest you practice better judgment and journalistic responsibility by verifying your data before printing anything and affecting the lives of innocent people. If this is some kind of war you are waging against the lady justice, we do not want to be collateral damage.

“Thank you.

“Daisy Cecilia Munoz Delis”

SC punishes its own

I remember the cases of former Associate Justices Vicente Ericta, Hugo Gutierrez, and Fidel Purisima. Ericta was forced to resign after the Supreme Court censured him. His benefits were forfeited by the Court.

Justice Ericta, in the days of Ferdinand Marcos, was accused of leaking bar questions to his son.

Then there was the case of Justice Gutierrez. He resigned when our Ellen Tordesillas reported in 1992 that a lawyer of PLDT wrote his ponencia in the case of ETPI vs. the telephone company.

Then came the case of Associate Justice Fidel Purisima. Nearly the same offense as Justice Ericta. Purisima, then chairman of the bar committee, did not disclose that he had a nephew who was taking the bar examination in that year.

For that, Purisima was similarly censured. The Court forfeited his honoraria as bar examiner..

Justice Purisima retired from the Court when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 70.

I have been consistent in reporting that a lady justice allegedly took a bribe. Let the Court investigate and act according to the facts that the investigation might establish.

Like it did to Justices Purisima, Gutierrez and Ericta.

Who is telling the truth?

Newsbreak reported on its website yesterday that Midas Marquez, spokesman of the Supreme Court, “confirmed that Ynares-Santiago terminated Delis in March. He said that Delis was found out to have used the office telephone to make overseas calls, particularly to Japan.

“Justice Consuelo Ynares Santiago supposedly discovered this about October last year and gave Delis until December to look for a job.

“However, Marquez said, Delis asked for more time thus she stayed on till March this year.”

Funny, but the letter of Delis to me, printed in full above, states “I am a Bicolana and I was an employee of the Supreme Court until my voluntary resignation on March 15, 2007.”

The spokesman of the Court told Newsbreak on-line that the services of Delis were terminated.

What is the truth? Did Delis voluntarily resign or was she fired as claimed by the SC spokesman, Midas Marquez?

Give us the proof

Marquez said that Justice Consuelo Ynares Santiago terminated the services of Cecilia Munoz Delis in March this year. The only “crime” of Delis that we can see in the explanation of Marquez is that she used the telephone of the Supreme Court to make calls to Japan. Supposedly, at that, according to Marquez.

If we assume that it was the unauthorized calls to Japan that caused the dismissal of Delis, Justice Santiago has the duty to produce the documents proving the phone calls.

In other offices, unauthorized overseas calls are indeed penalized. But not with dismissal. Usually, the costs of the calls are deducted from the salary of the erring employee.

Another matter that must be clarified here is the production of supposedly two documents. There must be one in the personnel records of the SC that states that Delis voluntarily resigned as she said in her letter to me.

There must be another that states that the services of Delis were terminated by Justice Consuelo Ynares Santiago.

Do both letters exist? It’s up to the Court to find out.


Wrong date, same facts


Wrong date, same facts

On verification I discovered that the secretary of a lady justice of the Supreme Court who was said to have accepted five milk boxes of money, was fired as early as March. Not last week as I mistakenly reported.

It turns out that Cecilia Muñoz Delis from Bicol picked up the last five boxes several times in March.

She never opened the first four boxes which she picked up from the guardhouse of the Court.

She opened the last and saw the money because the lady justice was absent on that day. Forthwith she was fired. Cecilia, who is from Bicol, never opened any of the first four boxes delivered on various dates (I have not been told when). She picked up all of them from the Supreme Court guardhouse and left them with the lady justice. She wouldn’t dare open the first four because the lady justice was in her office. She opened the fifth one because the lady justice did not report for work on that day.

Cecilia thought that the gift wrapped box contained some perishables like food. What she found was money instead. She was fired.

Whenever a gift for lady justice comes, she would order Cecilia to pick it up from the guardhouse. So the fifth she picked up was one of those errands.

Where is Cecilia?

I cannot get any information on the present whereabouts of Cecilia. However, if the Supreme Court has intentions to investigate what I have been saying, maybe the Chief Justice himself should find out where she could be sent an invitation to appear before an investigation group in the Court.

Better still, as I said, yesterday, Cecilia should disclose everything she knows regarding the box before the Court en banc.

Farthest thing from my mind is to embarrass the lady justice whose identity I do not know up to now.

It is my conviction that the Court should investigate reports of wrongdoing by any of its peers. Justice is served that way.

The Chief Justice and the rest of the justices should not have a problem finding out who she is.

It is a simple job of asking a clerk to go to personnel department of the Court and find out who Cecilia worked for.

Cecilia, please save the court

Cecilia, please save the court

I have established the lady justice’s secretary who opened one of the five milk boxes containing bribe money is a niece of the late, respected and honorable Associate Justice Cecilia Munoz Palma from Batangas.

The secretary is a niece of the late justice and a namesake.

Cecilia, you have a duty to honor the memory of your aunt, who, during her stay in the court, was known for having balls.

More important than that, you have a duty to save the sagging reputation of the Supreme Court.

Cecilia, you must tell the Court en banc everything you know about the money that was sent in five boxes to your boss.

Not in retaliation for your dismissal, but for no other reason than as a duty to your country and, I must again say, to honor the memory of your late illustrious aunt, a legal luminary and staunch defender of the Constitution.

The other reason you must spill the beans is that if you do not, other lady justices are suspects. That is not fair to them.

The Bribe Giver

The bribe giver

I learned from some lawyers that the bribe money given to a lady justice came from a Chinese-Filipino businessman who has been criminally charged.

It is funny that the delivery of five boxes of money (I said only one earlier) coincided on the day the lady justice, obviously acting as ponente, acquitted the prospect.

The secretary of the lady justice who took the bribe made five trips to the guardhouse to pick up the boxes.

Incidentally, this secretary is a namesake of her aunt, a deceased associate justice of the Supreme Court.

I dare say that if her name is Cecilia, it is entirely possible that the lady justice is a member of the Supreme Court. The late justice Cecilia Muñoz Palma is the only lady justice I know who retired and died at a ripe old age and left behind a reputation of decency and integrity.

We are coming closer and closer to the truth. The lady justice shamed her court. She should resign or be impeached.

That is the only way the soiled reputation of the Highest Court could be restored.