Is Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte tough on corruption? Not for the slew of fired officials that he rehired
Duterte has given new jobs to at least seven officials who left their posts under a cloud, including one linked to the smuggling of US$118 million worth of crystal meth
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has taken great pride in firing nearly two dozen officials in an anti-corruption drive since he came to power two years ago. The catch: about a quarter have already been rehired.
Duterte has fired 21 officials and accepted the resignation of seven, delivering on a promise to dismiss anyone on “just a whiff” of corruption.
“If you go to the national government just to look for an opportunity for money, go look for another job. I will really fire you,” Duterte told employees of the Department of Agrarian Reform on June 20.
On June 14 he told local officials: “I will stop corruption. I have been firing officials left and right every day. Undersecretaries, chiefs of offices, education officials, all of them.”
Corruption remains a significant barrier to trade and investment in the Philippines, the US trade representative said in a report released in April.
Under Duterte, the country ranked 111th of 180 nations in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index for 2017, down from 101st in 2016.
Investors want to see courts and anti-corruption institutions strengthened, said Bob Herrera-Lim, a managing director for Teneo Strategy, a global business advisory firm.
In Duterte’s firing spree, all of those accused of corruption, excessive travel and accepting bribes have so far gone unpunished. Seven have been rehired.
“If you’re a foreign investor, you don’t care about the internal politics,” Herrera-Lim said. “You just want to know if people are investigated, if the system functions to see things through to its natural conclusion.”
Of those who left their posts, 12 were agency heads, including Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo, who was accused of giving her siblings 60 million pesos (US$1.1 million) to broadcast television ads. Teo referred questions to her lawyer, who has not responded.
Duterte has given new jobs to at least seven officials who left their posts under a cloud.
That includes Nicanor Faeldon, who quit his post as head of the Bureau of Customs last year amid a scandal involving the smuggling of 6.4 billion pesos (US$118 million) worth of crystal methamphetamine that dragged in Duterte’s oldest child, Paolo.
Faeldon, who was the subject of Senate, Justice and Ombudsman investigations, is now a deputy administrator in the Office of Civil Defence. Faeldon did not respond when asked to comment on his reappointment, but he denied the bribery allegations in an earlier televised briefing.
Jose Gabriel La Viña, who worked on Duterte’s social media campaign during the 2016 election, has been reincarnated more than once – first as Social Security System commissioner, where he was said to have “abused” public funds, then as tourism undersecretary and, recently, as agriculture undersecretary.
La Viña said in a text message that he would issue a statement addressing his reappointment. In an earlier television interview, he said he had never abused public funds.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said that it was Duterte’s prerogative to reassign people and that this was “more the exception than the rule”.
Duterte’s decisiveness in firing reportedly corrupt officials is a positive step in the short term for a nation where courts have been slow to fight corruption, American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines legislative chairman John Forbes said.
“It seems that when he gets reports on corruption, he doesn’t even wait to investigate,” Forbes said. “How can he send a stronger signal than that?”
Others take a dimmer view.
The government is like a “merry-go-round of appointments and abuse”, Ronald Mendoza, dean of the Manila-based Ateneo School of Government, said via email.
He warned that corruption scandals may lower the president’s waning popularity, adding that it remains to be seen “whether the people will associate corruption with key officials only, or begin to link these to the president himself”.
Although the problem has improved slightly in the private sector, petty corruption remains pervasive, said Eufracia Taylor, a senior Asia analyst at global risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft.
“Despite government’s efforts, the culture of corruption appears unchanged, and the issue continues to rank highly in foreign investor concerns in the country.”