Thursday, June 22, 2006

Ombudsman : Mindanao "Least Corrupt"

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MIKE BAÑOS / June 22) If the state of graft and corruption in the country was gauged by the number of cases filed with the Ombudsman, Mindanao would be the "least corrupt" region in the entire Philippines.

"When I started my term seven years ago, we had 1,500 pending cases," said Deputy Ombudsman for Mindanao Antonio E. Valenzuela. "By the end of 2005, we only had 330 cases remaining in various stages of investigation, from fact-finding to preliminary investigation. Although this has again risen to about 580, it still represents a significant decrease over the years."

Valenzuela joined Tanodbayan Ma. Merceditas Gutierrez and other officials from the Ombudsman for a two day visit here June 19-20 to address a seminar for barangay officials and officially inaugurate the Ombudsman's first regional office in Mindanao.

"When I started my term, we used to receive over 300 complaints a month," he added. "This is now down to some 80 monthly."

Valuenzuela, 66, will retire on July 2 after his seven year term expires. He attributes the decreasing number of graft and corruption filed with the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Mindanao in Davao City to the successful implementation of the pro-active preventive programs of the Ombudsman.

"In fact, I can tell you barangay officials are not corrupt," Tanodbayan Gutierrez told the 160 barangay officials in her keynote address during the one-day seminar on "Integrity Development and Public Accountability" hosted by the city June 19. She said the cases filed against barangay officials show that "the acts committed were more in abuse of authority than dishonesty. Medyo yumayabang."

Guiterrez said the Office of the Ombudsman has committed itself to "shepherd a convergence process that would lead to the formation of a comprehensive National Anti-Corruption Program of Action (NACPA) that would involve many sectors, as well as LGUs and barangays, in a focused effort to fight head-on the scourge of corruption."

Acting Assistant Ombudsman Evelyn A. Baliton attributed the success of the Ombudsman in curbing the number of graft and corruption being investigated by their office not only in Mindanao but nationwide (from 12,000 to 10,000) to the two-pronged holistic approach of the "pro-active/reactive" strategy espoused by the Tanodbayan.

This includes increasing awareness of the extent of the problem by society in partnership with the media, values formation of government officials through initiatives like the Ehem! Aha! Anti-corruption cultural seminar being implemented with the help of the Society of Jesus, Integrity Development Review which aims to study "systems-based corruption prevention" in critical government agencies like the BIR, Bureau of Customs, PNP, LTO and DPWH; institutionalizing reform through the establishment of "integrity committees" with a champion in each agency, the resident ombudsman and stakeholders; and by strengthening the system of "Resident Ombudsman" by promoting integrity through the association of regional officials and repositioning their roles from policemen or spies to a group of men and women complementing the anti-corruption and prevention programs in their respective agencies.

Gutierrez admitted in her talk at the inauguration of the Cagayan de Oro regional office her inclination of a "pro-active, reactive" strategy for the Ombudsman since she took over the agency six months ago.

"Although I favor the pro-active stance over the reactive, for now the two will have to be combined, much like a pincher attack on the enemy from two directions…one strengthens the other," she added.

Valenzuela admitted to the success of the two-pronged strategy in curbing the number of pending cases in Mindanao.

"It is very difficult to recover stolen money," the retiring Deputy Ombudsman said. "Better to prevent and discourage graft and corruption by encouraging honesty and integrity."


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