To abolish or not to abolish the PCGG

President Aquino is still studying the surprising proposal of Dean Andres D. Bautista, chair of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) to abolish the agency he heads. Understandably, P-Noy wants to think deeply before sweeping into the dustbin of history the first official act of his mother, the late President Cory Aquino.

PCGG’s accomplishments. I believe, however, that he need not do that. On the contrary, he can revitalize the PCGG and make it a major part of his own anti-corruption drive. And announce that revitalization during a major international anti-corruption conference to be held here at the end of this month. Let me explain.

To begin with, Bautista did not suggest the abandonment of the pending ill-gotten wealth cases of President Ferdinand Marcos and his associates. He stressed that the cases should be zealously pursued but their superintendence should be devolved to the Department of Justice, which has hierarchical ascendancy over the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), which in turn is the government’s counsel in these cases.

Bautista further explained that, over the last 25 years, the PCGG had already accomplished its primary mission of identifying and recovering much of the Marcos ill-gotten wealth. The PCGG has recovered P165 billion (per the Inquirer’s Jan. 2 issue) worth of assets and cash via “surrendered or sequestered properties,” compromise agreements, amicable settlements and court victories.

These funds had been used to “implement various CARP (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program)-related projects, such as: construction of farm-to-market roads, bridges, irrigation facilities, acquisition of postharvest facilities, rural electrification, potable water supply, school buildings…”

While controversial at home, the PCGG is admired abroad; it is credited with having cracked the Swiss bank secrecy laws, won international cooperation in the search for ill-gotten wealth and paved the way for the identification and return of the stolen assets of despots worldwide to their people.

Two more mandates. At present, the PCGG’s main preoccupation is the monitoring of the graft cases pending in the Sandiganbayan and the Supreme Court which, as earlier stated, are prosecuted by the OSG. Under its charter however, the PCGG,  aside from recovering the Marcos ill-gotten wealth, has two more mandates: (1) the investigation of other graft cases, and (2) the institution of measures to prevent corruption, which no executive office now undertakes.

To fulfill its mandates, the PCGG has been granted extraordinary powers by President Cory, such as to hold persons in direct or indirect contempt (a power that normally belongs to the judiciary and Congress), to provisionally take over business enterprises, to enjoin acts that threaten or impair its functions, and to request foreign governments to freeze the assets of corrupt officials.

As early as Feb. 26, 1991, the Supreme Court in Cruz vs Sandiganbayan, has upheld the PCGG’s authority, when directed by the President, to investigate non-Marcos corruption cases. Additionally, its charter authorizes it to conduct preliminary investigations, provided that fact-finding is performed by another agency, like the National Bureau of Investigation.

In fact, it used these two other mandates when it submitted to the putative Philippine Truth Commission (PTC) a report listing several post-Marcos graft cases, including those committed by past PCGG officials.

Unfulfilled mission. Now that the Supreme Court has thrashed the PTC, the PCGG can take over the PTC’s unfulfilled mission of cleansing the ship of state of the barnacles of graft. More than any other office under the executive department, it has the legal mandate and the extraordinary powers to undertake this herculean job.

While performing these two additional mandates of investigating other wrongdoings and of preventing future graft, the PCGG can very well continue superintending the 279 pending ill-gotten wealth cases, most of which were filed during the first three years of the PCGG, and sadly are still languishing in the Sandiganbayan and the Supreme Court. On the average, these cases are 20 years old, with the oldest at 24 years, with no end in sight.

This incredible delay is disadvantageous both to the Filipino people and to the defendants. Certainly, justice delayed for 20 years is justice atrociously denied. In some of these cases, the defendants may be innocent, and deserve to be vindicated. And in many other cases, the nation is surely prejudiced by the delay. Being familiar with these cases, the PCGG can easily continue monitoring them.

In sum, the answer to the question of whether to abolish or not to abolish the PCGG is not as difficult as Hamlet’s “to be or not to be.” If the PCGG will just be relegated to monitoring the Marcos graft cases and to watching over the sequestered assets, then it may as well be abolished, and these functions turned over to the justice and finance departments.

However, the PCGG has two other mandates that P-Noy can use to propel his anti-corruption drive. His keynote speech before the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (Gopac) on Jan. 31 would be an ideal opportunity to announce the new direction for the PCGG to investigate post-Marcos corruption, including those in his own regime, and to institute measures to prevent future graft. Our people and the 500 international Gopac delegates will surely hail him for it.

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