Philippine Panorama, April 7, 2007
Former Senate President Edgardo J. Angara:
The Builder of Institutions
IF THERE is anything Senator Edgardo "Ed" Angara has been longing for, it is real transformation in a country that has long been fettered by a culture of graft and corruption. Between his peaceful and bucolic life in Baler, Aurora and the hustle and bustle of Metro Manila where he serves restlessly as a senator of the republic, he finds ways to push for reforms in a system disentangled from the fundamental principles of good governance. He knows this is easier said than done. That the effort would also pose threats to his political agenda, as well as status as senator, he knows all too well. But as the old phrase goes, someone has got to do it.
For Ed Angara, no reform agenda, be it economic or political, will ever see the light of day as long as bureaucratic indiscretion is imbedded in the socio-political outlook of government servants. No legal infrastructure and institution will ever stand the ravages of time and progress as long as government agencies are held captive by the legal tender. Angara has mentioned time and again that in order for development initiatives geared at fostering growth, sustainability and stability are to be achieved, there must be a strong and unwavering commitment to combat corruption in all levels and scales.
Angara maintains that the scourge of graft and corruption in the Philippines is of such magnitude that it wastes annually more than P20 billion in public funds due to acts of fraud in public biddings, mismanagement and misappropriation of government funds, and other forms of corrupt practices. That some biddings are rigged to favour "darling" companies (companies owned by friends and relatives of government officials), an open secret by all standards, does not justify acts of fraud and theft in government, as the money belongs to the people.
The fact is, in a survey of 100 countries conducted by Transparency International, the Philippines landed as the 11th most corrupt in the world. The unmonitored official corruption has spurred the World Bank to make its own investigation on the issue, pegging that US billion have been lost in graft and corruption in the Philippines over the past two decades, causing undue anxiety for global multilateral institutions. The loss of this huge amount, according to Angara, prevents the country from competing on a global scale. "This billion is more than enough to balance off our external debt," the senator has stressed.
As a result, Angara made provisions on a landmark bill which drastically reengineered the policies on government procurement, rules on pre-qualification, bidding and award in the public sector. The biggest anti-corruption law ever pushed in the Philippines-the Government Procurement Reform Act-seeks to re-establish transparency in public biddings and save billions of pesos for the improvement of education.
The more than P20-billion annual loss to the fraud-prone rules that govern biddings and awards is equal to more than 500 million textbooks or 63,000 new classrooms for public education, Angara says.
But Angara does not stop at mere words. Accumulated experience in government service teaches him that graft and corruption is not only endemic in the Philippines; other countries as well suffer from this socio-political plague.
In response, therefore, to the growing clamor against corruption in the highest levels of government, Angara sounded off a united and coordinated effort to fight it on a regional scale. This immediately prompted the creation of SEAPAC or the Southeast Asian Parliamentarians Against Corruption, an organization of Southeast Asian nations dedicated to formulate synchronized strategies that would curb graft and corruption regionally. The 26 founding members of the anti-graft organization come from Indonesia, Cambodia, Singapore Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines.