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.

The group's initial strategy was to craft an effective legal and institutional infrastructure that would safeguard the use of public funds, thereby stimulating investments in the region. As president of the SEAPAC, Angara stands as the driving force of the anti-graft and corruption organization, which has gained impetus from the senator's active involvement in the Ottawa-based Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (GOPAC).

The organization's first stance against the scourge of corruption was made public through the Manila Declaration:

  • Endorse the ratification of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption

  • Foster closer collaboration among legislators in the region to step up anti-corruption work

  • Review our respective state of laws, standards, systems and strategies to determine their adequacy and consistency with international commitments against corruption

  • Promote the participation of all sectors of society in advancing the rule of law and good governance in the conduct of public and private affairs.

According to Angara, graft and corruption saps government's efforts to enhance numerous projects in the pipeline. If ever contracts are to be professionally acknowledged, transparency and integrity in government transactions must be practiced in all levels of government posts.

On the political homefront, he highlights the Political Party Development and Campaign Finance Reform Act (Senate Bill 1051) as the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino's (LDP's) centerpiece bill aimed at stamping out political patronage.

Angara's advocacy, among others, includes the creation of a real party system in the Philippines that is ideologically-based, and "whose members are attracted more by the advocacies and platforms the party espouses," he said in a speech before the LDP.

It is this lack of a real party system, according to Angara, that fuels corruption, since political parties lacking in strong principles and ideologies are the ones that fall headlong into corrupt practices.

"The Philippines is politically unstable for the simple reason that our democratic system is not strengthened by qualities that characterize a strong democracy: a strong and principled party system; an independent press; and a neutral and patriotic military," the senator stressed.

Transparency. Integrity. Effective Service. These form the triumvirate philosophy Angara espouses as an educator, agriculturist, and senator of the republic. To what degree he has shown his dedication to these principles, he has displayed through an amazing track record of bills and laws that really matter, those that provide solutions to the conditions of life of the average Filipino, and not mere lip service.

In the end, Ed Angara has accomplished what no other government official has done in his years of service: to once more rouse Filipinos to trust their government, hence the soubriquet, The Builder of Institutions.

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