President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Monday dedicated a large portion of his 4th State of the Nation Address (SONA) expressing his frustration over corruption within the government and his promise to use the remaining three years of his term to curb it.
“Corruption continues and emasculates the courage we need to sustain our moral recovery initiatives,” Duterte said in his report to the nation at the Joint Session of the 18th Congress at the Session Hall of the House of Representatives Complex in Constitution Hills, Quezon City.
“No amount of euphemism can trivialize or normalize betrayal of public trust or any other criminal offense. It is an injury laced with insult. It is both a national embarrassment and a national shame,” he added.
In particular, Duterte said he was “grossly disappointed” by massive fraud within the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) related to irregularities in the funding of bogus kidney dialysis treatments.
“The recent uncovering of the massive fraud perpetrated against the public health insurance system proves that corruption is pervasive. Huge amounts of medical funds were released to cover padded medical claims and imaginary treatment of ghost patients. I am grossly disappointed,” he said.
To fix this, Duterte said he has ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to arrest and prosecute those who are liable.
He appointed retired army general Ricardo “Dick” Morales to prioritize ridding the agency of corruption.
Duterte also mentioned how he would send corrupt Bureau of Customs (BOC) employees to report to Congress every day since he could not simply fire them due to security of tenure.
“I hope that I can have the cooperation of Congress. If we cannot abolish their position and if I cannot dismiss them for the reason that there is a security of tenure, I will just allow them to have their plantilla positions but they have to report to Congress every day to help me in the huge paperwork that we have to do every day,” he said.
“All of them will go out from the premises of the Customs area. I do not want them back,” he added to the delight of the crowd who included former presidents Fidel V. Ramos, Joseph Estrada, and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
According to Duterte, the BOC could have collected more revenues than the PHP585 billion it posted in 2018 if its employees were less corrupt.
Use the hotline
The President, meanwhile, urged Filipinos to use the government’s 8888 hotline to report corruption complaints.
“There’s an (8888). Be sure that it is true. Though you are not liable for libel pero huwag naman ‘yang makasakit ka ng kapwa-tao na wala namang kasalanan (but don’t report something that could damage a person who has no fault). (8888), then place ‘To President Duterte, re: abuses by the director asking for money.’ Text mo, lalabas ‘yan diyan. (Just text and it will be disclosed) And that is for the public to view,” he said.
Duterte said Malacañan Palace would be open to receiving complaints for 24 hours so long as it involved corruption.
He, meanwhile, touted the signing of the Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act to improve service delivery and fight corruption.
When will it end?
Duterte acknowledged that although he has been working for government for almost 35 years, he still does not have answers how to end corruption.
“Let me ask you: When will corruption end? Kailan ba talaga ‘to? Hanggang kailan?(Until when?) Well, I don’t know. I’ve been in — with government for almost 35 years now. I am not singling out myself. It’s the entire gamut of our system,” he said. “Corruption exasperates. It frustrates.”
By the end of his speech, Duterte said that although he could not change the past, he will make it a point not to “squander” the future.
“I will push harder in the pursuit of programs we have started but always within the parameters of the law,” he said.
“I will not while away my time during the remaining years of my admin, it ain’t my style. But I will not stop until I reach the finish line. Then should I call it a day,” he added.
Duterte’s 93-minute speech began at 5:14 p.m. and ended at 6:47 p.m.
His first SONA lasted 90 minutes; his second, 120 minutes; and his third, only 48 minutes, his shortest one yet. (PNA)