Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 5 January 2013


I can think of at least three very good reasons why the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) should not be abolished. In fact, after looking at these reasons, the Reader will likely agree with me that not only should it not be abolished, but it should be strengthened.

The first reason: Rep. Sergio Apostol (please note, he represents Leyte, which is Romualdez territory—and the PCGG was formed basically to recover the ill-gotten wealth of Marcos and his cronies) and his coauthor, Rep. Pedro Romualdo, in their Explanatory Note to House Bill 4049, assert that: “More so, more than twenty years and four administrations have passed, and the PCGG has not produced significant accomplishments that would justify its continued existence. Through these years, the worked (sic) performed by the Commission is not commensurate to the annual expenses needed to maintain the office. The time is ripe to abolish PCGG in line with the cost-saving efforts of the government.”

That assertion is totally baseless. Certainly, the PCGG has had to contend with humongous problems: At various times, corrupt and/or incompetent commissioners and staff; pressures applied by powerful politicians attempting to influence the decisions of the commissioners; a judiciary, let us face it, whose decisions were reputedly for sale.

But take a look at the simple, incontrovertible data: From 2004 to 2009, the amounts recovered by the PCGG amounted to P63.338 billion. The total budget obligations (cost) of the PCGG for the same period amounted to P748.659 million. That means the cost-recovery ratio was 1.18 percent—that is to say, for every P100 that was recovered by the PCGG, it spent P1.18. By what stretch of the imagination can Apostol and Romualdo conclude that the expense was not worth it?

Well, that is only for six years. What about for the other 20? I can’t put my hands on the official figures, but a newspaper report puts the total amount recovered so far by the PCGG at P164 billion since its creation.

If one assumes (conservatively) that the expenses of the PCGG over the same period are on average about the same as 2004-2009 annualized, then one comes up with its total expenditures over its entire existence at P3.1 billion—for a cost-recovery ratio of 1.9 percent. The PCGG spent P1.90 for every P100 that it recovered, or, put another way, for every P1 that the PCGG has spent, it has recovered more than P52.

How can anybody complain about that? Of course, the PCGG could have gotten more, but that is another story.

Which is why it is difficult to understand where PCGG Chair Andres Bautista is coming from when he is reported as saying: “It has become a law of diminishing returns at this point.” He must mean that diminishing returns have set in, as far as the PCGG’s efforts are concerned—meaning that the additional returns for every peso spent are getting smaller and smaller. But the cardinal rule is that so long as every peso spent gets more than a peso in return, the PCGG should continue its efforts (where possible)—so what is Andy afraid of?

The second very good reason why the PCGG should not be abolished (and in fact given more resources) is that the present commission seems to be untouched by corruption (at least by reputation), and has excellent credentials (at least on paper)—which is a huge improvement from the previous one, at the very least. So at least one of the humongous problems listed above has been solved. Moreover, with the current Palace occupant, the PCGG is in a better position than its predecessors to withstand whatever political pressure is being attempted. That takes care of much of the second problem. And it is also arguable that the impeachment trial and conviction of Renato Corona has had a cautionary effect on members of the judiciary, and hopefully the Sandiganbayan. In other words, the set of conditions under which the PCGG operates augurs very well for its success. So why stop now?

The PCGG should stiffen its spine, stop whining, and start looking at the potential. The resources are not enough? How about considering Joey Yujuico’s suggestion that the PCGG look into the possibilities of public-private partnerships, where the private sector works on a contingent basis (a percentage of what is recovered goes to it for its efforts)? Or, go into some kind of triage decision-making process, and concentrate on the big-item cases—like that involving the Lucio Tan enterprises which allegedly are 60-percent Marcos-owned? That’s P200 billion right there. For all one knows, Tan and the Marcos heirs have already reached a private agreement that excludes the Philippine government and the Filipino people—and only the PCGG right now can block those arrangements.

Let not Malacañang, let not the Filipino people, kid themselves: The moment the PCGG is abolished, its responsibilities parceled out to the Department of Justice or the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (as Apostol recommends), we can say goodbye to any more recoveries—particularly from Lucio Tan, from whom, up to this point, not a single centavo has been recovered.

The first executive act of President Corazon Aquino was to create the PCGG. She also refused Lucio Tan’s offer of P500 million (in 1986) as an out-of-court settlement.

Which brings us to the third reason why the PCGG should continue its efforts: The message to the Filipino people by its abolition is: Corruption pays. Just wait long enough. The hell with matuwid  na  daan.