Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 3 January 2015


Before we get on to the New Year, its prospects, its challenges, its potential, we have to do some housecleaning first. This has to do with last year’s last two columns, which contained a couple of errors. In the interest of fairness and accuracy, and in starting the New Year right, they have to be rectified.

In my Dec. 20 column, my mistake was in mentioning Adm. Willy Wong in the same breath (or in the same sentence) as Gen. Carlos Garcia, saying that they were both involved in corruption cases.

Why mistake? Because in the case of General Garcia, the corruption was clear, given the amounts of money found on his wife and sons in the United States, and he was found guilty. In the case of Admiral Wong, it wasn’t he who was corrupt; he was fighting against corruption. (Remember the case of the Marine Kevlar helmets, where we were first introduced to Janet Napoles and her husband? The one who refused to play ball was Admiral Wong). In so doing, he stepped on some very sensitive military toes (especially those of Marine officers), and those toes kicked back. Admiral Wong was barely two months as flag officer in command of the Philippine Navy when he was forced to resign.

Admiral Wong, according to his Philippine Military Academy classmate, retired commodore Justo Manlongat, refused to receive “allowances” from his superiors because he knew these came from the “conversion” practices that were then par for the course in the military. There is one final proof that Wong did not enrich himself in the service. What is that? Well, at 69, he is now in the United States, still working for a living.

I sincerely apologize to Admiral Wong for any offense he has taken from my inadvertent link of his name with that of General Garcia. I must also take this opportunity to point out that there are other retired military officials who did not consider their military service a cash cow to be milked. For example, I know that Gen. Max Bejar, who used to be PMA superintendent, had to work abroad as an engineer after he retired, so he could save up enough money to build a house for his family. I have the highest respect for officers like these. May their tribe increase.

But let us not forget the main message of the column: The military has come a long way from five years ago, toward transforming itself and gaining the confidence of the people.

The second mistake occurred in my Dec. 27 column, where I wrote about the snail’s pace of justice in the Philippines and mentioned that as early as 2005 or 2006, steps had been recommended by then Sen. Mar Roxas to improve the efficiency of the Sandiganbayan, but as of now, the current status is “Zilch. No one is doing anything about it.”

It turns out, from documents provided by Sen. Franklin Drilon as well as recent news reports, that indeed some progress has been made. Both the Senate and the House have passed, on third reading, Senate Bill No. 2138 and House Bill No. 5283, which are aimed at strengthening the Sandiganbayan and making it more efficient.

The bills are similar: They reduce the quorum requirements of the Sandiganbayan divisions from three to two justices, they export to the regional trial courts certain cases which are now under the Sandiganbayan, decisions of the Sandiganbayan are carried with a vote of two of the three members (unanimity is not required). The difference is that the House introduces two new divisions in the Sandiganbayan, so that there will be seven rather than five divisions. If the Senate accepts this provision, the bicameral discussions don’t even have to take place.

I don’t know why the Senate version did not include the increase in divisions in the first place, especially since that was the main thrust of the original Roxas bill (if I remember correctly, he had wanted an increase in the number of divisions to 15, from the five that is the current number). Moreover, I am not sure that adding two divisions will accomplish the objective of increasing the pace of decision-making significantly—the length of time for case disposition is currently eight years on the average. Adding two divisions may bring it down to five or six years. Will this satisfy our thirst for speedy disposition?

As to the other provisions—which are also supposed to speed up the case disposition and thus increase efficiency, there may be negative tradeoffs. How much of the fairness of decision-making is being sacrificed here? I don’t want efficiency at the expense of equity, and I am not sure that this is what is happening here. And exporting problems to the RTCs will make the Sandiganbayan data look better, but is not really a solution to the delays in justice.

So my Dec. 27 column should have not said “Zilch.” Some progress is being made. Let us hope it is enough.

So now we go to what the New Year will bring. My colleague, Neal Cruz, has started it with a bang, by bringing in issues regarding the Commission on Elections and its decisions. Since we are preparing for elections in 2016, it does not take rocket science to conclude that this topic will certainly get a good deal of attention. So will the Binay issue. And the justice issue. And corruption.

In other words, same old, same old. Does this mean that this country has gone, or is going, to the dogs? Not at all. What it means is that eternal vigilance is the price of good governance. What it means is that we all, individually and collectively, have a responsibility to work for the common good, and not just our own selfish interests.

Our New Year’s resolution should be: Do what is right, and damn the torpedoes.