Monday, March 26, 2012

A Twofer: Secrecy and Trust

  • Important job qualification standards: capability and performance. Not who you know.

It seems unrelated, but first let's look at secrecy in the Philippines, or the enduring need to hide private acts from government investigators.

The U.S. Department of State has identified 66 nations as major drug laundering countries. The Philippines is one of the countries, which is not of itself particularly noteworthy, as Singapore, Canada, France, Germany and Italy are also on the list. But the report criticizes an inadequate judicial system as a part of the problem and that connects directly to the Corona impeachment.

Here is a part of the State Department's commentary regarding the Philippines:

  • “lack of law enforcement resources, the slow pace of judicial and investigative reforms and lack of law enforcement inter-agency cooperation continue to hamper government efforts to investigate and prosecute higher echelons of drug trafficking organizations operating in the Philippines.”

The report also details how it is difficult to act quickly on information that requires information from Philippine bank accounts, even in the case of terrorism, because the strict bank secrecy laws require stages of court orders to gain access to account information.

I suspect this will become a major point of tension between the U.S. and Philippines as the Philippines seeks U.S. weaponry and military training assistance. The U.S. has been working hard, and successfully, to gain access to Swiss bank accounts where American tax evaders like to stow their money. My guess is that attention will now turn to the Philippines. The U.S. does not give away money or equipment without self-interested strings attached.

The crime-friendly judicial and law-enforcement policies and strict bank secrecy laws in the Philippines protect criminals other than drug launders and tax evaders; they protect crooks who engage in Illegal kickbacks, bribes, extortions, or misuse of government funds.

One giant leap from dot to dot leads us to the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Corona.

The Chief Justice holds miserable trust ratings among Filipinos, ratings in the low teens.

Mr. Corona evidently does not see the connection between his acts and his poor trust ratings. He and his backers instead reach for excuses, such as "trial by media" or political vendetta by President Aquino rather than grasp that trust is not easily won, but is easily lost.

The decisions that Mr. Corona has made undermined trust, and nothing more. His acts are astounding considering that he is an intelligent and educated professional. He should have understood the likely outcomes of his acts:

  • accepting a midnight appointment from a very unpopular president,

  • attacking a popular sitting president in a political letter,

  • failing (so far) to reveal his dollar assets,

  • issuing an SALN that appears erroneous and is certainly not comprehensible, and

  • requiring a battery of a dozen attorneys who relentlessly pick at legalistic points during the trial.

 It looks like he is hiding, and only he is responsible for these decisions. The media are not. President Aquino is not.

These may not be explicit law violations, but they go directly to the heart of Mr. Corona's qualifications to be Chief Justice. He has evidently not considered or been given the advice: be forthright and truthful.

Perhaps it is dangerous for him to be forthright and truthful.

Frankly, it is not easy to trust a man who hides so relentlessly, and, considering the talents of his legal team, so eloquently.

The problem is that trust is critically important if he is to perform the job he is assigned. A lack of trust makes it difficult for a judge to adjudicate cases while holding the respect of counsel for both the plaintiff and defense. Any hint of favoritism will undermine his standing.

Perhaps the defense will find a way to resurrect his trust. My guess is they would have to be clearer about his SALN, reveal his dollar assets, and allow him to testify so the people can hear that he is mature and objective, not emotional and political. If he is the latter, he is toast, trustwise.

Back to the start of this article. If the Philippines wishes to see top-grade investment ratings and generous U.S. aid, it would behoove the nation to look at U.S. State Department report and embark on steps to show that it is as dedicated to law enforcement as it is to protecting individual privacy. The balance today favors the crooks.

Mr. Corona is behaving as a crook would be expected to behave. That is why his trust ratings are low. Whether or not he is guilty of any crimes, he amply broadcasts the APPEARANCE of guilt.

It will be interesting to see if the Senate will allow a Chief Justice with a 14% trust rating to continue to represent the Philippines, for all that this means domestically and internationally. The Senate trial is a political process, not a legal process. The trust rating goes directly to the point of whether or not Mr. Corona has the proper credentials to do a job in which trust is of paramount importance.


  1. "Perhaps the defense will find a way to resurrect his trust."

    Do you still remember his trust ratings before impeachment? And are CJs usually included in popularity polls?

    From my recollection, Team PNoy went after his scalp right after the elections or was it right after the CJ was appointed? The poor chap didn't have a rats ass of a chance to be "trusted." By association with GMA, he was doomed to his current fate. The same thing happened with Merceditas.

    Personally, I wouldn't put much faith in polls as a gauge of determining if someone has the "proper credentials," especially in the Philippines. After all, this is the same country that almost put an ex-con back as president of the land. That ex-con was also a known womanizer, gambler, and I forgot the rest. This is the same country that put a known slacker as president. And that dude even rubs elbows with the ex-con because it's convenient. Trust? I see that poll as something like asking the people, "So, who among these crooks do you trust the most?"

    1. brianitus, I can see your point, actually. And I agree that polls only measure perception, which can be far different than "truth". But people vote on perception, too, so Mr. Aquino must be better than people give him credit for being, to so manipulate perception in his favor. Indeed, he must not be sleeping on the job . . .

    2. Um, you give the PNoy way too much credit, Joe. I respect that. On second thought, not sleeping on the job? I'll give him that. He's awake, smoking and sipping the morning coffee before promptly going back to bed. Kiddin'. The trouble with the fellow is he seems to become invisible when the critical matters pop up. And when he does appear, he has a band-aid pseudo-solution (like that fuel subsidy that isn't defensible in the long run).

      I don't trust him to do an excellent job with the economy because more than half his time is dedicated to hunting Corona (my perception based on news headlines). If you come up with a simple tally on how many times he mentioned Economy versus Corona, GMA and other implications, you'll get my point. Have real investments gone up since they jailed GMA and started the Corona impeachment? They're still talking about coconuts.

      Don't get me wrong, Joe. I won't ask him to do a GMA media blitz. Frankly, I hated her regular advertisements.

    3. brianitus, yes, indeed. I think actually he is a tad dull and does not work that hard, and is a man of his time, for the way the fates played it. But he has some good people working for him in certain areas (foreign affairs), and is not a wild-eyed lunatic driving the country into ruin. His dullness may be just the stability the country needs. And I give him credit for at least taking some big steps to work on corruption. Maybe hasty and ill-prepared. But I have no better ideas about how to tame that beast, corruption.

    4. Just to share a bit of good news, I think they finally solved the case of the missing container vans in Batangas. At least the new guy there (Ruffy Biazon) didn't forget. For this one, much applause to the current admin. Better late than never. :)

      I have no quarrel with efforts to put down corruption. I admire quiet workers more than those always in the news. I'm looking at you, Tupas.


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