HAGIT: In search of an honest public official in the Philippines

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By Dionesio Grava
First Posted in ireport.cnn.com
on August 11, 2013

The story of a philosopher in tatters named Diogenes bearing a lighted lamp in broad daylight in search of an honest man is part of Greek mythology. On the other hand, in his fourth State of the Nation Address on July 22 during the joint session of the 16th Congress at the House of Representatives in suburban Quezon City, Philippine President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III was obviously also looking for honest men in public office.

The president lamented that after three years of trying to inculcate the need for a “Matuwid na daan” (Straight path) policy, the government is still mired with an incompetent and corrupt bureaucracy. His patience was running out, he said, and that now is the time of reckoning for those who persist in their wayward ways.

The usual grand talks, of course, because the president had plunged into fighting moods and delved on such talking points before in this administration but that nothing came out of it. All sound and fury signifying nothing, Shakespeare wrote in Macbeth. Thus, the question may be asked: Is P-Noy really earnest and sincere in his purported quest for a clean and honest government? If so, why hasn’t he really pushed for it despite the broad nationwide support as shown in presidential initiatives he had set his mind to in the past? Witness how he steamrolled the unprecedented impeachment from office of then Chief Justice Corona and then overran the otherwise powerful church opposition to the passage of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012.

If he really wants to reform a corrupt bureaucracy it would have been a good start for him to certify as urgent the Freedom of Information bill long held hostage by his allies in the legislature. He would have been more receptive to the move in many sectors to curtail the corruption-inducing pork barrel or Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). He wouldn’t have tolerated known friends to continue holding high-paying offices despite having committed malfeasances. He would have done something towards reforming the snail pace in our judicial system. He would have encouraged the prosecution of those who had done much damage to our country in the past instead of just focusing on former President now Representative Gloria Arroyo. These and other things needing reform are in urgent need of presidential imprimatur before the president’s term is up.

Back on the topic about the honest official, is such an animal really extinct as far as the Philippine government is concerned? Yet many of our senators during the early years of nationhood are remembered for their integrity, trustworthiness and eloquence. The late President Magsaysay and Secretary Robredo are esteemed likewise despite their humble ways. Certainly there were others not mentioned this time and one may still find some honest government officials around if he really looks hard enough.

Some folks like Alberto “Donn” Duero, the former welfare officer of the Overseas Workers Welfare Office (OWWA) posted in Los Angeles in the past. He was assigned to single-handedly oversee the welfare of the hundreds of thousands of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in 23 countries including the entire US. In some past articles this writer cited Duero as a gem of a government employee, faithful to his sworn duties and loyal to the flag. Sometime later, however, he had been driven to the edge by the same bureaucracy that should have benefited from his honest labor. It turned out that honesty, competence and dedication to duty did no good to his public career.

Duero was a sore thumb as far as the alleged hidden agenda of some people in high offices were concerned. He pointed out the lackadaisical attitude of the government towards the serious problems of illegal recruitment and human smuggling. Soon enough he was issued a recall order to the Manila office even before his tour of duty was up and despite credible information about grave threats to his life if he return to the homeland. Thus, while the Philippine bureaucracy notoriously teems with do-nothings and “public servants” endlessly gaming the system or flagrantly betraying the people’s trust, there was this guy who had acquitted himself well and manifestly an asset to the government but was left without an option but to resign.

On Aug. 3, 2013, more than two years after he submitted his resignation, Duero emailed this writer: “I just received another persecution and harassment letter from OWWA-COA.” Referred to was a letter from OWWA-Commission on Audit that he received on Aug. 1, 2013, demanding liquidation of an alleged cash advance in the amount of $1,697.51 supposedly while he was in office. The report was dated Dec. 31, 2012 and Duero wondered why it took seven months for that office to inform him of the alleged deficiency. Additionally, the letter addressed him as OWWA employee.

“It seems that OWWA/DOLE/POEA cannot get enough of me,” said Duero. “Now, I truly believed that all those death threat messages that I received in 2010 and 2011 are from these people. They really want to persecute me they wanted me dead because I was the first OWWA Officer to expose these illegal activities (Human Trafficking and Illegal Recruitment, a very lucrative multimillion illegal business in the Philippines).”

Included in the emailed message to this writer were photo copies of what Duero said were relevant documents and that he has all the proofs/documents to show that he had returned and liquidated everything to OWWA before he tendered his resignation. — Dionesio C. Grava

PHOTO: Former OWWA welfare officer Alberto “Donn” Duero (right) with Congressman Walden Bello (second from left) and friends during an event at the Philippine Consulate General in Los Angeles, California. Duero had to resign after incurring the ire of his superior officers.

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