Issue over past employment ties
Some congressmen are wary about giving emergency powers to President Duterte to solve Metro Manila’s and other urban areas’ traffic problem because of fears that people to whom he will delegate its exercise may favor certain vested interests.
Rep. Danilo Suarez expressed concern that Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade and Undersecretary for rail Noel Kintanar, who once worked at Ayala Corp. or did business with it, might give preferential treatment to Ayala’s interests in dealing with the traffic crisis.
Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez also raised the issue of conflict of interest in the case of Undersecretary for air operations Bobby Lim who was manager of International Air Transport Association.
Also caught in the crossfire is Undersecretary for maritime Felipe Juban whose shipping firm has contracts with Petron Corp., headed by San Miguel Corp. CEO Ramon Ang.
Ayala and San Miguel are among the conglomerates that bid for (and won) several big-ticket projects during the Aquino administration.
They are expected to compete with each other again for the construction and operation of the facilities that the Duterte administration will put up to ease the traffic gridlock.
The lawmakers’ unease stems from the Filipino cultural trait of utang na loob (or debt of gratitude) which morally obliges recipients of favors to reciprocate their givers when the opportunity presents itself.
The obligation does not have a prescriptive period; it sometimes spans family generations. Failure to return the favor is considered a serious moral breach.
By insinuating potential conflict of interest, the lawmakers are assuming the officials are indebted to their former employer or business partner that they may, for example, tweak the terms of reference or specifications on the solutions to the traffic problem to their advantage.
The possibility that their working relations were not all sweet and honey, or the employment ties were severed under unpleasant circumstances, or the business partnership went sour has been discounted.
Also set aside is the likelihood that the officials accepted the government assignments in the sincere desire to share their expertise in resolving the problem.
Their professionalism, integrity and patriotism are, in effect, being questioned.
If Alvarez and Suarez believe past employment or business ties are critical in determining a person’s integrity or competence to hold a government post, they should raise the issue also in the case of Information and Communications Technology Secretary Rodolfo Salalima.
For more than 30 years, Salalima was legal counsel of Globe Telecom. His ties with Globe were so close that the initial report about his appointment came from Globe’s media office.
Globe’s operations are supervised by the National Telecommunications Commission, one of the agencies under the supervision of the Department of Information Communications Technology (DICT).
Thus, for all intents and purposes, Salalima will be regulating the activities of his former long-time employer.
Any action that he may take in connection with the telecom industry will invariably affect Globe.
Whichever way you look at it, the conflict of interest issue raised against some transportation officials applies to Salalima.
Yet, officials of the country’s major trade and commerce organizations are not taking against Salalima his previous employment ties. They are giving him the benefit of the doubt because they believe he has the expertise and competence to do a good job at DICT.
The transportation officials concerned are entitled to a similar treatment. We should presume they were motivated by noble intentions in assuming their posts, and that they will consciously avoid getting caught in conflict of interest situations.
The publicity about their previous employment or business activities will be a virtual albatross around their neck.
Any action on their part that may indicate the extension of preferential treatment to their former company or business partner will surely invite public attention.
Expect the losing bidders in projects that will be auctioned off as part of the traffic solution program to complain to the media or Congress if they think the bids were rigged or anomalies marred the bidding process.
What’s more, there is the Commission on Audit and Office of the Ombudsman that will see to it the parameters laid down in the grant of emergency powers (assuming it is enacted into law) are observed.
Bear in mind that the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act continues to be in effect even if Congress grants extraordinary powers to the President or his subordinates to speed up land transportation in the urban areas.
The wheels of justice may grind slow in our country, but sooner or later it will catch up with people who deserve to be placed between them.
All told, let’s give the transportation officials the opportunity to prove their competence and integrity to solve the country’s traffic problem.
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