MANILA, Philippines — The Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) is conducting lifestyle checks and investigating two Cabinet members for alleged corruption.
PACC Commissioner Greco Belgica withheld the names of the Cabinet members.
But he said yesterday that the probe is on top of the lifestyle checks the PACC has launched on officials of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), Bureau of Customs (BOC), Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) including its regional district officers or RDOs, Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Department of Transportation.
“In compliance with the orders of the President to eradicate corruption, we will conduct investigations and lifestyle checks against the top officials of the agencies to include the PCSO,” the commissioner said.
“For officials that fall under Salary Grade 26 and up, that will be given to PACC for proper investigation and submission to the President and the ombudsman,” Belgica added.
To show that the government is serious about the campaign against corruption, Belgica urged Cabinet members to lead by submitting themselves to lifestyle checks.
He said Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade has directed all his officials and staff members to subject themselves to the lifestyle check of the PACC, with Tugade leading the way.
Apart from Tugade, former agriculture secretary Emmanuel Piñol – who was just sworn in as head of the Mindanao Development Authority—had earlier volunteered for the lifestyle checks.
Belgica said it will be a good move if all Cabinet members also voluntarily give the PACC a go-signal for their own lifestyle checks.
“Yes. That will be honorable on their part to do. It would really be great if they do that. I’m not forcing them; it’s their choice. But if they do that, then that would be honorable,” he said in a mix of English and Tagalog.
The PACC is coordinating with the National Bureau of Investigation, Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, National Intelligence Coordinating Council, and the Anti-Money Laundering Council to pursue the lifestyle check and investigations against government officials.
The commission is also investigating cases of excessive foreign travels by some government officials.
Belgica said the investigation against the two officials started in February this year and is expected to be completed by October.
“They are responsive,” Belgica said, when pressed to identify the names of the two officials.
According to Belgica, the investigation against one Cabinet member stemmed from a complaint filed by an official of the agency. A private citizen, meanwhile, filed the complaint against the second Cabinet member.
Sought for comment, presidential spokesman and chief legal counsel Salvador Panelo said the President has given the PACC some leeway in how corruption will be handled in this administration. “That’s the job of the PACC. We will await its final report, and recommendation on the matter,” he said.
When asked if Duterte knows about the ongoing probe against two members of his Cabinet, Panelo added that the President does not meddle in the work of the PACC.
“He doesn’t have to be aware. When the investigation is done that’s the time he will decide on its recommendation. He (Duterte) doesn’t interfere with the work of the PACC,” Panelo said.
In a press briefing in Malacañang, Belgica said the body is now reviewing the statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) of top PCSO officials, including former general manager Alexander Balutan and the current board of directors. The body has been directly coordinating with PCSO general manager Royina Garma on the probe.
Belgica said the lifestyle checks have started on officials of the BOC, which initially focused on 64 Customs employees and a “few more to come, hundreds more to come.”
The PACC has also filed cases against 13 officials of the BIR.
“We will be conducting a full-blown investigation. Because the cases we caught them with are the same cases committed over and over again. The problem really is not just the people but the system, so we will be conducting an investigation on the office,” Belgica said.
He added that the checks on the DENR and DPWH involve top officials, including district engineers, regional district officers, undersecretaries, “because complaints have piled up in our office against these people.”
“So, we will begin with the lifestyle check. I’m sure after the lifestyle check, as it happened with PCSO, the information we gather will spread out; and likewise, our investigation will spread out as well,” Belgica said.
“In this regard, we are encouraging the public to help us by reporting any illegal activities being committed by government officials,” he added.
On the issue of excessive foreign travels, Belgica explained that the agency took the cue from Duterte’s statements on unnecessary expenses related to junkets by government officials.
“There are those who travel too much. The President does not like that. And who is paying for these trips? What is the purpose? Maybe it’s public funds that are being used for these personal travels… that’s not good,” Belgica said.
Belgica assured the public that the commission has been discreet in its probes, relying on substantial evidence before submitting reports to the Office of the President.