By Niki Yarte –
President Benigno Aquino III certainly has an eye for the ladies. And it has nothing to do with being the country’s most eligible bachelor. In 2012 he named Maria Lourdes Sereno, 52, as the first female and youngest chief justice. In October this year he appointed Amparo Cabotaje-Tang presiding justice of Sandiganbayan, the anti-graft court. Earlier the President had tasked four women in four key agencies to enforce the administration’s daang matuwid initiative (a straight path to governance). Except for the Bureau of Internal Revenue, these agencies form part of the Interagency Anti-Graft Coordinating Council, the special body created to look into the misuse of the pork barrel funds of lawmakers.
As associate justice, Conchita Carpio-Morales was handpicked by Mr. Aquino to administer his oath of office as president on June 30, 2010 – a function normally performed by the chief justice. The incoming president’s move was a testament to Morales’s courage, integrity and sterling record in the Supreme Court where she and Associate Justice Antonio Carpio were often the lone dissenting voices in highly controversial cases, as when the high court upheld then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s appointment of Renato Corona as chief justice two days after the May 10, 2010 presidential elections.
One year later, after Morales retired from the Supreme Court, President Aquino named her Ombudsman, replacing Mrs. Arroyo’s appointee, Merceditas Gutierrez who was forced to resigned amid threat of an impeachment. While some considered this a demotion from her previous office, she saw it the other way: “I’m not a title-conscious person. Going to the Ombudsman would not diminish my self-respect”. As Ombudsman, Morales heads the agency that investigates anomalies and inefficiency in government, and prosecutes graft and corruption cases.
She figured prominently during the impeachment trial of former Chief Justice Corona, when she testified about his dollar accounts, the most damning evidence that that eventually led to Corona’s impeachment. In jest, the 72-year-old former magistrate once observed that people would usually say, “So young yet so corrupt”, to describe dishonest government officials, adding that she felt insulted that no would say, “So old yet so upright”, to describe her.
Morales is confident that based on evidence presented by the Department of Justice, her office can resolve the plunder charges against 38 lawmakers and other respondents involved in the pork barrel scam in less than a year.
Appointed as chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights in 2008, Leila de Lima has been a steadfast and vocal defender of human rights in the country, launching investigations into numerous human rights violations, including the so-called ‘death squads’ in Davao City. Human rights lawyer Theodore Te described De Lima as “a revelation in the sense that she was known simply as an election lawyer for the opposition and was not known as a human rights person. Yet, from her appointment she has managed to transform the CHR into a high-profile watchdog.”
It was her impressive stint at CHR that moved President Aquino to appoint her secretary of justice in 2010. In 2011, she made headlines when she prevented then ex-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo from leaving the country despite the Supreme Court’s temporary restraining order against a hold-departure order on Mrs. Arroyo.
As justice secretary she is at the forefront of the prosecution of members of the Ampatuan clan for the heinous Maguindanao massacre, a task she began as CHR chair when the incident happened in 2009. She considers herself a failure if not a single conviction would be made before her term expires in 2016.
De Lima caused the filing of numerous graft cases against top police officials for various anomalous transactions at the National Police. She is also cleaning up her own stable at the National Bureau of Investigation and Bureau of Immigration, replacing top officials involved in nefarious activities. She is in the news lately spearheading the prosecution of erring lawmakers and their cohorts in the P10-billion pork barrel scam.
“Mataray ako,” admits Commission on Audit (COA) Chair Grace Pulido Tan. “I’m very unforgiving sa mga pasaway, especially the corrupt, doble-kara, hindi marunong lumugar at iyong sipsip. They don’t appeal to me.” A lawyer, certified public accountant and tax expert, Tan’s impressive credentials already speak for themselves but she said that it was her fiery disposition — mataray and nang-aaway, as she puts it — that convinced Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima she was the right person for the COA post.
Tan and her staff were nearly finished with the special audit of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), commonly known as pork barrel, covering the years 2007 to 2009 when the so-called P10-billion pork barrel scam exploded. Not surprisingly, COA’s findings dovetail with the revelations of the whistle-blowers. She promises that their nearly finished audit of the Malampaya funds is “explosive” and the amount involved is much bigger than the pork barrel scam.
Suddenly, Tan, who abhors media attention, and her little known agency were thrust into the spotlight and became the target of people determined to derail the investigation into the anomalies, including some lawmakers hurt by COA’s findings. A few bullets found their way into the COA offices during the height of the Senate hearing on the pork barrel scam.
But Tan is undeterred. “I will not allow the incident to cow us into silence nor deter us from faithfully discharging our constitutional duty,” she declared.
She has received death threats as well as threats of an impeachment complaint but she considers them part of the territory. “I live by the day. Hey, I’m still alive! Okay, next!”
As the country’s top tax collector, Bureau of Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares thinks by the numbers. “I don’t understand why 97 million Filipinos cannot control 1.3 million public and civil officers,” she wondered aloud when asked about corruption in government. Turning to tax evaders, she declared, “Out of the estimated 1.7 million professionals registered with the Professional Regulation Commission, only about 400,000 have registered as taxpayers.” She cites a BIR report that says self-employed professionals pay an average annual income of less than P6,000 when they should be paying at least P100,000.
Henares had been assigned four bodyguards but learned to shoot a gun nonetheless to prepare herself for the worst possible scenario. She carries a semi-automatic pistol but the rest of her arsenal is locked away in a cabinet. Henares also knows how to fire the shots at her job. She claims not to have received nor been offered any bribe so far, or any security threat despite going after big game like Mikey Arroyo and Manny Pacquiao, as well as celebrities such as Judy Ann Santos, Regine Velasquez, and Richard Gomez. She has filed close to 200 tax-evasion complaints and boosted collection by 14.5% in 2012 – more than double that year’s economic growth rate.
Recently Henares was pilloried by professional groups for suggesting that lawyers and doctors should display their fees in their offices so clients – and the BIR – can be guided properly. “I didn’t take this job to become popular,” she said in an interview. “My job is to implement the tax code and collect revenue that must be collected. If people don’t like me, that’s fine.”