Business bigwigs keeping an eye on pork barrel scam case

(Updated 9:23 a.m., Sept. 19) Good governance is good economics. This leadership tenet has been echoed by President Benigno Aquino III's economic team time and again as key to spuring growth, attracting investments, and alleviating poverty.

Business leaders are keeping a keen eye on the latest government initiative against graft and corruption – long identified as vital to shoring up much-needed domestic and foreign investments.

While noting that significant inroads have been made against corruption, business bigwigs warn that efforts should not lose steam, as we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg.

“Without a doubt, implementing rule of law will improve investor confidence,” John Forbes, senior adviser at the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines Inc., said.

Under the “Daang Matuwid” platform, the Aquino administration vowed to cleanse the government of corrupt officials.

But all this will come to naught unless prosecution gets a quick and convincing guilty verdict on those who deserve to pay for their dastardly deeds, according to a financial executive.

BDO Capital and Investment Corp. president Eduardo Francisco said this "doesn't mean much until the courts declare them guilty."

"Business sentiment is watchful and hopeful for a quick resolution," Francisco, former president of Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, noted.

The latest cases against corrupt government officials and their cohorts also sheds a positive light on the campaign trail promise of then-Senator Benigno Aquino III in the run up to the May 2010 elections which catapulted him to the presidency.

The filing of charges "will convince the private sector not to be too negative," said University of Asia and the Pacific School of Economics Dean Peter Lee U. He cautions, however, that it's too soon to celebrate and that all eyes are on the case and its outcome.

Last year, the Senate sitting as impeachment court unseated then-Chief Justice Renato Corona for betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Philippine Constitution.

Now, the Administration is making legislative and executive officials face the courts.

On Monday, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, with the National Bureau of Investigation, filed plunder raps against the alleged mastermind of the so-called pork barrel scam Janet Lim-Napoles, three senators and two former members of the House of Representatives in the Office of the Ombudsman.

Those charged have been accused of profiting from the funneling of billions in pork barrel funds into supposed bogus NGOs.

De Lima noted that there are still more charges to be filed in the next two weeks.

Henry Schumacher, executive vice president of the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, shares this view.

“We welcome the filing of these cases and trust that the Ombudsman and the Sandiganbayan will do their share that justice is delivered without delay,” he said.

But a fast resolution seems to be a challenge. Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales has admitted it may take up to a year before formal cases are filed against those allegedly involved in the pork funds scam before the anti-graft court.

While the drafting of final cases are in the works, public clamor to abolish pork barrel are mounting.

At its recent meeting, Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX) president Judith Lopez said the organization is for the abolition of the pork barrel, formally known as the Priority Development Assistance Fund.

A massive rally – dubbed the Million People March – was staged at the Luneta Park on August 26 as a call to abolish the pork barrel system. This was followed by the EDSA Tayo prayer vigil on September 11 and mobilization of several groups in Luneta on September 13.

Religious groups, meanwhile, are setting another demonstration on October 25. — BM/VS, GMA News