SONA 2019 Promise Tracker: Corruption and Good Governance

Ending government corruption is a campaign promise and an oft-repeated commitment of President Rodrigo Duterte since he took office in June 2016. However, most of his anti-corruption efforts had been marked with sacking and recycling of officials.

In his State of the Nation Address (SONA) last year, half-way into his term, Duterte said “corruption is everywhere,” as he jokingly added that he “prays” an earthquake comes so when all congressmen, senators, and the president are killed “we will have a new day.”

A month later, Duterte replaced the president of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) following the massive health insurance fraud that rocked the agency. Retired Brigadier General Ricardo Morales succeeded Roy Ferrer, who was later “recycled” and appointed assistant secretary of the Department of Health.

Morales was given specific “marching orders to prioritize ridding the agency of corruption.” But after a year in office, when asked about his meeting with Duterte on the alleged corruption in his agency, the Philhealth president said it is “premature to go to the president without a solution.”

A few days before Duterte delivers his fifth SONA, three PhilHealth officials resigned from their posts over alleged corrupt practices that continue to haunt the agency.

VERA Files Fact Check tracks the promises the president has made on corruption and good governance in his previous SONAs since 2016:

PROMISE: Prosecute those liable for Philhealth fraud issue

“I ordered the NBI to arrest and cause the prosecution of those liable. I appointed a new PhilHealth President…and gave him marching orders to prioritize ridding the agency of corruption…These culprits will have their day of reckoning in court.” (SONA 2019)

In Progress

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has filed graft and other criminal charges against 21 Philhealth officials and employees involved in the fraud. However, at least four of the accused officials — Cheryl Peña, doctors Rizza Majella Herrera and Bernadette Lico, and lawyer Recto Panti — were reported to have been promoted to department manager III, according to an Inquirer report in June.

Quezon City-based WellMed Dialysis & Laboratory Center Corp. (WellMed) was tagged in the alleged dialysis claims for “ghost” kidney treatments. Its owner, Brian Sy, was arrested on charges of estafa, among others, on June 10, 2019. He was released six days later after posting bail.

In a June 2019 statement on its website, PhilHealth said five formal charges have been filed in its Arbitration Office since the ghost dialysis issue.

Due to the number and volume of transactions, Morales said there will be “inefficiencies.” To correct this, he said there is an ongoing “account reconciliation” with some associations of hospitals and doctors to check their finances, loans, as well as to identify who must pay whom.

Asked if the president was aware that Morales has yet to file a single case against Philhealth officials and employees involved in the alleged insurance fraud, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said an investigation on the matter is still “ongoing.”

PROMISE: Clean out Bureau of Customs and PNP

“Concerning the unscrupulous persons manning our ports and scalawags in uniform, we have been unyielding in our reforms to weed them out of public service…There is no sacred cow, as the saying goes, in my Administration…I hope that I can have the cooperation of Congress if we cannot abolish their (BOC officials facing charges or being investigated for corruption) position. And if I cannot dismiss them for the reason that there is a security of tenure, I will just allow them to have their plantilla positions but they have to report to Congress everyday to help me in (sic) the huge paperwork that we have to do everyday.” (SONA 2019)

In Progress

More than a hundred Bureau of Customs (BOC) employees are being investigated by the Ombudsman and NBI. At least 64 BOC officials were “relieve[d] of duty” due to corruption in July 2019. On August 15, 2019, Ombudsman Samuel Martires approved the dismissal of at least seven Customs officials.

Allegedly involved in the illegal designation of employees, BOC chief Rey Leonardo Guerrero, among others, had been retained. Duterte said he is “satisfiedwith Guerrero.

Former BOC chief Isidro Lapeña, who was removed amid reports of smuggled billions worth of shabu, was reappointed to the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority as its current director general.

Two other BOC employees — operations officer Lomontod Macabando and security guard Gamaloden Musor — were also charged with graft by the NBI on March 11, 2020, following an alleged smuggling of jewelry from Dubai in 2018.

Retired Philippine National Police (PNP) chief General Oscar Albayalde, along with other involved cops, was indicted for graft on January 16, 2020, after Albayalde’s involvement with the 2013 Pampanga drug case, several news stories reported.

PROMISE: Simplify government processes

I reiterate…my directive to the government and instrumentalities (specifically LTO, SSS, BIR, LRA, and PAG-IBIG), including the LGUs and the government corporations: simplify…and make your services…client-friendly. (SONA 2019)

In Progress

The Land Transportation Office (LTO) adopted a digital solution from German biometrics company Dermalog to fast-track processing requests through the digitalization and centralization of information. The new portal, which can accommodate over a million transactions per day, officially went live on May 18. The agency’s database, including registered driver’s licenses, vehicles, and penalties for road violations, is currently being updated for easier monitoring.

Select LTO offices across the country can now accommodate applications for student permits, driver’s or conductor’s license renewals, and other transactions online.

The Social Security System (SSS) has enabled the use of electronic channels to speed up transactions and services. Contributions can also now be paid through credit, debit, prepaid cards and PayMaya, an online payment platform.

At least two DILG memorandum circulars in compliance with the Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Delivery Service Act of 2018 were issued to improve the delivery of services and simplify government transactions.

PROMISE: Reschedule barangay elections and enact Magna Carta for barangays

I also implore Congress…to postpone the May 2020 elections and ‘yung Barangay, Sangguniang Kabataan to October 2022…I suggest Congress should also enact the Magna Carta for Barangays. (SONA 2019)

In Progress

Republic Act 11462, an act postponing the May 2020 barangay and sangguniang kabataan elections, had already been signed into law by the president on Dec. 3, 2019.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in both houses of congress have filed bills establishing a Magna Carta for barangays in 2019. House Bill 1452 has been pending with the committee on local government since July 24, 2019, while Senate Bills 391, or the Barangay Services Compensation Act, and 366, or the Magna Carta for Barangay Officials, have been pending in the committees on local government, ways and means, and finance since July 31, 2019.

PROMISE: Fast-track LGU’s processing of business permits, clearances, among others

“I am directing [mayors and] also the DILG, Secretary Año of the local government[:] All clearances, permits emanating from your office that would need also (sic) your approval, must be out at the very least within three days.” (SONA 2019)

In Progress

The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) and the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) in March jointly launched the National Business One Stop Shop (NBOSS), in which business registrations may be completed in “nine steps within seven and a half days from the current 13 steps in 33 days.”

NBOSS is a physical office located at the Securities and Exchange Commission in Pasay City.

The program complements the DICT’s Central Business Portal — the first phase of which was launched in October 2019 — an online platform meant to fast-track business-related transactions with national government agencies.

An ARTA advisory was also adopted in March to fast-track measures during the state of calamity brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. This aims to ensure the speedy delivery of basic medical supplies and equipment, and to cut red tape.

The Bureau of Local Government Finance also issued a circular mandating the use of electronic means to process transactions for LGUs that will use credit financing for additional funds to be used in COVID-19 response.


On prosecuting Philhealth officials

On cleaning out BOC and PNP

On simplifying gov’t processes

On barangay elections, magna carta

On fast-tracking LGU’s processes

(Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims, flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence. Find out more about this initiative and our methodology.)