YOU can tell that President Duterte means business by the frequency and relentlessness with which he has dismissed officials from the executive branch for abusing this perk of public office. All executive offices are now on notice that there will be tighter control and stricter rules for such foreign travel.
As the cleanup has swept through the executive, shocking abuses and practices have turned up. The most flagrant may be the case of Commission on Higher Education chair Patricia Licuanan, who is accused by one congressman of having approved her own travels personally, without securing proper travel authority from the Office of the President as required by executive order. Ms Licuanan disputes this allegation; the transgression must be proven by the facts.
Even as the public was digesting the public firing of Presidential Commission on the Urban Poor (PCUP) chairman Terry Ridon, Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) administrator Marcial Amaro 2nd, and the Development Academy of the Philippines president (DAP), more officials have also beenexposed, and are now rumored for dismissal. We suspect that there will be more in the days ahead.
The abuse of foreign travel by Filipino public officials mirrors the spate of allegations of sexual harassment against public figures like Harvey Weinstein in the United States. As the days pass, more are accused of having transgressed the rules, and once accused, there appears to be no defense.
Filipino taxpayers are now also asking: why are Filipino executive officials the only ones being scrutinized for abusing the travel perk? Why not the members of Congress, who travel just as frequently, and possibly at greater public expense,
When Sen. Antonio Trillanes went to the US to talk with Sen. Marco Rubio, and take part in public demonstrations to denounce the Duterte government, did Filipino taxpayers pay for his travel? Did he have a travel authority to do this?
This is a fair question to ask because the abuse of foreign travel is more rampant and wasteful than the public realizes. Executive and legislative officials, as well as judicial officials, like Chief Justice Maria LourdesSereno, have all done their measure of traveling at public expense.
We think that because of the scale of travel excess and waste, it is time to frame clear and incontrovertible rules for the foreign travel at public expense of Filipino public officials, in all departments.
Last Wednesday, Malacañang, in a memorandum dated January 3, said all heads of agencies in the Executive Department must now submit quarterly reports on government officials and employees traveling abroad. Under the memorandum, signed by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, the Palace said no official foreign travel shall be allowed unless the purpose of the trip was strictly within the mandate of the official or personnel, the projected expenses for the trip “not excessive,” and the trip was expected to bring “substantial benefit to the country.”
There should be a similar rule governing the foreign travel of legislators. All should be required toproduce more than pro-forma approvals by the House Speaker or the Senate President.
Our public officials will always swear that their travel abroad is necessary, for the good of the service.
We think it is more prudent to treat skeptically all requests for foreign travel by our officials. Unless they can prove otherwise, their travel request should be simply treated as a junket.
The important question that must be answered is why a public official should be traveling at all, and why the taxpayer should shoulder the expense.