SC chief declines JDV’s moral council post

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — CHIEF Justice Reynato Puno has declined to chair the “Council for Moral Revolution” whose proponent, ousted Speaker Jose de Venecia, is pushing as a step to rid the bureaucracy of graft and corruption.

Meanwhile, Malacañang is considering forming a National Reform Council to improve governance.

Puno politely declined De Venecia’s offer. “I wish to thank you and the others for electing me in absentia as chairman of the Council for Moral Revolution. While I agree with the need for moral transformation of all of us, I regret to decline the position in view of the inhibitions of my office as chief justice,” Puno said in a letter to De Venecia.

Supreme Court Public Information Office head lawyer Jose Midas Marquez said while Puno agreed that a “moral transformation in government is needed” he could not be an officer of the organization since the latter “may decide to call for the ouster of incumbent officials.”

Puno was elected Sunday night to head the organization which De Venecia and Senate President Manuel Villar organized.

De Venecia was elected interim secretary general with Bishop Leo Alconga of the Jesus Is Lord Movement as his deputy. Elected trustees were Manila Rep. Bienvenido Abante and his brother Reuben, both Baptist bishops, former Bulacan Rep. Willie Villarama, representing Bro. Mike Velarde of EL Shaddai, and Bishop Efren Perez of the Independent Bishops of the Philippines.

In Malacañang, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita was quick to clarify that the proposed reform council was not a reaction to the controversy surrounding the national broadband network or to De Venecia’s council.

“We are not competing with anybody. We don’t have to focus on and relate everything to that [broadband deal] controversy. We can move even without it,” Ermita said.

Ermita also said that several organizations that are critical of the administration, have agreed to join the campaign to ensure transparency and prevent corruption in government.

Ermita said that in yesterday’s meeting of the Cabinet, President Arroyo expressed interest in Commission on Higher Education Chairman Romulo Neri’s concept of improving governance. The President asked Neri to prepare a position paper on his proposal.

“I cannot express the objective by myself but the sense is it is an effort in trying to improve governance. For now it’s just a concept,” Ermita said.

“Since Secretary Neri is a professor, being a member of the academe, he can easily assemble such a position paper,” he added.

There were calls for Neri to resign from the Cabinet and spill the beans on the alleged irregularities in the broadband deal.

Neri said he decided to stick it out with the government which he believes is the only capable institution to put in the social and political reforms he had been advocating for.

In a separate interview, Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr., head of the Procurement Transparency Group, said several non-governmental organizations are helping the government prevent corruption.

Andaya said the Makati Business Club, the Bishops-Businessmen Conference of the Philippines, the Ateneo School of Government, as well as the Transparency and Accountability Network have agreed to help the monitor government projects.

“We have identified some 24 major government projects [that they can help monitor].”

Andaya said that while some of these organizations are critical of the administration, they have found a common interest.

“It [the idea of private groups helping government ensure transparency in government projects] is consistent with the President’s reform agenda and with what they [NGOs] want: reform in government. So there’s a common ground,” Andaya said.

Ermita said that in seeking the help of private groups, the President merely wanted to be sure that the process is followed and thus avoid any delays in the implementation of government projects.

“This is meant to show that everything is very transparent in the conduct of bidding, issuance of circular of requirements, etc.,” Ermita said.