(STAR) By Marvin Sy - Malacañang reiterated yesterday that President Arroyo is committed to eliminating corruption in government as a matter of policy.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, responding to Chief Justice Reynato Puno’s call for the creation of a moral force to fight corruption in government, said this type of action could be taken by any person regardless of stature, as it is the right thing to do.

Puno named yesterday the members of an advisory council that would push for his moral force movement.

“It doesn’t have to come from anybody. We even have a former leader of Congress who is also calling for moral reform, etc.,” Ermita said.

He said Mrs. Arroyo has “always tried to put programs and measures in order to put things straight,” and emphasized that this has been the call of every leader in every administration so there is nothing new with Puno’s movement.

“Of course no leader would tolerate corruption,” Ermita said. “What is important is that we take action as we all know that corruption in government is unacceptable.”

The President has instituted several measures to eliminate corruption in government, including issuing an administrative order directing all Cabinet members and other officials to lead a moral renewal campaign in their respective agencies and offices.

Lifestyle checks on government officials and employees are continuing in order to put tabs on possible corrupt practices.

‘Highly respected names’

Supreme Court spokesman lawyer Jose Midas announced that the chief justice has chosen and convened eight members of the movement’s core group representing key sectors who are perceived as “highly respected” in their fields.

The council is composed of Ambassador Henrietta de Villa, chair of the National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) and Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV); Msgr. Gerry Santos, director of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines; Ret. Gen. Jaime Echeverria, president and chair of Association of Generals and Flag Officers; Dr. Emerito Nacpil, retired bishop of the United Methodist Church who now serves as director of Wesleyan College of Manila.

Dr. Milwida Guevarra, former undersecretary of Department of Finance and now director of Synergia Foundation; Andy Bautista, dean of Far Eastern University Institute of Law; Marixi Prieto, chair of Philippine Daily Inquirer; and Noorain Sabdulla, an outstanding student awardee who became student council president of a Catholic school in Cabanatuan City.

“These are highly respected people. He (Puno) was very selective in the membership of the council because he wanted it to be non-partisan,” said Marquez.

He also revealed that the head of the country’s judiciary first chose three members of the core group, who then recommended the other five.

They had their first meeting three weeks ago.

Marquez said he also met with businessman Manuel Pangilinan, who opted not to join the core group and just expressed his intention to support them.

According to Marquez, the group already met twice with Puno and agreed to focus on the national elections next year.

“The council, in essence, decided to focus on the 2010 elections and define what a transformational leader is,” the SC official said, explaining that the moral force movement will not endorse candidates but will only lay down standards in choosing the right leaders.

Transformational leaders, as defined by Puno in his earlier speech, are those who induce followers to transcend their self-interest for the sake of the organization or the greater whole and activate their higher order needs and appeals to their moral values to mobilize their energy and resources to reform institutions. Transactional leaders, in contrast, motivate their followers by appealing to their self-interest.

A transformational leader inspires, develops and empowers followers.

According to Marquez, the members of the council unanimously agreed that there is a need to elect transformational leaders as key to alleviate poverty and address problems including corruption.

While such a task to mold responsible voters is already being performed by other groups like PPCRV, Marquez stressed that the movement being pushed by the chief justice is aimed at uniting groups with similar objectives to be able to solidify their efforts.

He said the core group would soon appoint a spokesperson before the movement is officially launched in May.

Marquez reiterated that the move to put up a moral force council is a “personal initiative” of Chief Justice Puno as he clarified that no other SC justices have been involved in the movement.

“The judiciary is being shielded from this. The chief justice would just like to convene and once the foundation is there, he plans to step aside already,” he explained.

He also said he has not spoken with other SC justices on the issue and does not want to preempt their opinions on the matter.

An ‘act of national self-flagellation’

Meanwhile, four members of the House of Representatives from the administration coalition yesterday hailed the launching of Puno’s movement, but advised him to start in his own backyard.

“I agree with him but I think he should start with his own backyard and cleanse the judiciary of possible corruption because that is within his mandate and control. We all have to start somewhere,” Zambales Rep. Ma. Milagros Magsaysay suggested.

She reminded the chief magistrate that “without action (the) call is nothing more than a motherhood statement.”

“We can all make motherhood statements but putting words into action is another thing. People are tired of lip service. They want results,” she said.

A US State Department report was published in newspapers last February, exposing disturbing, well-entrenched corruption in the judiciary, where justice seemed to be for sale to the highest bidder and to those who wield enormous influence.

Deputy Majority Leader Juan Edgardo Angara, Bacolod City Rep. Monico Puentevella and Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga echoed the same sentiment.

“The government and the people should listen to his message since fighting corruption will result in a better life for all Filipinos since more resources can be channeled to better public investments in education, health, development, etc,” Angara said.

“To root out corruption has been the persistent dream of this nation. We cannot effectively win the war against corruption unless urgent and vigilant reforms in the existing political system are immediately implemented,” said Barzaga.

At the Senate, Sen. Loren Legarda welcomed Puno’s initiative, but said calling the Philippines a “moral pariah” might be too much.

She said Puno’s call for a “moral force” to change the country might be seen as an “act of national self-flagellation,” which was in keeping with Lent.

“Let us not ascribe pejorative tags on ourselves as a people, but let us focus instead on our positive traits, of which there are plenty. We must not inculcate into the minds of our youth that our nation must be a hopeless case in as far as corruption is concerned,” she said.

“The old ways have proven to be ineffective and has brought us to where we are today, far behind. We welcome this new force and we hope that we can work with them in helping create a better nation for our children,” said Sen. Francis Pangilinan.

Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano agreed that moral force is necessary and that there should be moral uprightness and integrity but with competence and vision for the nation.

The Chief Justice has called for a moral force movement nationwide to arrest the corruption in the country while maintaining an apolitical stance.

Puno earlier vowed that the movement would not be anti-administration or pro-opposition but rather “a positive-neutral constructive” force. – With Edu Punay, Delon Porcalla, Marvin Sy

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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