In February 2007, Annie Geron, the General Secretary of the public service trade union PSLINK in the Philippines was suspended from her job in the Technical Education Skills Department Authority (TESDA), after her union filed a complaint with the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission and Ombudsman charging the Director General of TESDA with embezzlement and other corrupt practices.
The article below sets out why Annie Geron is committed to fighting corruption and the attached sources give details of the case and Annie Geron's subsequent harassment.
CREATING A TIDAL WAVE AGAINST CORRUPTION IN THE PHILIPPINES
For Annie Geron who is General Secretary of PSLINK, the confederation of public sector unions of Philippine government employees, the fight against corruption is a core issue for unions and civil society.
'Corruption is much more than a ‘bread and butter’ issue like working conditions and salaries, ' Annie says. 'While these are important, in our context the moral issue, which is having honest, efficient and functioning government offices, is the overwhelmingly major issue for citizens especially because of all the corruption committed by the Marcos regime.'
'Historically corruption has been one of the biggest problems for the public sector in the Philippines, especially since the Marcos era but it hasn’t stopped,' she says.
Because PSLINK organises public sector civil servants, Annie says it is very close to their hearts to fight corruption in the public sector and to improve the image of civil servants to the citizens who traditionally see them as a 'bunch of corrupt, lazy civil servants'.
It also helps to promote and advocate the formation of unions, she explains. 'Since unions are not widely accepted in the public sector it is good for us to be in the forefront of the fight against corruption.'
Annie has a long history of activism, firstly in social movements when she was a student and then in her ongoing struggle to improve the working conditions of civil servants since starting as a low-paid casual clerk in the area of technical and vocational education 27 years ago.
Following the fall of the Marcos regime, Annie helped form the National Manpower and Youth Council Association of Concerned Employees (NMYC-ACE) from the existing employee association of which she became president and for the past 17 years she has been general secretary of PSLINK which is a fairly young confederation born out of the drive to organise and consolidate public sector unions.
Fighting corruption can be a dangerous task and over the past few years Annie and her colleagues have faced threats and intimidation. Two years ago non-uniformed police tried to arrest Annie at the Office of TESDA Women’s Center (where she currently works as Senior Technical Education & Skills Development Specialist) following the union’s exposure of high level corruption by the Director General of the Technical Education Skills Department Authority (TESDA), Dante Liban, involving the trafficking of young Filipino women and the misuse of public funds to fund his future election campaign.
Union members formed a human barricade to prevent her arrest and the police, who had no written arrest warrant, withdrew. She has also been followed when catching the train and she and her family have received intimidating phone calls.
The case involved the falsification and indiscriminate issue of Artist Record Books to dubious recruitment agencies who used them to tempt thousands of unqualified young women to work in Japan as entertainers only to find themselves forced into the sex industry. This was a multi million Peso scheme. In less than six months Annie estimates that Liban was responsible for deploying an average of 8000 girls per month through the issue of fraudulent Artist Record Books.
In order to gather enough evidence to expose the scam PSLINK worked closely with other civil society organisations and non-corrupt government bodies. Besides mobilising activists in various areas to encourage complainants to come forward the union also worked closely with NGOs opposed to the trafficking of young women and with legitimate promotion agencies responsible for representing and booking genuine talent. Strategies used to gather evidence were often risky such as planting activists in suspect placement agencies and sometimes even posing as applicants and entertainers to find out how the scam operated.
They also kept the Philippines Secretary of Labour advised about what they found out and co-ordinated with the embassy in Japan to supply them with serial numbers of counterfeit Artist Record Books.
PSLINK had already filed a case against Dante Liban in the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission and made a complaint to the Philippines Ombudsman and once they had gathered enough evidence they called a media conference in conjunction with the Labour representatives at the TESDA Board to denounce his actions.
Because the position of Director General of TESDA was a political appointee, they also mounted a campaign of action to put pressure on the Office of the President and the President herself, to ask why this man was being kept in his position despite overwhelming evidence of corruption and illegal activities.
'We told them if you are not going to take action we are going to bring the action here right to the palace,' Annie says.
Finally after months of campaigning the pressure from the public and the evidence of corruption gathered by the union was so strong that in March 2003 the President dismissed Dante Liban from his position as Director General of TESDA.
But the case does not end there. As a result of Annie’s role in exposing this man’s corrupt practices she faces arrest on charges of libel. She is currently on bail awaiting a further hearing after the initial case bought by Dante Liban in 2003 was dismissed in 2004 but then reversed on appeal (Annie suspects bribery).
Annie believes this case is directly related to the union successfully campaigning against Dante’s election campaign in the last election following their exposure of his corrupt practices that facilitate trafficking of young women and misuse of public money to fund his future election campaign.
Despite the threats to her personal safety Annie says her resolve to fight corruption is stronger than ever because they are getting results and convictions, whether they are big-time grafters and corrupt people or rank-and-file employees they have taken to court.
'We are really getting results and we are able to show the public that the union is not only talking about fighting corruption we really are determined to pursue a case until its resolution we have been kind of ‘branded’ as the union with a strong position against corruption.'
There are 305 local unions under PSLINK and each of them includes in their own vision and mission a statement about taking a strong clear stand against corruption.
While PSLINK might not always be able to win salary increases because of the economy Annie sees the issue of corruption as directly related to people’s economic well-being.
'If you can fight corruption and prevent the wastage of public funds the money goes back to the public servants and provides additional funds for services,' she says.
This is particularly important for women as they are often the most marginalised as far as resources are concerned. 'When basic services are not delivered because of corruption it is women who have to try to make both ends meet, who will find ways to put food on the table, who will work hard to send children to school.'
This could explain why women’s groups and the unions headed by women are at the forefront of the fight against corruption in the Philippines, Annie says. 'We might belong to different political and ideological blocks, when it comes to corruption we are one.'
While the fight against corruption is not easy, Annie and her colleagues draw their 'inspiration and strength' from their families, from union members, from other NGOs and community networks, and from the public’s congratulations for whatever the union can do to fight corruption.
Annie says international union solidarity is also crucial. She believes the support mobilised by Public Services International (PSI) during her fight against corruption literally saved her life.
As a result of this international pressure the President intervened to ask authorities to guarantee Annie’s safety. Annie believes the petitions and letters from PSI and its affiliate unions around the world to the Office of the President and to the President herself made her too ‘visible’ to simply disappear.
Despite the many obstacles they face Annie believes that PSLINK is effective in fighting corruption and she treasures each small success.
'The problem of corruption is enormous and you can feel overwhelmed but I believe big things start with small things and if we can create ripples, and then waves, then it will become a tidal wave against corruption.'
Programs initiated by PSLINK to fight corruption.
Participation in anti-corruption committees
PSLINK sends members to participate in inter-agency anti-corruption meetings.
PSLINK is trying to form workplace-based ‘Integrity Circles’ (IC’s). The idea is to create groups at the level of the smallest unit to discuss and implement ways to improve the workplace and increase productivity and efficiency and to serve as monitors and advocacy groups. The name is specifically designed to attract members and the concept mirrors the campaign to popularize quality through the creation of "Quality Circles".
In the area of procurement PSLINK has provided training to members of the Committee for Bids and Awards.
PSLINK is also establishing a regional procurement watch to scrutinise the results of public bidding. These members receive training from an organisation called Transparency and Accountability Network (TAN) which has been accredited by the government to provide training on the new procurement law established in the Philippines. These members are there to scrutinise the bidding process when results of bids are announced to ensure the proper process is followed. Members also participate in the deliberation and monitoring of the profits of companies bidding for public projects and ensure that terms and conditions contained in contracts are not disadvantageous for the government.
Procurement of text books - counting away corruption
One successful campaign involving the delivery of textbooks to primary school students demonstrates the success such monitoring processes can have in cutting down on corruption. Corruption in the delivery of primary school text books resulted in up to 55 percent of the books not being delivered so PSLINK worked with TAN, Procurement Watch and other NGOs to mobilise union members and boy and girl scouts to physically count the books during the delivery process and compare this to the number which were supposed to be delivered. This reduced the number of missing text books from 55 percent to 5 percent.
Procurement of medicine - a healthy alternative to corruption
The union is also involved with other civil society groups in monitoring the procurement of medical drugs and identifying any discrepancy between the listed purchase price and the actual money paid. Often there are large discrepancies. They also monitor the quality of medicines to ensure there is no substitution with inferior medicines during the delivery process. They promote the purchase of generic brands over expensive brand-name medicines and closely monitor the expiry dates of medicines delivered to ensure that medicines which are almost out-of-date are not being off-loaded onto Filipino people.
Monitoring corruption in public works
Another simple way in which monitoring of services has reduced corruption is in the Department of Public Works and Highways where union affiliates are very strong. Simply monitoring and publishing the estimated cost and expected finishing date of the project means that questions can be asked when projects are not finished on time or they run way over budget.
Selection and employment boards
In order to safeguard the merit and fitness of civil servants PSLINK trains members who are representatives on the selection and employment boards in interview techniques and qualification standards so that the employment of staff will be based on merit and fitness rather than political patronage.
Civil Service Commission
PSLINK works with the Civil Service Commission to help improve performance and evaluation procedures so it becomes more effective and can really contribute to efficient delivery of public services.
Inserting anti-corruption clauses in collective agreements
PSLINK has established standard provisions that every union can include in agreements to ensure action against corruption.
Legal protection for whistle-blowers
PSLINK provides legal protection for members in case they are charged or harassed as a result of whistle-blowing as there is little protection or support for whistle blowers in Philippine society. However, as part of a recent collective agreement PSLINK requested the government to put aside some legal funds for whistle-blower protection. While a national fund was not considered possible by the government negotiations are underway to establish rules on how to set up legal funds in each agency and the criteria established about who will be funded and for what purposes.
Developing corruption reporting tools
PSLINK has developed a simple form which members can use to report corruption which asks questions about when and where the corruption took place, who was involved etc. This establishes the basic information which union activists can then follow up. These forms are distributed to Branches and Regional Offices and volunteer field activists who follow up reports and interview members who have reported corruption. Interviews are conducted outside the workplace if necessary.
Education of activists is also important. PSLINK has developed an activist kit containing 20-25 frequently asked questions and answers about corruption and about the role of the union. This includes information about how to identify corruption, what evidence to look for, what documents to identify, what manifestations and signs of corruption to look for. Materials are also translated into the major indigenous language and indigenous language speakers are available to make it easier for people to tell their story.