‘Verbal orders prone to abuse’

President Rodrigo Duterte’s penchant for issuing verbal-only orders is dangerous because government officials may interpret them differently and they do not promote accountability, analysts warned Sunday.

Giving verbal-only orders is “not an indicative of good governance,” said Michael Henry Yusingco, senior research fellow at the Ateneo Policy Center.

“There could be varying recollections of the details and circumstances concerning that directive. Its implementation could even worsen the problem it was intended to resolve,” Yusingco said.

Maria Ela Atienza, chairperson of the political science department at the University of the Philippines, also said that those who will implement Duterte’s policies may abuse their powers as a result of their own interpretation of the orders.

Yusingco and Atienza said policies should be accompanied by written documents stating their scope, limitations, time frames and legal bases.

Last week, President Duterte ordered that all foreign ships should secure government clearance before passing through the country’s territorial waters.

Salvador Panelo, presidential spokesman and Duterte’s chief legal counsel, made the announcement before Malacañang reporters.

The spokesman did not explicitly say, however, if the basis of the order was the repeated unannounced passage of Chinese vessels within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, and there was no mention about the implementing agencies concerned.

On July 26, Duterte ordered in a televised message to shut down all PCSO games due to alleged massive corruption in the agency.

Despite the absence of any written directive, Duterte’s order was enough for the Philippine National Police to shut down over 30,000 PCSO-operated outlets nationwide, which affected at least 120,000 employees.

The principal fund-raising agency for health programs also lost P250 million in revenues following the order.

In a text message to Manila Standard, Panelo said those orders “don’t have to be backed” by a written document.

Atienza said this is an indication of how “personalistic” Duterte sees his position.

“He does not care so much [about] institutions and legitimization of actions. He expects that whatever he says, even without a written document to support it, everyone will follow,” Atienza said.

“He can be charged for abuse of power and any other violations, particularly if his verbal commands have resulted in a lot of damage. His subordinates who followed his verbal directives can also be liable,” she added.

The analysts said determining accountability in this instance would require reference to secondary sources such as news reports.

In ordinary court proceedings, however, news reports are generally regarded as hearsay evidence.

In addition, a government official cannot be held accountable for any wrongful act or negligence “unless he has actually authorized” the order through a written document, according to Executive Order 292 which implements the Administrative Code of 1987.

To avoid conflict, Yusingco said President Duterte’s public policies should be stated in a written order.

“The directives given by President Duterte may have been initially conveyed verbally only, but this should have been properly documented immediately after, through a memorandum at the very least,” he said.

Topics: Rodrigo Duterte , Michael Henry Yusingco , Ateneo Policy Center , Maria Ela Atienza
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